Mr Samuel Kim – Co-Founder and President (Center for Asia Leadership)
The son of two humanitarian workers who travelled the continent, Samuel Kim, watched Asia grow to what it is today. Beginning in Korea and passing from country to country, he watched the extent of the role of leadership in the growth or stagnancy of a nation. Understanding just how much of an impact it can have, Samuel Kim directed his life aims and goals to present the know-how of leadership to the youth of the world’s largest continent. In this interview, Samuel shares with FLY: Malaysia Journalist, Ethan Ganes, his journey and life in the leadership education field and his two cents on the future of today’s youths.
After obtaining his Law degree at Handong University, his first job was working as a diplomat with the United Nations. During his time there, his senior colleagues talked about some of the countries they had worked in and about how they had changed over time. His bosses spoke of how the Philippines in the ‘60s was one of the fastest growing countries in Asia. Along with Thailand and Japan, it was one of the best places in the region.
“South Korea at that point in time had a per capita income about equal to that of Ghana. The Philippines helped donate funds to build the nation’s first indoor basketball court and helped build the American embassy.”
With his colleagues’ words in mind, he states how the Philippines in the ‘90s seemed very different. At the age of 10, when he was there with his parents, he saw young children having to search for leftover food in the garbage. Even then he had begun to wonder what exactly could have led the country to this state, reflecting on the similar exposures he has had in other countries. Looking back at his own country, South Korea, and observing the growth it has enjoyed, Samuel began to suspect that the different directions in growth had all to do with leadership.
“There can be a lot that leadership can do. It can really help a community live in peace, to have a prosperous time. But at the same time bad leadership can do a lot of harm.”
Always bearing the question of the power of leadership in mind, Samuel left the UN to start up a fast food franchise business. It wasn’t long before it became a profitable success, with 300 stores nationwide. Although times were good for him then, being the son of a humanitarian worker, he just could not help but feel that he now needed to give back to the community.
“Earning money is okay, but there are a lot more people out there who need help.”
It wasn’t long before he sold off the business and began to make his way towards impacting the continent. Proceeding to further his studies in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, he was amazed at the Harvard style of teaching and research. It dawned on him that if he did not have the monetary means to attend the university, he would never have had this experience in learning and leadership.
In 2014, after his time at Harvard, the Center for Asia Leadership was born with the goal to bring the lessons he learned in his career and the Harvard way of teaching.
A Day in the life Of Samuel Kim: the Center for Asia Leadership (CAL)
“The Center for Asia Leadership is a group of non-profit international organizations with a purpose to address social needs and problems in Asia through research, development, training, and publication initiatives in the areas of leadership, innovation, and educational practices.”
When it comes to organisations like CAL, it is often difficult to pinpoint just exactly which industry they fall under. According to Samuel Kim, they belong in the Education Industry, teaching the skills of leadership.
Being in the education line, CAL can work with almost any party.
“There’s not one specific client when it comes to making a person a leader.”
With its variety of offerings, CAL has conducted training’s for lecturers and professors on teaching methods and research, held conferences and seminars for youth (high school and university ages), and even worked with CEO’s on innovation. With a reach as vast as Asia itself, CAL has trained diplomats, members of government, non-profits, schools, and companies.
With no surprise, a day in the life of Samuel Kim includes working with and meeting a wide range of people. He highlights that working in this industry is always a two-way learning; he travels to share his knowledge and, at the same time, learn from the people he works with. His work takes him to 22 countries and across these countries and regions, everyone has different concerns. These people have their own unique set of challenges, and he loves watching them do their best on both individual and community levels to overcome these challenges.
“It is not about being the better speaker, better writer or carrying a magnifying aura. It’s not about the peripherals.”
Leadership, to Samuel, is an active engagement; is not just a noun, it’s a verb. It is continuously doing something for the betterment of the community. Samuel’s belief of leadership radiates through his work, and through CAL he hopes to continue to build the leadership capacity of this generation.
The Heavy of being Tech Savvy
Being someone who works largely with young people worldwide, this journalist could not help but ask Samuel his opinion on the strengths of this generation of Youth.
The youth of today are known to have technological muscles on par with those of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, and are well known for flexing them. He begins by adding on to the well-known: Technology today allows two people with the same vision in totally different parts of the world to connect and do something about it. However, he goes on to say that the true advantage this generation has is the ample opportunities today to fulfill goals and visions thanks to the Internet and many organisations acting as launching platforms. They exist for the youth to utilize and experience more so now than in any other generation. This, he then points out, comes with its own price.
In the past, the debate was the decision between:
1. Value and opportunity (which he refers to as equity)
2. Developing skills and knowledge (which he refers to as efficiency)
It was either choose to go out and seek opportunities, or stay put and work on gaining knowledge. Today, people can do both as a result of the online world. While this sounds good, Samuel points out that this simply means that everyone possesses the same access. For the youth of today to stand out, it is no longer possible to focus on either equity or efficiency; both must be pursued simultaneously.
It will be an expected of youths to come prepared with both knowledge and experience from seized opportunities. It is as if one has to start up a lemonade stand with most exotic types of lemons (the value) and the best juicing machinery to process them (the skill).
