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by 루트임팩트 Jan 06. 2020

CIO, Where Have You Been?!(1)

[CIO on the Road] Kyungsun's Imagination

At Root Impact we have a CIO, different from a CEO, CFO or CMO. This instantaneously gets many wondering; what does that "I" in the middle stand for? Is it information? Investment? Innovation? Oops, out of guesses. The correct answer is IMAGINATION. The CIO of Root Impact is the Chief Imagination Officer, who ponders on ideas and issues that have not yet surfaced, which makes the CIO quite invisible to us maybe. The Root Impact family and friends must have been very curious about his past six months as we couldn’t catch much glimpse of him, so this article over two issues will cover what CIO Kyungsun Chung was up to in those months. Eager to learn how he traveled all across the globe to Bangkok, Singapore, the U.S. and other places with a core focus on expanding changemaker communities? Dive right in! 

1. About the role of a Chief Imagination Officer (CIO)

Q. It's difficult to find Chief Imagination Officers elsewhere. What led you to creating such a position, and what are your roles as CIO?


In July of 2017, I was off to the U.S. to pursue my MBA. I realized that it would be practically impossible for me to continue on as full-time CEO, so I mulled over ways in which I could contribute to Root Impact. I wasn't anxious about resigning as CEO at all because our CEO Jaehyong Heo, then COO, was already managing the organization on many practical fronts. What I focused on was what my major contributions to Root Impact would be.


I concluded that my major contributions to Root Impact were: imagining how the impact ecosystem would fold out going forward; contemplating on how various stakeholders in that ecosystem can coexist under what kind of dynamics; and persuading those stakeholders with this very blueprint in mind. I decided that what I have been doing so far, and what I can do best at, is to responsibly imagine the future of our organization. That is why I chose the job title Chief Imagination Officer, even if it sounds a little self-explanatory and hippie.


Q. After finishing off your studies in the U.S., you traveled so much that I think it's fair we call you Chief Business Trip Officer instead of a Chief Imagination Officer! What made you travel so much? Please share with us what you have been up to lately.


I know, I am exhausted and I still have more coming! After a short graduation trip in June, I've been traveling to Bangkok and Singapore almost every month since July, and every now and then visiting New York, San Francisco, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. I traveled like a busy bee, all the while imagining and imagining.


This could be TMI but I've got around 650k flight miles now! I had to take flights during my MBA in New York too, so my new year's resolution was to read at least 10 books per month, so that I could really make good use of my traveling time. As of today, December 23rd, my record stands at 116, so I guess I kept to my new year's resolution! On a side note, I would definitely recommend, among the 116 books I've read this year, <School Nurse Eunyoung Ahn> and <Meet You at the Rooftop> both by Serang Jung, <The Way of Love in a Metropolitan City> by Sangyoung Park, <Pachinko> by Minjin Lee, <Paper Menagerie> by Ken Liu, <For Suffering to Show the Way> by Professor Seungsup Kim, and <The Tale of the Prosecutor> by Prosecutor Woong Kim.


Well, I wandered off a little, but I am happy that we're doing this interview because I also felt it was about time we do an interim check. How about I start off with Singapore, my most recent trip?


2. CIO meets the Former U.S. President Obama in Singapore


Q. I saw your picture with former U.S. President Obama uploaded on the office messenger. I had two reactions to that picture. First, wow I envy him, and second, wait, so why did he meet Obama?


Oh yes, former President Obama. It was such an honor.


I've been keeping an interested eye on the former U.S. President Obama and the works of his foundation. This is off the record but I did apply for the Obama Fellowship in 2018 but didn't make it. (tears)


Well, as part of the expansion of the Asia-Pacific Program of his foundation, former President Obama visited the region. In Singapore where I met him, he came to speak at the Education Benefit Gala, a fundraising event for educational organizations, hosted by a friend of mine. My friend offered me to take part in the event as what I do parallels with the aims of the Obama Foundation, so I participated in the event as a sponsor through a project I am currently pursuing in Singapore. 


It was encouraging to hear that the Obama Foundation seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders across the globe.



Q. Did you get to speak to him in person? Or did you find any of his words especially memorable?


Before the main gala event began we did have sort of a roundtable meeting with former President Obama, but I didn't get to have a long conversation with him as there were many participants. I just introduced what we do here at Root Impact and President Obama responded with how our work and his interests converge. It was encouraging to hear that the Obama Foundation seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders across the globe working on a variety of different issues across sectors because that is pretty much in line with what we have been aiming to do.


I remember him speaking about how we already know how to educate our children to become good-willed, happy and bright individuals, but the issue is that social resources are not optimally and/or equally distributed to that end. His words made me ponder on which issues we have to prioritize in terms of resource allocation, since my vision is to distribute resources, with cities in Korea, the U.S. and Southeast Asia acting as hubs.



