Friday, October 24, 2014

Backstage Pass: Future Global Leader Hannah Song Works Toward Liberty in North Korea

CIW Future Global Leader Hannah Song had a nine-to-five job and “the rest of my life planned out” when she first started volunteering with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).  Song, whose grandmother had left North Korea decades before, had previously known very little about North Korea—“my family doesn’t talk about it”—but quickly became committed to raising awareness and helping improve the political and social climate faced by North Koreans.  After working and volunteering for several years with LiNK, Song took over as CEO and president of LiNK in 2008, where she's since taken a "long-term approach" to the issues facing North Korean citizens and refugees today.
LiNK CEO & President Hannah Song is leading efforts that
aim to transform North Korea from the "inside out."
Has your family started talking more about North Korea since you’ve become CEO and president of LiNK?
No. I only found out recently that when [my grandmother] left North Korea she didn’t know she was never going to be able to go back.  She actually left behind a husband and two children. 

In South Korea, you have about 27,000 North Korean refugees that live there today. They have not been necessarily warmly welcomed into society.  My parents’ generation, they grew up with…a negative perception of North Korea.  My grandparents’ generation is the last generation that will ever remember a unified North Korea.  It’s such a painful history.  It’s more often that you don’t see that generation talking about it and just moving past it.

What is the vision, the goal of your organization?
Our name is our vision: Liberty in North Korea.  For us, though, we believe that it’s the North Korean people who will be the ones to achieve that liberty.  Our role is really just to come alongside them and to empower the North Korean people with tools and resources. 

In order to do that, we have a multi-pronged approach.  The first for us is that one of the major barriers to this issue is a perception issue—it’s how the world views North Korea.  That’s a real challenge because most people view North Korea either from a purely political perspective or from the perspective that it’s an impossible issue to get involved in.  We try to change that perception so that we can bring more support, more resources to the North Korean people.

What are some of the resources you provide to North Koreans?
We actually provide assistance to North Korean refugees that have left the country.  We help to provide a way out for them, to get them safely out of China where they’re hiding and into countries like the U.S. and South Korea that will welcome them and will help them to start new lives.  These refugees are playing really important roles in helping to change North Korean society from the bottom up inside.  They’re keeping in touch with their family members inside and sending money and information in, and it’s really transforming North Korean society from the bottom up.

Most people don’t realize, but there have been really important changes that have happened in North Korea over the last 15 to 20 years.  It seems so simple, but it’s the most straightforward: Let’s look at where change is already happening and be a part in accelerating that change.

What are these changes and transformations in North Korean society?
A lot of those changes have to do with social information and economic changes.  Twenty years ago, there was a huge famine in North Korea. What resulted out of that was a survival mechanism—this grassroots marketization happened.  Those markets have become a part of everyday life for North Korean people today.  In a lot of ways, it’s helped to create more independence for people apart from the regime.  They’re able to get food and goods and even information from these markets that they weren’t able to get before.

How can individuals get involved with LiNK?
We have an incredible global movement of support all over the world.  We have what we call rescue teams—about 500 of them globally, most of them here in North America.  They are a group of people who are committed to raising the funds to rescue one North Korean refugee and also to change perceptions in their local communities.  That’s one way that people can get involved.

We encourage people to host events in their local communities as well.  We believe a lot in the grass roots, and we work a lot with young people.  I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to be working with young people to really prepare the next generation.

Why is it important for you to share your work with audiences like those at CIW?
I always appreciate the opportunity to share the story of what’s happening in North Korea with new audiences.  [At CIW Future Global Leaders] I was just so inspired by so many people and what they’re doing. So many young people are doing incredible things that seem so unimaginable, and it inspires me and it gives me a lot of ideas to go back and work even harder.  From a personal level, I really appreciate that, and I leave inspired.

For the issue, it’s awesome to have a platform to speak to people who are already here because they’re a community that’s curious.  They want to learn about what’s happening in the world around them, and they want to be a part of changing the world that they live in.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Backstage Pass: Learning through Experience with the Experience Institute's Victor Saad

CIW speaker and Co-op member Victor Saad knows that the end of school—at least as we know it—is near.  In fact, when Saad was interested in pursuing an MBA, he skipped business school himself, opting instead to embark on what he called The Leap Year Project.  An educational race in which Saad completed 12 experiences in 12 months, The Leap Year Project gave Saad the types of hands-on experiences usually reserved for internships or daylong field trips. Now, he’s helping others pursue experiential educations, with the Experience Institute, a higher education platform that recently graduated its first class and that is aiming to redefine the way we all approach education.  

