By David Bank
Kyungsun Chung, a next-gen from the Hyundai Group family, helps create a neighborhood of ‘changemakers’ in Seoul
Add Seoul, South Korea to the list of role models for flace- and people-based impact investing. Co-housing, co-working and co-investments in “changemakers” are attracting university talent and mission-driven entrepreneurs to the Seongsu-dong neighborhood, sometimes called “Seoul’s Brooklyn.”
Kyungsun Chung, the founder of Root Impact, is behind many of the projects. Chung is part of the third generation of the family that built the giant Hyundai Group. “I’m like the black sheep, or the green sheep,” of the family, he told ImpactAlpha in a new podcast.
“I’m like the most eco friendly, liberal ones in my family,” Chung said. “My cousins are still trying to understand what I’m doing.”
Hyundai is one of the largest South Korean multinationals, or chaebols, and the world’s fourth-largest carmaker. Most of Chung’s cousins, at least the male ones, are involved in the business, he said. In 2011, he joined one of the family’s charitable foundations, and launched Root Impact the next year.
Influenced by Ashoka, one of the earliest champions of social entrepreneurship, Root Impact supports individual entrepreneurs it calls “changemakers.” A government initiative about a decade ago spurred a wave of nonprofit organizations; Chung decided to support the individuals building more capable social enterprises. “So the individual is the target.”
In addition to the new co-working space, the neighborhood includes affordable housing for social entrepreneurs, and a growing ecosystem of businesses and investors, including Crevisse, a social venture investor.
Root Impact’s ambitions go beyond Korea. Chung also is investing in Las Vegas’ Downtown Project, a large-scale test of the urban regeneration model led by Zappos’ Tony Hsieh (with so far mixed results).
In Seoul, Chung just launched the 60,000-square foot HeyGround co-working space. The space recently hosted a meeting of The ImPact, a network of wealthy families moving capital toward impact. Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, joined Chung and the ImPact’s Abigail Noble at the opening ceremony.
“Kyungsun exemplifies next-gens around the world who are stepping into impact investing leadership roles at the national and international level,” Noble says.
Chung says social enterprise and impact investing has support from a new generation of Korean political leaders, including new President Moon Jae-in and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. The city last year launched a social impact bond to fund child welfare.
Chung is heading back to school to get an MBA “to find a way to get my family business to be a more impact-oriented corporation.”
“I’m trying to convince my own family to be more socially conscious and open to the public,” Chung said. “I’m still working on it.”