For students, ‘the future is for those who dream’“You will soon come to see a commercial saying ‘Still buying a computer? Share one and you won’t need your own ever again.’ And I am not joking.” At Yonsei University’s auditorium last Saturday, Song Young-gil, president of NComputing Inc., delivered a motivational speech.
About 500 people paid close attention as Song talked about “a world without desktops.” Song devised a groundbreaking terminal - a central computer connecting 30 people’s monitors and keyboards. NComputing Inc. has sold more than 2.5 million units in 120 countries.
“The future I dream of is one where more people can use more affordable computers. And the future is for those who dream,” said Song on stage in front of hundreds of students.
Seven more speakers delivered speeches that day, including Choi Joon-young, a Kyung Hee University professor, who famously opened up humanities classes to the homeless; Park Chang-hyun, who served the first Asian president of the International Students Association at Brigham Young University, Utah; and Park Young-sook, chair of Millennium Project Korea.
The speakers gathered for the third installment of TEDxYonsei.
The lecture series is a result of countless late nights and hundreds of hours of organization by a persistent and forward-looking group of business students at Yonsei University. Their club is called Business Innovation Track. All TEDxYonsei lectures were recorded and are available for free download on the Internet.
The TEDxYonsei series started from a simple question BIT students asked each other: What can university students do to contribute to society?
Around 20 of the group’s members put their heads together to brainstorm. Ideas ranged from labeling and selling fair-trade tea to publishing a book of interviews with young Korean venture entrepreneurs.
The students eventually settled on a TEDxYonsei conference.
TEDx is a local program of TED, known as “the ultimate brain spa” among participants. TED is a lecture series that originated in the United States in which speakers with multifarious backgrounds deliver motivational talks on cutting-edge trends in technology, entertainment and design. The specific location of the local branches follows the “TEDx.” For example, there is a TEDxAmsterdam and TEDxMelbourne.
The first step in launching the TEDxYonsei conference was to get approval from TED in the U.S. In mid-December 2008, Business Innovation Track students got the positive reply they were waiting for.
At the time, only two TEDx programs had been held in Korea, both by corporate workers. TEDxYonsei was the first-ever TED at a Korean university.
According to Kwon Dae-woong, who took charge of the latest TEDxYonsei, the hardest part was securing speakers to join the conference. Kwon is a junior in Yonsei University’s School of Business.
Sometimes potential speakers are reluctant to take part, suspecting that the BIT students are not capable of pulling off such a large-scale event. The students found out later that many potential speakers had not even opened e-mails they had sent them. But the BIT students were persistent.
If e-mail and telephone failed to get the job done, the students tried to get a face-to-face meeting with potential speakers. To convince Park Seo-won to participate, for example, they paid him four visits. Park is creative director and CEO of Big Ant International. In his career, he has won 15 advertising awards from five prestigious ad competitions.
Procuring financial support for TEDxYonsei has been another challenge.
Before the first TEDxYonsei was to be held in January 2009, the conference was on the cusp of failure as a sponsor had yet to come forward. Fully committed to its success, BIT members pooled their money to hold the event. After the early struggles, 200 people turned out for the first TEDxYonsei. The second TEDxYonsei in July drew around 500 participants.
Last July was a critical moment for the TEDxYonsei team when TED U.S. sent an abrupt e-mail notifying that “approval to host the conference will be canceled.” It turned out that TEDxYonsei had violated a stipulation limiting conference attendees to 100 or fewer. TED U.S. was concerned that quality would fall if audiences increased. To get permission to host events for over 100 people, TEDx organizers are required to attend a conference in the United States.
TEDxYonsei tried everything to change the mind of TED. After a Sudanese TED volunteer mediated a resolution, their efforts paid off. He basically convinced the U.S. office that the Korean students fiscal limitations prevented them from going to a U.S. conference.
“Rather than depriving us of permission to host another conference, TED U.S. said we could hold events with more than 100 people in the audience,” said deputy director of TEDxYonsei, Choi Young-chan, 24.
TEDxYonsei had been holding conferences between semesters, but in an effort to give more students a chance to take part, TEDxYonsei will now be held midsemester.
“Do you know Wikipedia? We hope TEDxYonsei is a starting point for people from all over the world to gather and develop ideas. To provide a venue to foster ideas such as Wikipedia is our dream,” said Park Su-hye, a 22-year-old BIT member.
By Jeong Seon-eon [email@example.com]
Members of Yonsei University’s Business Innovation Track pose for a photo on Nov. 17 before preparing for TEDxYonsei, a series of motivational conferences organized by students. Provided by BIT