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Taking On Social Innovation One Idea at a Time
Taking On Social Innovation One Idea at a Time

Yonsei changemakers work globally and domestically to increase social impact

(from left) Song Jae-min, Cho Yeong-hun and Baek Jong-min with 
Niue official

Three Yonsei undergraduate students teamed up last summer to achieve one goal - to find an effective solution to the population decline issue of the island of Niue. 

An island country located in the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand, Niue is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is currently in crisis due to the decreasing population growth rate, with numbers rapidly decreasing from over 4,600 in 1950 to less than 1,500 today. 

Under the name “ASSIST (Asia Sustainable Social Innovation Strategy Team),” public administration major Yeong-hun Cho and business administration majors Jae-min Song and Jong-min Baek teamed up in July 2018 to initiate something exciting and meaningful in the public field that would have a positive impact on society. They focused on countries that had the potential to develop with outside assistance and chose Niue due to its population decline, a common issue among islands in the South Pacific. 

The team spent weeks intensively researching Niue’s politics, economy, and culture. They identified the main cause of de-population to be emigration due to a lack of job opportunities and higher education. Among the two reasons, ASSIST decided to address the challenge of creating more job opportunities by promoting sustainable development in tourism - one of Niue’s main industries - and thus the “Niue Stay” program was initiated. 

A Global Social Entrepreneurship themed project, Niue Stay focuses its policy on three key concepts: sustainable tourism, cultural exchange, and, ultimately, reversing population decline. The program combines interesting tourism programs with an accommodation infrastructure, where Niue village residents book out empty rooms in their homes for tourists while sharing their culture and lifestyle. 

After finishing the research and policy-planning phase of their project, ASSIST spent the remainder of their summer at Niue, continuing their research and proposing the Niue Stay program to country residents for four weeks. The team spent extensive time and energy approaching government officials and tourism business partners, visiting the University of the South Pacific (USP) Niue Campus to meet administrators and search for research materials, and knocking on doors of village homeowners to introduce their program policy. Their hard work and dedication paid off - ASSIST succeeded in securing a regional director and potential room providers, as well as receiving positive feedback from residents and the local media.

Meeting with Seone Lolesio, USP Niue Campus Director (center). Courtesy of USP Niue website

ASSIST’s major breakthrough came towards the end of their stay when they met with Niue’s Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Toke Tufukia Talagi, who has led the country since 2008, to agree on signing an MOU that would implement the Niue Stay program in collaboration with the government to revitalize its tourism industry. Under the new partnership, ASSIST will build an online platform linked to the official Niue government website to continue monitoring and consulting on Niue Stay’s development. The team will also build an incentive system for the regional director and launch the beta version of its business model. 

Meeting with Niue premier Sir Toke Tufukia Talagi


“I thought about what I could do to make me happy. Of course, earning a lot of money is nice, but I decided to take on this challenge because I thought positively impacting others would bring me happiness,” commented Young-hoon Cho, a member of ASSIST. 

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ASSIST is one of the 54 teams selected for the student extracurricular program “Towners at Workstation” organized by the Institute for Higher Education Innovation (IHEI) at Yonsei University. The six-month program was first launched in July 2018 with the aim to empower students to identify and address social problems that can have a positive impact on Korea and the international community. With funds totaling at 200 million KRW (about 180,000 USD), the project was the largest of its kind in the country and supported a total of 298 participating students.  

For six months, the Workstation student teams worked tirelessly to actively participate in addressing domestic and international issues, their target areas ranging from the Seodaemun-gu district surrounding Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, all the way to the island of Niue in the South Pacific. The Workstation teams follow one of five overall themes: Global Social Entrepreneurship, OT2 (One Team, One Task), Public Value Learning, Social Innovation Network, and Social Venture Establishment, where teams focused on cultivating public values, solving domestic and international social problems, facilitating social innovation forums and networking, and developing socially innovative business ventures. 

The team projects were innovative, creative, and held significant social impact. 

Among the Workstation’s Global Social Entrepreneurship groups, team “Microwave” introduced edible insects in Korea’s food system to address food waste and food shortage in the future. Team “Saffy (Safe Food for Everyone)” developed platform services and engaged in o2o service modeling projects to create an effective food-recovery and food-sharing culture.

Social Venture Establishment themed teams launched innovative social venture initiatives. Team “Connecting People (Yeonin)” organized 70 educational performances for over 20,000 people to raise awareness about performers with disabilities, reaching 100 million KRW in ticket sales. Team “Fill in the Gap (Sachum)” developed a platform to provide online shopping opportunities for the visually impaired by using AI speakers. Team “WhiteBulls” organized a successful crowdfunding project for supplying portable insulation tents to the elderly living alone and residents of isolated neighborhoods, raising a total of 2.6 million KRW in funding.

Team "WhiteBulls" insulation tent project. Courtesy of Wadiz crowdfunding homepage

OT2 (One Team, One Task) themed teams explored creative solutions to social problems through teamwork. Team “Another Answer PlaC (Play Ground for Creativity)” built an online platform for Yonsei’s creators and artistic student clubs to share and showcase their work. Team “Friendly Talk (Jeongdam)” created “The Citizen” program, where Yonsei students teach teenagers citizenship education on how to become enlightened citizens who participate and engage with society.  

Team “Another Answer PlaC” Yonsei campus collective coloring book. Courtesy of "Another Answer PlaC" Instagram account (@anotheranswer)At the end of the six-month Workstation team projects, the Institute for Higher Education Innovation held the wrap-up ceremony “2018 IHEI Show-off Fiesta II” at the Commons of Yonsei University last December to showcase the dedication and innovative ideas of all 54 teams. 

"Your small but meaningful first steps can positively impact people," remarked President Yong-Hak Kim during his welcoming remarks. 

At the wrap-up event, 13 teams were awarded for their hard work and excellent outcomes in successfully impacting society, receiving recognition for most pre-votes, most on-site votes, and best efforts. After the awards ceremony, all awarded teams gave presentations on their innovative projects, followed by a mentoring session with social impact researchers and organizations such as DreamLab and Root Impact, where participants shared their trial and error experiences throughout their work.

“I would like to express my warmest support and gratitude to the Yonsei students who were so dedicated to developing solutions to social issues for the past six months,” said Yong-seok Chang, Deputy Director of IHEI at Yonsei University. “Inspired by the ideas of our students, the Institute will continue to promote university-led social innovation and introduce various initiatives to encouraging social impact and make positive changes in society.”

IHEI plans to continue actively support students' social problem-solving activities so their project outcomes can lead to industry-university cooperation education, and will assist students in engaging with ongoing social innovation programs with the cooperation of outside organizations. The Institute plans to hold the Workstation program annually to continue empowering students to create social value; it will provide scholarships for social innovation activities to cover project expenses, and open an online portfolio called “Social Innovation Town” that will monitor project progress. IHEI will also hold a “Social Impact Championship” event this February to provide well-deserved incentives for the most innovative projects.

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