November 27, 2023 - The Asia Foundation co-hosted the "Re-unification Re-Startup 2023" event at Ewha Women’s University ECC on November 18, 2023. The primary objective was to spotlight the endeavors of North Korean refugee entrepreneurs, showcasing their businesses and products to the broader public. Hana Foundation, The Bridge, Asan Nanum Foundation, Merry Year Foundation, and Ewha Women’s University collaborated in this meaningful initiative. The event received valuable support from sponsors, including the Charities Aid Foundation and the Ministry of Unification.
The event attracted a gathering of over 100 individuals who showed enthusiasm for support. The program was divided into the "Talk Concert" and the "Product Showcase."
Talk Concert: Unveiling Entrepreneurial Journeys (Photo by Hana Foundation)
The Talk Concert featured seven inspiring North Korean refugee entrepreneurs selected through a rigorous screening. These entrepreneurs shared their remarkable journeys, detailing the challenges they faced entering the South Korean market and adapting to its society through entrepreneurship. The subsequent panel discussions allowed for a deeper exploration of their experiences. Leaders from each co-hosting organization evaluated the presentations, and Cheol-min Kim, the CEO of With Palette, emerged as the winner. Kim shared his journey of identifying an environmentally friendly business opportunity by developing new products through recycling wood waste.
Product Showcase: A Glimpse into North Korean Entrepreneurship
The Product Showcase aimed to provide North Korean refugee entrepreneurs with an opportunity to test the market competitiveness of their products and promote them to the public. Eleven entrepreneurs participated, presenting diverse products, including fashion goods, North Korean traditional liquor, dried fish, health products, desserts, cosmetics, ceramic goods, home appliances, and juice packs. Customers who attended the event were surprised by the high quality of these products, leading to a significant shift in perceptions about North Korean-led businesses. Many even opened their wallets to support these entrepreneurs by purchasing showcased goods.
"Re-unification Re-Startup 2023" not only celebrated the resilience and innovation of North Korean refugee entrepreneurs but also fostered a sense of community and support. The event served as a powerful platform for bridging gaps and changing perceptions, showcasing the potential of entrepreneurial ventures to drive positive change. As we reflect on this collaborative effort, we look forward to a future where such initiatives continue to empower individuals, transcending borders and fostering unity through entrepreneurship.
Cover photo provided by Hana Foundation