Shawn SH Suh: How Hope and Change Saved my life!
I met Shawn SH Suh in Seoul for this interview. Shawn is an amazing social business entrepreneur. He tells us how “Hope and Change” saved is life and how he is now changing other people’s life for the better.
Watch the interview:
From Suicidal Thoughts to Hope and Change
I used to live in Indonesia for seven years when I was a teenager. And what I was thinking about, while I was in Indonesia was: I have to change the world in a better way because what I see in this third world country is not much people have the same opportunity to dream. There was this woman who was just in a box, selling gums 24 hours for seven days. Having same eye sights, seeing same view every day and just in the box, so ever since then I was thinking, “What is the purpose of life”?
I was quite young but I was questioning about my life. I was thinking “what is the purpose of my life” and I started to think “Why are we created?” And one of the thing I realized is what we are keep on doing is consuming our earth, so I thought we are amoebas, single cellular molecule to just consume. So I was thinking very negatively about human beings. So even, if I look at my family photo, I was like “This is a group of amoebas” My apartment is like a colony! I was about to commit suicide then.
Because suicide is the only pure thinking that human can do. So I did to commit suicide several times.
But then, suddenly one day, the words “hope” and “change” just went through my head. They went through my head and converted all the negative energy inside me.
Hope and Change made me a Leader
These words have energy. And after they went through my head, all the energy inside me have changed. I realized I still have a hope and I can choose to change the world. And I will rather try to change the world in a better way and to give a fair choice, chance to everyone.
So suddenly, I decided to be a leader and I just went to the class president election at my school, the Jakarta International School!
There were around 3,000 students. So it was quite big school. And it was quite famous in South East Asia as a international school. And I wasn’t even good at English, I just went there, this Korean guy and then I did the speech and then I became the class president!
Most kids are really wealthy, they don’t really see the poor people. So I actually was the first to actually invite the poor people kids to the school.
I rented three buses and made a big festival in the school for poor kids to actually see how we are learning and they can also look into our class.
From Indonesia to South Korea to Silicon Valley
After Indonesia, I came back to Korea and then I went to school in Korea. After I graduated, I started working in Silicon Valley. And when I was in Silicon Valley, I realize even though to change the world, you have to be smart, you have to actually be smarter to change the world in a better way!
I wanted to build a story that can make a community that can impact the world and now, after I was working in Silicon Valley, even though starting up a company is a good thing, I wanted to start a new social company, it’s called updream Korea.
Clothes from Drawings by Cambodian Kids
Updream Korea does two projects. First project is with the drawings that is done by Cambodian kids, we make clothes out of it, we make a brand and we donate 10% of the sales. Just in one year, we built three houses and one school
Sanitary Napkins for Girls
The second project we are doing is Sanitary Napkin Project. Korea’s sanitary napkin price is seriously high, it’s twice more expensive than other countries because of a monopolized market. So we try to make a sanitary napkin and if you buy one, one is donated to other kids.
They are many girl students who are not able to afford sanitary napkin in Korea. But women don’t actually tell men about this problem, it’s a problem between the women. And for instance, they don’t have money to pay for a sanitary napkin, so what they use is the sole inner shoe. So a lot of women don’t go to school during the period time. And it’s even a more serious problem in Africa. And it’s a problem that man doesn’t really know but woman really knows so we try to solve those problem.
This project has already started and thankfully a lot of people are actually motivated by this story, so we have a lot of followers and a lot of people are actually trying to help.
Companies with Driven Stories
The companies with a driven story will succeed because now people have more information and they will check whether they are genuine or not. There are a lot of companies who say the are going to help, they are going to impact the world but they want to see whether they are really going to do it or not.
So what we do every year, we are inviting our customers to actually visit Cambodia and see how we built the houses. So this February with 17 customers, we went to Cambodia together so they can see the actual work, the actual project.
We want to say, you guys are really part of this. And I think it’s inside people’s need to pursue goodness. There is also people who don’t believe in good and bad, but there are also people who believes in good. I think that’s also inside every people’s need, they want to do good thing but they cannot because they are too busy. But as they participate in part of it, they feel satisfied.
Changing our Customers Life
But the strange thing is when with the customers we went to Cambodia together to build house and to help the other Cambodian kids, we realized there are two volunteer who actually changed completely their life after the trio. One woman who used to be an announcer in a broadcast company, she quit her job after the trip and she said she wanted to do something for the Cambodian kids because he never felt so much love.
And there was this other woman who was also a writer in a broadcast company. She say, she was too busy and she couldn’t sleep for three hours all day but after the trip, she quit her job as well! And she started to work in a social research company.
An Opportunity to Change by Questioning
So what I realize is we should also provide customers the opportunity to change and try to pursue something that could be more meaningful for them.
I think questioning is most important, like some people change through crisis in their life but some people change through the questions. Because a question is what reframes our thoughts and directs how we think. Like me, I changed in middle school because I was questioning myself fearlessly about life and that changed me. And also, indirect experience like seeing Cambodian kids, also change your life.
The Changes in Korean Culture
Korean culture is very famous for competition. The education curriculum is based on competition, the higher grade goes to the higher school, better school and life goes on in Korea like that. But Korean young people now realize that even through the competition you cannot win at some point. So actually, now young people change, they actually give up competition.
A lot of people are volunteering for going social service in foreign countries. A lot of young people are going out from Korea and just travel around the world.They just want to go out, escape from this competition.
I don’t never want to chase only money. I’m not saying money is bad, but I always want to be a person who can be a catalyst for changing the world. So what I’m doing beside the social company is to help a technology company and small companies who can actually impact the world in a better way but who doesn’t have a chance because they don’t actually have the connection for market entry to foreign countries or financially. So we’re trying to build venture capital company to help those talented people as well and also our company that can socially impact the people as well.
So within ten years, I just want to be a catalyst to change the world in a technological way and also a social way.
How to be Future Ready?
First, know the whole picture of the world. If you’re a student, you have to know how fearlessly other students are studying, like in ivy league. Then you can set up, how you should … how you can set up a bar high so like for instance, Korean universities think, university students think they are studying the most hardest but if you go to India or ivy league, there are more students who’s trying to fearlessly study and I think studying is very important cause the more you know, the more you can do and more you can impact and the studying is part of a way to achieve your dream. So you should never stop studying. Not only in school but in your life, in the whole journey. So the first thing is always study from people and books.
And second thing is you need to really really need to find your purpose of dream in life. If you set that up, then everything will be so much easy.
And the third thing, you have to imagine your future every day. So because how imagination helps you to go through this uncertainty of life is, for instance, you’re living a bad day today, but if you imagine a day when you succeed, you can actually borrow the energy from the future to live today. So what I do is, even though I go through bad days, I think of the day when I will impact the world and help other people succeed, then I can borrow that energy from the future imagination to live today. So that’s how I always go over through the hard time.
And if you set up a strong purpose of your life, you can go over other obstacle as well. So it shouldn’t be fake, so what you have to do is really build your story in life that’s genuine to yourself and if it’s genuine to yourself, you’ll be able to work with other people to actually change the world.
You can learn more about Shawn’s projects and contact him at www.updreamkorea.com