3. Why is CIO Kyungsun Chung into Going Global?

Q. I'm sure you get this a lot, but I'm curious why you're so into going global when there are plenty of local issues still unresolved in Korea. I believe there must have been an awakening behind your decision to go global.


When I was studying at the Columbia Business School, I was truly shocked at how the topic of climate change kept coming up. I am quite ashamed about admitting this, but two years ago I actually didn't think climate change was dangerously imminent, and chose to care more about local social issues. The global movement for climate change, however, was huge. For instance, in the U.S., the academia, entrepreneurs, politicians-of course putting aside those few fervent skeptics-were all worried sick about the issue. They were actively discussing how they would respond to climate change, which is likely to be even more rapid and destructive to the humanity than previously thought. It was only natural that immense amount of interventions were in place and investments being poured in.


It's surprising how discussions on this issue is very much put on a back burner in Korea and other Asian countries. Countries are putting efforts in silos, but we don't see any concerted effort against this enormous threat to the entire human race. That is exactly where the role of changemakers, those aptly and sensitively responding to such issues, really kicks in. When their communities expand into one global network, they could be the ones to do what now needs to be done.


I think climate change is a case in point that shows us time is ticking. Unfortunately in Asia, including Korea, there aren't much discussions on this issue.


Q. Then would it be fair to say that CIO Kyungsun Chung decided to go global with an aim to tackle climate change, out of the many social issues?


I wouldn't exactly say that I am to go all in only on tackling climate change; I would rather say that I am afraid of the aftermaths of climate change and sincerely understand the gravity of the issue. I think climate change is a case in point that shows us time is ticking. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the earth's temperature rose 1 degree Celsius since industrialization due to human activities. At this rate, the earth is expected to warm an extra 1.5 degree Celsius from 2030 to 2052. One degree may seem like nothing, but the aftermaths of that one extra degree spill over to issues like healthcare, medical service and food security. It’s directly linked to our survival.


That's why I really identified with what Greta Thunberg talked about last September at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. She furiously cried out that humanity faces extinction. If I may refer to the Kübler-Ross model on five stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, Greta Thunberg must be fighting her way at the stage of anger, and I am going to find my own solution with a begrudging acceptance. 



Q. So, as part of going global, we opened the Seoul Forest branch of HEYGROUND last October, and I believe another one is coming in the Bronx, New York.


Absolutely. The Bronx branch is one of the plans carried out with a focus on going global. The HEYGROUND Bronx branch (click) is coming next fall! I believe a physical infrastructure like HEYGROUND is a prerequisite to the further growth of problem-solving changemakers. The Bronx is an area that most gravely ails with healthcare, education and poverty issues out of the NY state, or even the U.S. at large. So I started Communitas America in New York with an aim to allow social ventures in the area to tackle these issues and create meaningful social value; I believe HEYGROUND Bronx will serve as a new hub that plays a pivotal role in the very first step to that end.

We are adding flesh and bones to plans with a focus on going global. The HEYGROUND Bronx branch will open next fall in the Bronx in the city of New York.



Q. Can I assume that the reason why you frequently visited Bangkok, Singapore, San Francisco, New York and Seoul to add fuel to your imagination is because you wish to tackle issues starting specifically from these cities?

That is correct. I see Seoul and Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok and Singapore as "hub cities". It is important that we designate cities that can serve as "hubs" in certain regions to most effectively tackle issues in a timely and diffusible manner. As I have said before, time is ticking and cities are places where we can expect for the most extensive effect of solutions. That extensive effect is why I wish to preferentially allocate resources to hub cities.


I also find U.S. an ironic place as it tops the global list in terms of charity, social enterprises and impact investing, while also being the point where all negative influences converge. That is why I thought an U.S. hub would be a must in creating a global changemaker ecosystem.



Q. Well then, that leads us to wonder how resources will be provided with these hub cities at the core. Could you elaborate? 


In short, we will draw capital through an investment fund while at the same time creating a changemaker ecosystem that could be utilized in effective problem solving. With regards to the investment fund, I am envisioning a large sized yet specifically targeted impact investment fund that would cover the entire Asian region. About the changemaker ecosystem, I believe we can create one through the changemaker global network with its flagship HEYGROUND New York and HEYGROUND Bangkok, just like Root Impact created a changemaker community that rooted from Seongsu. Since there's so much more to talk about, why don't go into more detail in the upcoming issue? (Continued)

Recorded by Yoosun Keum

Summarized by Kyungsun Chung, Yonzich Kwon, Sunmoon Jang

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