Next John Kennedy Among Korean-Americans?

– 2014 NetKAL Gala & Summit: What’s Next?

By Maya Meinert

Keynote speaker: Steve Westly

This year’s Network of Korean-American Leaders (NetKAL) gala and summit focused on the theme of innovation, asking “what’s next?” when it comes to developments in everything from technology and business to politics and popular culture.

Held in San Francisco on Oct. 17-18, the annual event brought together leaders in technology, media, law, business, education, entertainment, politics and social networking to recognize the achievements of Korean Americans and the significant role they’ll play in leading innovation here and abroad.

The gala, which was held at the San Francisco Design Center, featured a keynote speech from Steven Westly, former controller and chief financial officer of the state of California, who pointed out how far South Korea has come in the last 50 years and urged Korean Americans to think outside the box when it comes to success.

“Our country is crying out for the next generation of smart leaders not to join venture capital firms or start new companies, but to take this know-how and make our government worthy of the economy we have to drive us,” he said. “I am calling on more young Korean Americans to come in to public service and help change the world. The next John Kennedy is amongst us. John Kennedy said, we are going to the moon not because it is an easy task but because it is hard. We need to do the hard things. That is what America has always done, and that is what the Korean-American community has always done.”

NetKAL, which is based at the USC School of Social Work, was established as a fellowship program that promotes civic leadership among successful second generation Korean Americans. Fellows, who come from a variety of professions, participate in a six-month program that provides participants with the tools they need to expand their professional networks while defining their own multi-faceted role as a Korean-American leader.

“The NetKAL gala and summit is a unique experience. It’s a chance for Korean-American leaders to socialize and exchange new ideas with the shared goal of making the Korean-American community better every year,” said Jehoon Lee, director of the USC Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership, which manages NetKAL. “The power of networking between these exceptionally talented second-generation Korean Americans exemplifies the pivotal position they hold in the Asian-American community and society as a whole.”

Run River North performing at 2014 NetKAL Gala
Run River North performing at 2014 NetKAL Gala

Striking out on their own

As a testament to this idea of leading the way for the community, the latest class of NetKAL fellows announced its new project, Korean American Community Service Day. Borne out of this class’ NetKAL community service competition, Korean- American Community Service Day aims to become the largest day of service sponsored by an Asian-American group by creating an annual occasion for Korean Americans and their friends, families and networks to volunteer in their local communities.

In another first, Stephen Kahng received the inaugural NetKAL Pioneer Award, which recognizes Korean-American leaders who have substantially contributed to the health, growth, accessibility or sustainability of the community. Kahng was the founder of Power Computing Corporation, the first company chosen by Apple to build Macintosh-compatible computers, and now focuses on philanthropy and nonprofit work.

He talked about how he left a stable job to try his hand at riskier ventures and failed multiple times before striking gold.

“Don’t feel too comfortable with your current position. Set your goals very high. Try risky ventures,” Kahng said. “Your first venture probably will not work out as you planned, but keep on trying until you’re successful. I learned more from failure than success. It’s important that you have passion and work very hard to be successful.

“I hope we can work together to make this world a better place.”

Playing off the theme of innovation, this year’s gala entertainers represented the new guard. Jane Lui, a singer-songwriter who made a name for herself via YouTube and crowdfunded her latest album, performed a one-woman set for the NetKAL crowd. Run River North, a group comprising Korean Americans, played a rousing set of its version of indie folk-rock.

2014 NetKAL Summit: What's Next?
2014 NetKAL Summit: What’s Next?

At the next day’s summit, leaders from the technology, academic, political, media and legal industries described the trials and tribulations of following the road less traveled – to big results. Many of the panelists followed their dreams, often in the face of adversity, to lead well-known companies such as Guitar Hero, Zynga, Dropbox and Facebook.

Richard Lee, founder of Caseflex, a legal technology startup that makes it easier to search federal court filings, said he was inspired by the gala and summit speakers’ stories of perseverance.

“The speakers and panelists at this year’s summit were all innovators in their own right,” he said. “It was incredibly inspiring to hear them talk about overcoming challenges to forge their own path. I took many of these lessons with me back to New York.”

Lee, who is a NetKAL fellow, said he left the event with a renewed sense of camaraderie.

“The strength of NetKAL lies in its members, and in the connections between those members,” he said. “The annual gala and summit is one of the few occasions that brings together the entire organization. For me personally, it’s a great way to strengthen existing relationships as well as meet new members of the NetKAL family.”

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More photos of the gala

More photos of the summit

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