Parents dread hearing several questions from their children, and some of them include: “Where do babies come from?", "Why do I look different from my brother?", "Why is my body changing?" Many parents fail to directly respond to them even though they know the answer. They feel embarrassed about specifically explaining it. Sex education remains a difficult topic for most parents. The social venture enterprise YOUNiiCON does research on effective sex education. SMT met the CEO of YOUNiiCON to find out what the company does to help both parents and children to discuss topics related to sex education.
Before the interview, please introduce yourself and tell us more about YOUNiiCON and the reason you founded the company.
I am the chief executive officer for the social venture YOUNiiCON, a sex-education play development center. Now, we are specialized in training, curriculum, and product content. I started this venture a little over a year ago. We established YOUNiiCON to address children's gender hate speech and gender conflicts. Gender-related problems occur more frequently and are serious among adults, but we believed education should start at an early age. This is why we teach children, parents, and educators how to provide sex education lessons appropriate to a child at an age of development. In addition, our company provides education programs as a way of sharing knowledge about the human body as well as on sexuality.
The name YOUNiiCON is unique. What does it mean?
YOUNiiCON comes from "You and I" and "Icon", and it means that we become our own icons. After naming our company, a controversy arose as it sounded like 'unicorn', which contains the meaning of misogyny. However, we chose it because of its color. Children like the colors of a unicorn. When you look at YOUNiiCON's logo, you will see pink and blue, which is the color of a unicorn. Because we were centered on training children to live in a society without discrimination among the sexes, we decided to keep going with the name YOUNiiCON.
You majored in Korean Language & Literature. What made you start working in this field and open YOUNiiCON?
I once dreamt of becoming a Korean language teacher, so my major at university was to prepare me for that future, but I soon realized that I was more interested in creating education materials rather than being a teacher. Prof.Choi, my Korean literature professor at the time, then said, "Do not feel our major leads you in only one direction. There are many things you can do. Literature is the foundation of everything, so do what your heart wants." Then, during my teaching practicum year at school, I saw a hand-written poster that a fellow Sookmyungian had posted. It said, "I expect the gender conflict to only worsen in the future." This made me realize the need for sex education. Each of those events led me down this path. I joined a startup camp, and produced contents under the theme "sex education". Once my business started to grow, I knew my direction in life, and I’m still developing my ideas and contents even now.
What experiences at university helped with operating your business both in the past and now?
As I have already said, Professor Choi's class had the most influenced on my career path. The professor always said to go for what we wanted in life, share our opinions, and to never sulk or hide from negative feedback. He also told students to always consider that output comes from input, so I read a lot of books and worked hard. Thanks to his words and my effort, I never step away from negative feedback, and I never give up. Being a member of 'THE SOOKMYUNG WEEKLY' also had a huge influence. At that time, we were the only group that has women-focused article section at Sookmyung. Also, women's issues were often the topic of conversation among students on campus. That is why I became highly interested in women's issues, and this helps me operating my business both in the past and now.
What were your initial goals or plans when you first started the corporation?
At the beginning, I just wanted people to see our creations. I wanted university students to be aware of gender and sex education. However, after a survey, and going to the site at the camp, we soon found that children needed to be educated first. I came up with the idea of training children, but a number of our team members were not sure and too busy with other commitments. I knew that there was no suitable sex education for children, so I set out to prove we had the expertise to provide that training. The company organized more lectures and actively spread the word that we existed. Then, I started to further develop our strengths and expertise with more advanced curriculum programs by asking for feedback from parents.
What has been the most rewarding part about operating your own business?
We recently interviewed children who participated in a YOUNiiCON program. We heard various comments from young participants including first-graders like, "There's no such thing as 'girlish' or 'boyish'." and "Girls can run and boys can cry." I felt a sense of accomplishment from these educational outcomes. Also, travelling on business for professional development and knowledge about sex education, we have the opportunity to meet various people from various social sectors. They often encourage me with words such as, "You will struggle, but hold tight. What you are doing is necessary and valuable for our society." I am energized hearing those sentiments.
What has been the most difficult part of running your own business?
The hardest thing I have had to face is the creation of content. It is much easier to teach when there is a textbook. However, Korea does not have proper learning objectives and guidelines for sex education. We have had to adopt foreign curriculums. Consideration for age must also be made, so we need different materials for students at different ages. Establishing new curriculum has been challenging, but content is almost completed now. The problem we now face is parents’ neglect towards gender sensitivity. Gender sensitivity differs from typical thoughts regarding sex education, and there are a lot of parents who do not even know what gender sensitivity is and why it is necessary. The role of parents is very important in sex education, so I must continuously deliberate on ways that will make parents feel the necessity of gender sensitivity.
How do you overcome adversity?
Whenever I run into hard times, I look for suggestions from a book. However, some told me that I need to think how I can solve those adversities in business, not only studying literally through books. I realized reading a book is not a perfect solution to solve the problem. Another way is to talk with other young entrepreneurs or set up discussions with my company members, which also function as time to build emotional bonds. Whenever I talk with others, I am empowered to overcome my adversities as I feel reliable people next to me.
Last, please leave a final word for Sookmyungians.
I majored in Korean Language & Literature and even completed my teaching training course. I thought I would enter this profession, but my life turned out differently. Nevertheless, all of my past experiences have led me to this career. I would like to say to fellow Sookmyungians, do whatever your heart wants and what you are truly interested in because everything will help with your future. Also, remember that there will always be people standing near to cheer you on. Last, being a female career person will be tough, and being a female entrepreneur will be even tougher. You might face someone who underestimates your leadership and ability, however, be courageous and proactive to overcome these issues in society.
-Division of Korean Language & Literature ‘12
-The CEO of NADAUN
-The CEO of YOUNiiCON
-Korea Social Enterprise Promotion Agency K-Startup (9th)
-KT&G Sangsang Startup Camp (3rd) first place and excellence award
Kwak Lee Shinyoung / Woman Section Editor
Oh Hwang Junhee / Society Section Editor