To make the best of both worlds, Samuel suggests that it is the university phase of life that can have the biggest impact. Studying in university itself is gaining knowledge, covering one sphere on its own. The step to take is to also seize as many opportunities as possible and participate in the activities offered. Doing both allows one to acquire knowledge through study and at the same time obtain experience. However, this is only a means to meeting the high expectations of today. In order to surpass them, one more element is crucial: understanding global trends.
Despite having all the know-how and experience, it can be exceptionally challenging to know where to put them to if a person is unaware of the world trends of their respective field. Samuel insists that when scouring for fresh news, it is crucial to pay attention to the direction one’s industry of interest is taking. For example, in the Education Industry one would have to constantly update oneself on the latest teaching methods, programmes, and demands. This allows a person to know where they can place themselves when they enter the workforce and where they can contribute in the greater scheme of things.
Pursuing equity, efficiency and jogging in pace with global trends, one’s entry into the workforce will be one that promises great command of information, skill, and sense of industrial direction.
Of Automation, Leadership, and the Future
With much talk of the current world’s standards and expectations, what is to be of the future? Hopefully not a foreboding of Skynet and hostile AI, Samuel believes automation is inevitable. It won’t be long before the machines take over most jobs. The world is changing, and with this Samuel proposes that leadership’s role is only going to get bigger.
In a world where many labour based jobs are being automated and the need for manpower slowly diminishes, how does one find oneself? Mankind’s contribution to the world can no longer be as simple as shorter production lines and better workmanship. The world will demand more of us, and Samuel believes that leadership holds the answer.
As the technology, the economy, and the business world develop, authority by position alone becomes diluted. It is a lot harder for any one person to have absolute power. It is not just the bosses’ decisions that count; everyone in an organisation has some weight and influence. Leadership has become a lot more important because power has become more “lean”. Today:
“You can exercise power and influence without authority and position. How are you going to use this power to exercise leadership?”
Samuel reminds us that leadership is not just a one-man thing. Especially in coming times, leadership for the betterment of people requires us to have a community sense of leadership. He believes that all people should strive to be leaders who are connectors. Future leadership should be collaborative rather than competitive.
It’s about building bridges. If person A knows person B needs help that he can offer, he should readily extend a hand, or introduce him to a person C that he knows can be of assistance. When this happens these people – these companies and organisations grow – and they continue to impact the community and enlarge the economy.
That Work-Life Balance
Samuel Kim spends more than half the year travelling. Dedicating much of his life to bringing value to others the almost irresistible question poses itself: How does this man of Asia find that work-life balance?
Thankfully, Malaysia makes for a strategic location to be based in as it lets him to move around Asia with flights that average six hours long. This eases things for him, leaving more time on his hands to actively spend with his family.
With his children still growing up, he strongly believes he needs to be there for them. Whenever he is home, he makes it a point to have dinner and to converse with them. A die-hard tennis player, one way he connects with his sons is by teaching them the sport. It is reassuring proof that one can both enjoy one’s hobby and bond with family – a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
“I can’t say which one comes first. Everything has to come first. You just have to be very in line with how you want to place your priorities. Some situations you have to really put things aside and say: I will spend time with my kids.”
It is essential to maintain both our physical and mental health. Every day before work, Samuel spends an hour taking a walk, and spends that time on self reflection. Sometimes, he shares the walk with someone, enjoying conversation with them; an activity he likes to call a “walk-talk”. This way, he exercises not only his mind but his body as well — all before he begins the day’s work.
At the end of the day, be it mental or physical health, work or family life, there’s no denying it’s all about balance.
Samuel shares that he believes humans have a natural tendency to fall back on binary thinking. Simply put it is the belief that “you are either with me or against me”.
“Having this mindset puts you in a fixed frame work. Are you for LGBT or against? Left wing or right wing? We should all welcome a more open and positive mind set.”
With any case, he feels the human and people element is most important. No one can do everything on their own and everyone has a limited life span. While venturing out and doing great things, Samuel reminds that it makes all the difference to look for people who are willing to go the distance under a shared vision. When working for the global community, something bigger than oneself, the right people will help us carry what we build into the future.
When striving for the betterment of people, it won’t be long before others appreciate the action taken. What about Malaysia? Samuel puts things simply, stating that since Malaysia is one of the more politically and economically stable countries in Asia, the minimum that the youth in this country need to do is carry on striving for ways to make a difference in their communities. It is only a matter of time before –
“The people come to you, and you have to build your caliber for when it happens.”
Closing with Samuel Kim
“Your ecosystem should not stop you from making a difference. The reason we are still sitting here is because although there are darker forces, the greater and lighter forces will still suppress them and prevail.”
Meeting and hearing from people like Samuel Kim reminds us that there are people out there giving their all to bring betterment to the world. In an hour’s worth of philosophical musings and advice, Samuel Kim has not only shared his story, his views on the power of the youth today, and the future leadership we need, but has also reaffirmed this journalist’s faith in humanity. From the bottom of our hearts here at FLY: Malaysia, we thank you, Samuel Kim for sharing a small part of your continent-sized experience with us.