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Network Launches Chapter in D.C.

Network Launches Chapter in D.C.
Members of the Network of Korean American Leaders fellowship program

Twenty-four new fellows in Washington, D.C., have been selected to join the fellowship program in the Network of Korean American Leaders based at the USC School of Social Work. Nearly half the fellows have political or government-related backgrounds.

The network is dedicated to expanding Korean American civic leadership by giving the selected fellows access to the resources they will need to pursue goals, build coalitions and communicate as empowered leaders at all levels of American society.

This year’s group includes senior-level government officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Other fellows include a special assistant to the Army General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, a rule of law officer at the United Nations and a staffer at the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition, the class includes a diverse assortment of entrepreneurs and finance professionals, educators, artists and nonprofit leaders.

“They are an extremely distinguished group of people who are already quite influential,” said Angela Killoren, associate director of the network. “These are people who are seeking to give back and will really benefit from coming together with other driven Korean Americans to take advantage of the network and seminars, but could not drop everything to come to Los Angeles,” she said. “That is why we are expanding. If Muhammad can’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad.”

Born as an initiative of the School of Social Work’s Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership in 2006, the Network of Korean American Leaders was intended to connect second-generation leaders of Korean heritage for leadership training, networking and community empowerment projects in Los Angeles as a fresh approach to addressing the leadership gap in the largest ethnic Korean community outside of Korea.

So why were 25 percent of the fellowship applications coming from outside California, some from locations as far flung as London?

For Je-Hoon Lee, who directs the program, the geographically diverse candidate pool meant the network was striking the right chord with the demographic it was targeting.

The program’s growing popularity pointed to a dearth of support programs engaging second-generation Korean American leaders anywhere in the country, he said.

“Yes, it was very flattering to have these very successful people willing to put themselves through a rigorous application process for a program they will have to take time out of very busy schedules to fly out to and attend each month,” Lee said. “And we realized that they were willing because they were craving an opportunity to get together with others like them to build a common community that they didn’t already have access to, especially from parts of the country without the large Korean populations we have.”

Clearly, it was time for the program to go national.

In 2008, the Network of Korean American Leaders made its first foray outside Los Angeles, hosting its fellowship program in New York. The fellows, culled largely from the financial and media industries that dominate the city, made international news when they turned their community improvement project into a benefit concert in Seoul featuring Grammy-award winning singer and pianist John Legend.

The proceeds went to children’s charities in Africa and Korea.

The fellowship is held one weekend a month over a six-month span. Program weekends are designed to unite theoretical understanding and practical skills with real-life impact under each of the organizing topics. The schedule includes skill-based workshops, distinguished speakers and community projects.

The Washington program kicked off its opening weekend in late March with an event that included Jeannie Park, former executive editor of People magazine. Park shared her experiences as an Asian American woman in a powerful media management position with few role models that looked like her to turn to for guidance.

Ambassador Jack Pritchard, the current president of the Korea Economic Institute and former special envoy for negotiations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also spoke to the fellows at a lunch event. He recalled his time negotiating with North Korea and the importance of establishing personal relationships with counterparts as another tool of leadership.

Lee said he hopes to keep expanding and would eventually like to use the Network of Korean American Leaders model to create similar programs with other minority groups.

“Giving voice to communities, empowering people – that’s something that is beneficial to everyone and makes a lot of sense for the School of Social Work,” he said.

Network Launches Chapter in D.C.

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