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Korean-American class supports community leadership

NetKAL group invests in the future of its long-running civic program

NetKAL team exercise
Hannah Song, president of Liberty in North Korea, James Jung, assistant professor at Fairmont State University and Agnes Chung, NY1 News reporter, participate in a NetKAL team-building exercise. (Photo/Jack Huang)

For the first time in its history, an entire class of the Network of Korean-American Leaders (NetKAL) at the USC School of Social Work has pledged donations to the organization that brings together accomplished individuals from various industries to promote collective civic and professional leadership in the Korean-American community.

The $50,000 pledge from NetKAL Class VIII will go toward supporting the quality programming that NetKAL members have enjoyed over the eight years since it started, as well as providing a path toward sustainability for future fellows — emerging Korean-American leaders who receive training through a six-month series of workshops and seminars.

As leaders in their industries, the fellows wanted to pay forward the experience they had in NetKAL.

Jehoon Lee

“This pledge from our fellows, many of whom are 1.5 and second-generation Korean-Americans, shows that they are invested in the future of the program and of their community,” said Jehoon Lee, director of the USC Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership, which manages NetKAL. “As leaders in their industries, the fellows wanted to pay forward the experience they had in NetKAL, with high-level networking opportunities, professional development and community service activities, so other successful Korean-Americans would be able to benefit from the strong, highly respected network in the future.”

A collective effort

Phillip Kwun, the top donor in this class of fellows, said that this group was very cohesive.

“You only have so many opportunities in your life to build significant friendships and relationships,” said Kwun, a founding member, managing director and chief financial officer of the New York-based boutique investment bank Sonenshine Partners. “We collectively value the program and thought it was important to give back as a whole.”

Since its inception, NetKAL has brought together leaders in business, education, entertainment, nonprofit organizations, politics and media to celebrate and discuss the accomplishments of Korean-Americans, as well as the role they will play in their community’s future. The organization, which holds a gala event and an educational summit each year, has been on an upward trajectory in terms of its reputation — so much so that the Republic of Korea welcomed the group in 2012 with visits to Samsung headquarters and the presidential Blue House, as well as a North Korean refugee resettlement center, a soup kitchen serving seniors and a youth mentoring workshop.

“Giving is part of committing to a certain set of values,” Kwun said. “NetKAL promotes leadership based on integrity, diversity and mentorship. Supporting a leading organization where that dialogue is taking place is important. NetKAL fellows want to see the organization continue to thrive.”

Professional growth

Jane Norman, another member of Class VIII who helped lead the fundraising charge for the group, agreed that meeting people from all walks of life and who work in different industries helped her grow in more ways than one.

“Professionally, many of us are at the points in our careers where we are assessing what’s next or where we want to go. Having the opportunity to explore this with peers and to identify concrete things to do to facilitate that has been invaluable,” said Norman, a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Labor as part of the Obama administration.

She said the experience has been even more powerful on a personal level.

“I’m a Korean adoptee, and NetKAL has helped me connect with Korean culture and accomplished Korean-American leaders in a way I didn’t think would be possible. As someone who didn’t grow up in a Korean community or even a Korean family, it has been exciting and deeply satisfying to establish these relationships,” Norman said.

NetKAL Class VIII’s gift boosts the Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort that seeks to raise $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC’s academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and world. Three years after its launch, the campaign has raised more than $3.5 billion.

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Korean-American class supports community leadership

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