Victor Saad's Experience Institute transforms the city into an intellectual playground. 
The Experience Institute aims to “establish experience as a credible form of education.”  Why is this important?
I think everyone knows experience is transformative.  I think all of us have had those moments where we realize that our most valuable lessons have come from those moments when we’ve had to do something outside of our comfort zone or we’ve had to do something where our neck was on the line.  It wasn’t just a case study; it wasn’t just a sample problem.  It was for something that people were actually going to interact with.

Since it’s such a valuable part of education, I’ve just been curious why is it usually just a small portion of it, like an internship.  [I thought], How do we design education with experience at the center? I think if we do, people end up becoming more inventive and adaptable. 

So, how do you design education with experience at the center?
With experience being so organic, you can’t be too formulaic with it.  It’s important to create a community, to create the space and the vernacular for it, in the same way that CSS and HTML have done for designing websites.

What were some of the experiences you undertook yourself during your Leap Year Project?
I wanted to be able to work with individuals who both believed in what I was doing and also had excelled in what they were doing.  I found myself working alongside Samuel Stubblefield, who is a world-renowned experience designer at an architecture firm in Seattle, to build out Microsoft’s healthcare facility. Specifically, the lobby needed a dose of levity and interactivity.

On the other extreme, I spent time with Union Rescue Mission in downtown LA.  I was getting out of the more design-heavy world and thinking about what it means to work for an organization that serves people.

What are your overall takeaways from all of the “experiences” you undertook?
Personally, I think courage comes when you attempt something that is seemingly impossible.  The moments of discomfort and the moments of challenge are the moments that we actually ought to lean into and not avoid.  Those are the moments that build our character.

Many of your Experience Institute students are attending CIW events.  How does this fit into their experiential education?
[This fits into] the idea of us having electives, and the city is our campus.  Our meeting spaces have been all kinds of office spaces.  Our classes have been taught by practitioners.  And then our electives are this.

Why do you think events like CIW are so important?
Inspiration is perishable.  It’s like food; if you have a great meal in front of you, you ought to consume it.  CIW serves up the best of meals, and it invites you to act on them relatively quickly because you have the people who can make your ideas come to life right next to you.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Backstage Pass: Sharpening Our Minds with USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis

Nelson Dellis can memorize two decks of cards—104 cards, to be clear—in just five minutes.  In the same amount of time, he memorized 193 digits, in order.  It’s this unique set of skills that have made Dellis a champion—a three-time USA Memory Champion, to be exact.  Dellis is a regular on the memory championships circuit, although, he admits, “it’s not a huge sport, as you can imagine.”  And while most people are unlikely to become as skilled as Dellis, he’s recruiting others, including the Chicago Ideas Week Edison Talks crowd, to start sharpening their minds through daily practice and simple memory tricks.

Prior to competitions, Nelson Dellis completes four to five hours worth of memory
exercises per day. 
Why did you start training your memory?
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and she passed away in 2009.  Seeing her get worse over the years took a toll on me and my family.  The fact that it was memory made me think if I could do something right now to make my own brain health better when I get that age, then [I should]. 

So, where did you start?
One of the first things I found was this USA Memory Championship.  That was a really cool place to focus on and train and learn these techniques and set up the drills I do every day.

What are these memory championships like?  Do you all get into a room and swap memory tips?
All the tips are pretty much the same.  There are some strategies that someone come up with that will make, say, memorizing a deck of cards easier or faster.  No one is afraid to share that stuff.  What it comes down to is, how long did you practice? Who spent the most time sitting on your ass? 

It’s the nicest competitive atmosphere…because they know you have to practice for a year to get good at it.

What does it feel like to do these memory drills every day?  Is it like your form of meditation?
I feel like when I’m memorizing, it’s this place where I go.  I go away to a mental memory palace, which is a childhood home or my favorite park or whatever.  It’s just five or ten minutes of just focusing on one thing.  That’s kind of a meditation.  I have to block out everything and focus and be in this fantastical world in my head.

