– By David Kim, NetKAL VIII Fellow
The freshman NetKAL VIII class has just completed its third of six sessions, bringing it to the mid-point of the program. A little wiser, a little deeper in intimacy, and possessing a few more wrinkles, many of us are just starting to get comfortable with dorm life with our fellow classmates. Here then is a chance to reflect on the journey thus far taken and to reflect on just two things: the course material itself and the greater direction we have seen NetKAL progressing towards.
For some of us, the NetKAL journey has been quite a surprise. Personally, I had expected it to be business school all over again – a few leadership courses, team building exercises with an ethnic twist, and a lot of plastic red cups. In business school, older alums had returned to swear that the only course material they still employed were the much joked about soft skills classes comprising 15% of our curriculum (i.e., “Managing People at Work”, “Leadership”). Now that I am older, I can’t help but agree – pricing strategy and VC finance might have been helpful, but the ability to engage, inspire, and motivate those around you are the core skills that ultimately drive one’s efficacy. For me, I have found NetKAL to be a focused study on EQ – a program expanding upon that all too critical 15% touched upon in school. One of the best parts of being funded for a prior startup was the assignment to me of a dedicated “CEO-coach” who helped teach me how to strategically engage certain employees, fire others, and develop board members. While an executive at a corporation or organization might be lucky to have one such coach, the NetKAL sessions have been a unique opportunity to actually have multiple different CEO-coaches, with different areas of expertise and insight – really a tremendous privilege. Moreover, NetKAL has also provided a safe place to explore and wrestle with the practical applications of what we learn. Coming from diverse backgrounds, the fellows operate in such different spheres of real life that there is no need for competition, freeing us to be frank, vulnerable, and more openly reflective.
Beyond being stretched in our capabilities to lead and inspire, the NetKAL 8 class has also been challenged to understand and wrestle with the core purpose of the organization per se. The most recent session’s distinguished speaker, Suok Noh, NetKAL Advisory Board President, provided a refreshingly open and genuine assessment of the organization. As has been stated before, the purpose of NetKAL has been to develop a nationwide network of civic minded Korean American leaders in diverse fields whose purpose is to serve the Korean-American community and the greater American community as a whole. Given its academic USC affiliation, NetKAL is precluded from being an advocacy organization supporting specific issues per se, however, it can support leaders in the development of their own causes. At a practical level, the network allows for the ad hoc formation of smaller focused groups of Korean-American leaders to execute projects or pursue causes to support the Korean-American community as they may arise. While the handful of examples of such success in NetKAL’s past has continued to hint at its tremendous potential, a convincing product of its purpose has yet remained elusive. NetKAL thus appears to exist at an asymptotic state, with recent reorganization and internal initiatives edging us to a hoped for inflection point.
At least two critical factors may be necessary to push us over the edge: one, the development of even a single, large, well funded external champion of and partner to NetKAL; two, a galvanizing event or cause that a group of NetKAL fellows rallies behind. Suok Noh believes the first factor is necessary to establish NetKAL’s ongoing practical ability to offer the fellowship program in the future. Recently, NetKAL’s brand has been gaining mindshare particularly in the larger associated domestic South Korean community, and it remains for a landmark “reference” sponsor to recognize and invest in its potential, paving the way towards few other large donor partners contributing to NetKAL’s financial stability in the form of an endowment. This could arise anytime from tomorrow to sometime in the next five years. Personally, I believe that additionally, a second factor is necessary to cement the soul of the organization: either a galvanizing event affecting the Korean American community or a specific rallying cause, one of which might drive a critical mass of fellows to organize and conclusively effect change, proving the value of, power of, and frankly the need for such an organization.
In summary, we as NetKAL seem to need at least one large reference victory (or better yet, a few) where a group of fellows pull the sword of NetKAL from the stone in the service of the land, and wield it to at least battle, if not slay a dragon. Whether that victory is necessary to convince an external entity to become our champion, or if just the hint of our potential is enough to convince that entity to make a bet on us remains to be seen. Early on, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, and the earliest investors of Facebook had admitted that they did not know and could not imagine (and perhaps still don’t know) what their creation would grow into. All they knew was that they were incubating something incredibly special. While we too may be unable to imagine NetKAL ten years from now, something amazing is brewing, and NetKAL VIII is looking forward to joining in with NetKAL I-VII to draw out Excalibur. We join our voices with James Jung, NetKAL VIII fellow upon whom a Pixar toy was once based, who once famously declared, “To infinity…and beyond!”