From surviving to thriving: Social enterprises empowered by YBI’s South Korea COVID-19 Recovery Programme

Launched in 2022, Youth Business International’s programme supported by Google.org is providing access to entrepreneurial resources and content, training and support to thousands of underserved social enterprises and SMEs in South Korea. 
Delivered by Youth Business International (YBI) members Work Together Foundation and Impact Square, the COVID-19 Recovery Programme uses a mix of in-person and online learning methodologies to reach as many young entrepreneurs as possible. A year into the programme, we hear from our members and some of the young entrepreneurs who have benefited from the programme. 

YBI initially worked on a large-scale COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery Programme, with support from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, in 2020 that supported 401,978 entrepreneurs across 32 countries, with 95,628 jobs maintained and 105,458 businesses still trading by the end of the programme. This programme was extended with a USD$2 million grant to lead an additionalCOVID-19 Recovery Programme in South Korea, where SMEs make up more than 99% of businesses and employ over 80% of the workforce, yet they struggle to maintain competitiveness and productivity in the long term. 
At YBI, we want youth entrepreneurship to be recognised as the force for good it is and aim to inspire more inclusive, responsible youth-led businesses focused on solving social, economic and environmental problems. Businesses like D-Link.  

In-person training and networking

D-Link, a social enterprise that provides digital skills and literacy training to seniors was founded by Soo-hyun Lee, 21. He participated in Work Together Foundation’s incubating course and demo day. “As time goes by, I think the magnitude of social responsibility and people’s interest in it will grow,” said Soo-hyun on the topic of entrepreneurship for good. 

“Companies without social responsibility have low sustainability, while the government and public institutions also have limitations in solving social problems. I think that social enterprises can step in and solve these problems.”

So far, the programme has included intensive training courses for early-stage social enterprises on key topics including business model development, digital transformation and marketing with a specialised track for women-led social enterprises dealing with gender-specific business challenges. 60% of entrepreneurs who have attended Work Together Foundation’s intensive training were women, including Nu-ri Choi, 35, CEO of food brand Mediabrity. “I felt I had been helped in practical terms and that I had grown a lot. After taking a lecture on patents and intellectual property rights, I actually went ahead with a patent application. Also, meeting many colleagues with similar values at the place of education gave me strength.” 
Work Together Foundation have also delivered forums for social enterprises to share insights and knowledge on how they have navigated COVID-19 successfully, and peer networking events for social enterprises to receive in-depth business consulting and technical advice from business mentors. Sung-wook Kim, 32, CEO of social engagement platform Kalo, was one of the forum attendees: “While participating in the programme, I was provided with lectures and mentoring from various entrepreneurs and received many specific tips on what to do and what to focus on to grow as a company. Above all, I was able to meet and network with many classmates who run businesses with a social entrepreneurial spirit and listen to voices from various fields that I hadn’t thought of.” 

Korea’s first online accelerator

The programme continues to grow, as Impact Square are launching their mobile-friendly online platform in September 2023 that will provide access to support resources for SMEs, start-ups and social enterprises. The platform, Impact Circle, is free to access and provides comprehensive solutions for the sustainable growth of startups, social enterprises, and social ventures whose businesses have been hit by the pandemic. Its core focus is improving accessibility to quality content and providing a broad online community for young entrepreneurs.  
“A new era begins! The very first online accelerator programme in South Korea is now live,” says Impact Square CEO Timothy Dho.

“In the face of COVID-19’s challenges, we uncover new opportunities. Connect anytime, anywhere, and let growth flourish with Impact Circle.”

In the two months of beta testing, Impact Circle had already attracted nearly 1,800 people contributing to active discussions and peer learning through the platform. Impact Square aims to reach at least 20,000 people with their online resource in the next year. 
As the first stage of the programme involving in-person intensive learning draws to a close and the next stage of more widely available learning resources begins, participants have reported growth to their business networks and greater business resilience, already creating and sustaining nearly 200 new jobs within months of completing workshops.  
Both Work Together Foundation and Impact Square have become members of the YBI network during the course of the programme, and we continue to support them to deliver a high-quality and impactful programme. “YBI’s support has been instrumental in empowering social entrepreneurs” says Wontai Lee, Secretary General of Work Together Foundation. “Together we’re shaping a brighter, more inclusive future.” 

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