Did you have a kind of innate faith early on that doing all of these tricks would strengthen your memory? Did you have any inkling how good you would become?
No.  Of course, I was very skeptical.  I heard about the things these guys do at these competitions.  I thought it has to be guys who just are gifted, even though they say they aren’t.  I read one of the memory champion’s books.  And I tried these exercises.  And I thought, “OK, this is actually possible.  I can see how this could become faster, and this could become easier.”

OK, but how many hours a day do you have to spend to get as good as you are?
Leading up to a big competition, maybe four or five hours a day. 

Are there advantages to your super memory that seep into your day-to-day life? 
I find that because I’m aware of memory and I’m always thinking about it, I’m better at remembering to remember.  Things like placing your keys or just keeping track of things that are often forgotten because of distractions.

What about advantages for less day-to-day activities?  Are you now really good at blackjack?
No—that’s a good question, but for blackjack, actually, having a good memory doesn’t really serve you that much.  Maybe a little bit if you can keep track of what aces have come out.  But other than that, since they’re shuffling all the time, you

There are certain poker games where you see cards face up and they use one deck.  So if everyone folds at the last minute, I can see

So, your memory is not going to be a moneymaker for you in Vegas.
I don’t think so.

All right, we have to ask: Do you still forget things?
Oh, for sure, yeah.  Because what it comes down to is paying attention.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Backstage Pass: Reading Goes Underground with CIW Speaker Hollie Belton

Chicago Ideas Week’s Books On The L started as an underground movement—literally.  The brainchild of CIW Speaker Hollie Belton, an art director at Leo Burnett, Books On The Underground began as a single book on a London train two years ago and has grown into a multinational movement. Books On The L, Books On The Subway and Books On The Metro are all fostering their own communities of book-loving commuters, and Belton—ever the creative—sees new opportunities for sharing her love of stories with her city.
Hollie Belton's Books On The Underground has spawned a movement of books
traveling on trains across the U.S., including Chicago's Books On The L.
Why did you decide to start leaving Books On The Underground?
I started Books On The Underground mainly because when I changed jobs, I went from a 10-minute cycle to an hour’s commute.  Reading became an escape for me.  I’ve always loved reading and picking up new books.  It reignited that love that I have for reading.

I decided I wanted to leave a book on the Tube one day, but I didn’t want it to a lonely book left behind with no identifying thing about it, so I designed the sticker.  I started leaving my own books.  Now people e-mail me for stickers for their books, and I leave publishers’ and authors’ books.

The first individual who discovered a book, noticed the sticker and shared on social media?
The first person who found a book—I think I squealed out loud in the office. Everyone in the office asked, “What’s wrong?”  The tweet was so nice. It said [something like], “This is amazing.  It’s really cheered up my journey.  I needed a book to read.”

And have any of those books recirculated a few times?  Are people taking, reading and returning?
I have noticed a couple of books.  Actually recently, I noticed a book that I put on the tube as one of my first ever books two years ago.  The sticker was all bashed up.

What do you think of the programs that have sprung up since you first started?
I love that they’re starting.  Hopefully soon, more people will know about it and want to get involved.  And hopefully we’ll have it happening all over the place.

My newest idea is to get the stories of Londoners together and get them to share their stories.  I want to create an anthology of their stories and get it published and launch it on the tube for the commuters to read.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Backstage Pass: Josipa Majic Solved a Medical Problem with a Teddy Bear

Future Global Leader Josipa Majic is designing medical solutions for pediatric care that are appealing to doctors, parents—and kids.  Teddy the Guardian, which she developed with Ana Burica, collects children’s vitals in real time, eliminating the need for the devices many of us may remember from our own childhoods, including, as Majic pointed out, the “traditional thermometer.”  But it’s not just replicating these devices in a fuzzier form; it’s also expanding on the way data is presented to parents and health practitioners.  Teddy, for instance, has a heart that varies colors with the children’s health and beats to the rhythm of the child’s own heart. 

Future Global Leader Josipa Majic designs child-friendly medical devices.
Majic sees Teddy as just one of many potential applications of these types of technologies, believing that devices like Teddy could be used in medical fields outside of pediatric care.

Why did you and your entrepreneurial partner Burica decide to develop Teddy the Guardian?
We were initially developing medical software for pediatricians.  When we were working there, we noticed that kids and nurses had a very specific problem.  Kids do not understand medical devices.  The usually react very emotionally, and it’s stressful.  As bad as that is, that actually skews the data so you get the wrong metrics, and that creates a bigger problem, which is that pediatricians fail to understand what’s happening with the child.

We decided to combine the soothing and calming effect of your favorite teddy bear and the seamless experience of touch-based sensors and integrate that into a single product.

How many prototypes—how much development—did it take to get a teddy bear that functioned both as a bear and as a medical device?  We could see the potential to create a lot of almost robotic-looking bears.
It took a year and a half of R&D, and a lot of failures, a lot of really bad concepts, but a few good ones.  It ended up developing a completely new concept of a completely washable, child-friendly new generation of device.  At the same time it is interactive and soothing and very informative because it transfers all the data in three to five seconds to a mobile app.

Of course it needs to be washable—but we didn’t even initially consider that part of the equation, and the potential complications as you developed a washable medical device.
Yes.  That’s pretty important for both parents, but also pediatricians because it needs to be sterilized.

And how do children react when handed the teddy bear?
Especially in hospital settings it is the most child-friendly object.  Basically compared to the traditional medical devices, this is the least threatening way to get all of your vitals measured, so they really like it.

What about the response of hospitals and parents to this new take on the medical device?
Hospitals varied a bit.  Healthcare is a very traditional and pretty regulated domain, so it takes a while for any innovative products and any new concepts a really long time both to certify it and to get them into the market. 

But parents got it immediately, and it really resonated with them, especially with first-time moms who had no experience with how to check up on their kids when they are slightly ill and they do not want to impose additional stress or discomfort to them.  They would not need to explain to them, for example, why you need to put a traditional thermometer under your arm and stay still for 10 minutes.  Things like that just create a really bad user experience for kids and parents.  So, the bear just creates a much more seamless way [to get vitals].

How many kids are benefitting from Teddy the Guardian today?
We have more than 600,000 pre-orders in Euros.  It’s a pretty big market, a pretty validated concept.  And this Christmas we’ll be launching a new campaign and a new product—a new generation of teddy—and we’ll be donating the first teddy bears to the best children’s hospitals around the world.

Where do you plan to go next? Do you have your eyes on other potential products, other markets?
We have a lot of very ambitious plans.  The second market that the same concept is very applicable to are elderly patients with Alzheimer’s.  They again do not understand the entire hospital setting and environment.  And it’s still very soothing for them, although they are much older, to have something as soothing as a plush toy without being bothered by the entire procedure of medical check-ups.

Why is it important for you to share your ideas and experiences through platforms like CIW?
It’s always important to spread the word, but most importantly I think it’s very educational to hear people from different backgrounds that have a similar goal but in a completely different domain.  It’s so inspiring and it’s really humbling here to speak at such an event.  It really is good to exchange information with them and exchange experience.  So I think it’s very enriching for both me personally and also my organization as a whole.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Backstage Pass: Viney Kumar Designs an Emergency Siren for the Mobile Age

In 2013, Future Global Leader Viney Kumar retooled the ambulance siren for the mobile age.  The app he designed alerts drivers to the presence of an emergency vehicle much earlier than the traditional, helping to prevent an emergency response worker from being unable to reach his destination because he’s stuck during rush hour.  The app earned Kumar a top prize at the Google Science Fair.

Kumar's age when he coded this potentially life-saving app?  14. 
Future Global Leader Viney Kumar was inspired to create his app
after witnessing an ambulance unable to reach its destination in India.
Most 13- and 14-year-olds aren’t designing apps that have the potential to save lives. What inspired you to start such an ambitious project?
The inspiration for my project was seeing an ambulance in India that was stuck in traffic, and I was thinking, what can I really do about this?  I was seeing this whole incident and I was powerless to stop it.  When I got back to Sydney, where I’m from, I wanted to see what I could do about that.  I wanted to solve this problem. 

How exactly is your app able to prevent this problem?
The way it does this is that it uses the Internet and GPS technology to transmit the message from an emergency vehicle to all the drivers within a certain range.  On your car dashboard, you’ll get a Google map saying exactly where you are, where an emergency vehicle is—its location, its destination and its projected route.  So every single driver is going to know whether they’re in a critical path, and, therefore, whether they actually need to pull over—within one minute of an emergency vehicle actually coming.

I’m starting trials in both Sydney and in India.  I’m starting to put this into practice and actually starting to get my ideas out there.  Emergency services have had pretty positive responses.  They’re really interested in helping to save lines by using technology to save lives and improve their response times.

What went in to developing this app?  What types of skills did you have to learn?
I had to learn a lot of new skills that I hadn’t learned before, including working with GPS systems, web servers, Javascript, a bunch of other different types of things.  I had to learn them all in a short period of time, but I found a lot of meaning in learning all these new things in such a short period of time.

I’d written code before, but this process of experimenting, having things going wrong, modifying them, things still going wrong and then eventually coming up with that one working solution—that’s one of those great moments.

Now that you know the trial and error process involved—what projects do you plan to start the “process of experimenting” with next?
I have two projects currently going.  I’m working on a wilderness survival application that helps to save people lost in the wilderness.  I’m designing a prototype for a game that can help to save elementary school children at risk from cancer, heart disease and obesity just by encouraging the right eating habits.

Wait—through games?  How can games help to prevent heart disease and obesity?
It’s through incentivizing behavior and encouraging them to eat fruits and vegetables.  It’s a very different idea.  It’s through gamification.

The idea came when I was looking through the Cancer Council’s site and they said that if you could eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables, then you have a much, much lower risk of getting all of these diseases. So I thought, how could I incentivize people to actually do that.  And I looked and it all starts with children.  It starts with youth.  It’s still in the conception stage, but I’m working on this game that can actually inspire people to eat better.

Why is it important for you to be able to share your ideas through a platform like CIW?
CIW is a platform to help get your ideas and your vision out to the general public, and to inspire others to follow in your footsteps.  But it’s also a community of people who inspire you to do more and to be more, and that’s what helps change things.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Backstage Pass: Circling the Globe with Amelia Rose Earhart

Amelia Rose Earhart has lived up to her name: This year, she retraced Amelia Earhart’s path around the globe, completing the historic, ultimately mysterious flight.  An impressive undertaking (although last night fellow CIW Explorers Speaker Captain James Lovell begged to differ, joking on stage, “With due respect, Amelia, I did circle the globe in 88 minutes), the flight is an accomplishment that Earhart feels honors her namesake, and has the potential to inspire other aspiring "aviatrixes."

Amelia Rose Earhart's trip around the world completed
her namesake's historic flight.
So we have to ask: Your name is Amelia Earhart.  Does that mean you’ve been piloting planes since the womb?  When did you get started?
Every single day getting asked [when I was a kid] if I was a pilot—being named Amelia Earhart—it just kind of got old.  I finally said, I have to give this a try to see what’s possible.  I took my first flight lesson at age 21, and I’ve been flying ever since.  And I just truly did fall in love with it. 

I think it’s good my parents gave me the name, but they never said, “You should fly.  You should go into aviation.”  That way I didn’t run away from it.

Then you went from flying—and loving it—to preparing to fly Amelia Earhart’s path around the globe.  What was the planning process like for that type of endeavor?
It took a year and half worth of planning.  Everything from studying the meteorological systems around the world to climate through all 14 countries we were going through, the best time of year to fly to avoid those big weather discrepancies ahead of hurricane season.  We had to get overflight permission in every country that we traveled through.  We had to plan to have a host meet us in every spot.  They would arrive and help us with fueling and customs and landing fees.

The list of detail that went into the flight was just incredible.  Over 16,000 emails were exchanged just in the planning round…and I was a part of all of them.

 And once that trip was done—what was your feeling about the whole experience—relief, elation, pride?
I can’t look at a map of the world the same way any more.  It’s a totally different concept to me.  I felt accomplished and proud and like we honored Amelia in the best way possible, but there was a little bit of a let down.  What do I do now?  The day you wake up after flying around the world, and you wake up in your own bed—well, going to the grocery store doesn’t feel the same.

Then, we have to ask: What do you do now?
I’m running my foundation.  It’s the Fly with Amelia Foundation.  We put young girls through flight school.  They’re age 16 through 18 because that’s when have girls have energy and enthusiasm.  They just need a little bit of direction and financial help.  So I’m developing a STEM curriculum of aviation.

Why is it important for you to share your story via platforms like CIW?
This type of conference, and this type of activity, is vitally important.  The people who you’re going to see on stage are not the people who are going out there and saying, “You should get into aviation.  You should climb a mountain.  You should  become a photographer.”  They’re just doing it.  These are leaders who are leading by example.  People get inspired when they see others that have gone and done great things before them, but to see someone face-to-face like this in an intimate setting like this is really what it’s all about.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.