Tech firms have a huge responsibility to ensure their solutions will improve society. Jessie Soohyun Park, Head of CSR at Samsung Electronics UK, talks to Tech For Good about how the company’s education-focused CSR programmes are opening doors for thousands of young people

Author: Ben Mouncer

With great power comes great responsibility. It’s one of the oldest phrases in the book - and it’s more relevant than ever to the world’s biggest technology companies. As we become increasingly reliant on technology, the architects of the digital revolution grow more and more powerful. This is a trend of huge political, economic and societal significance. Are tech businesses our enablers, or our enemies? Either way, the scale of their influence is irrefutable. Some are probably more awake to their responsibilities than others. In the case of Samsung, turning its power into a positive for society has always been a driving motivation. According to this year’s Fortune Global 500, Samsung Electronics, Samsung’s core business unit, is the world’s 19th biggest company by revenue. A global leader in consumer electronics and telecommunications, Samsung Electronics estimates that its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts have positively impacted 20 million people globally since 2012. “We take it extremely seriously, and it’s grown naturally because of the way the company has also evolved, as a leading tech brand,” says Jessie Soohyun Park, Head of CSR at Samsung Electronics UK.

CSR can cover a broad range of areas, from sustainability and environmental impact to community and educational support, and allows organisations to be socially accountable to their customers and stakeholders. In February 2019, to mark its 50th birthday, Samsung Electronics announced it would be focusing its CSR efforts around education. In particular it wanted to show how technology can help provide a better quality education for young people, whatever their circumstances. This has been Soohyun Park’s professional mission in recent times. As she explains to Tech For Good, Samsung is committed to giving everyone equal access to the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to shape a better future for themselves and their societies through technology.

Jessie Soohyun Park

“We have a global vision around how we enable people,” she says. “It’s all about ensuring that everyone, but particularly the next generation, can feel like they can benefit from technology and use it to create a better future. We owe it to young people to feel like they’ve got the freedom and the right to shape that. It’s about making sure everyone has a futureproof education, so regardless of who they are or where they’re from, it’s ensuring we are able to provide quality and accessible education experiences.” Samsung’s technology is intertwined with our lives. According to Statista, since 2012 the company has held a 20-30% share of the global smartphone market. It is also at the centre of the burgeoning world of the Internet of Things (IoT), with more and more of its consumer electronics devices coming IoT-enabled. When it comes to the tech itself, Samsung has always taken its responsibility to young people seriously. Its “Kids Home” safe mode, which can be switched on in a similar way to flight mode and protects young users from accessing potential harmful content, is now installed on every single Samsung device. But the organisation’s CSR efforts around technology and education represent a new level of ambition. With rapid technological change on the horizon, Samsung wants to unleash the power of people. It has for a long time run educational programmes around the world, dating back to the creation of the Samsung Welfare Foundation in the 1990s. This, however, represents its biggest corporate citizenship shift towards domestic and overseas youth education. It wants to lead the way in demonstrating that technology companies have a duty of support.

“I can’t stress it enough but I really do believe education is going to be massively transformed by the changes in technology”

“The change that tech will bring to society goes without saying, whether it’s the way that we are at home or at work, and how we communicate and access crucial services like education and health,” says Soohyun Park. “Technology companies have a responsibility to ensure that we’re shaping it into a more inclusive and fair experience. “That could be anything from people living with disabilities feeling that the world they live in is much more accessible, or children who aren’t able to access formal education feel like they’ve got opportunities to access exciting learning experiences, regardless of where they are. I can’t stress it enough but I really do believe education is going to be massively transformed by the changes in technology.” Soohyun Park has overseen a host of CSR initiatives in the UK. Samsung views the country as a key hub in Europe, and the CSR team benefits from the company’s European headquarters being on the outskirts of London and its network of local research and development hubs. In UK CSR, Samsung Electronics’ work touched 73,000 people in 2019/20, and more than 1,600 hours were volunteered by staff on CSR programmes. “Through our programmes we are trying to instil a purpose-led innovation approach because ultimately you want young people to come into the world feeling like they’re using the tech to their benefit, but also feeling like they’re empowered to make the change that they want, particularly around the issues they care mostly about,” says Soohyun Park. The Not a School programme is one such example. Pitched as an “alternative” educational experience, Not a School explores some of the most important social issues and how technology can help solve them. This year’s programme was built around four pertinent themes: increasing diversity and inclusion online, turning climate anxiety into positive action, combating social isolation in the digital world, and solving inequality in education.

Not a School is offered as either an immersive two-week programme for 18-25-year-olds, or as a series of self-led, online learning courses that are accessible to all. It marries theory with practice, as alumni design their own solutions using technology. At the time of our interview, Soohyun Park said 14,000 people had signed up to the public version over a period of just eight weeks. “That’s what we were aiming for over the course of 12 months, so obviously we’re really delighted that lots of people are interested in the issues,” she says. “It is a bit of an unorthodox programme, and it’s unorthodox for a tech brand to be doing this as well. But we wanted to take a step back and for once maybe not talk about tech from the beginning. It all started out from what young people care about - and when you hit their interest and passions, that’s when they really want to learn.” Not a School feeds into Samsung’s Solve For Tomorrow competition, a global contest which offers entrants a potential share of $100k+ of Samsung technology and the chance to enrol on an incubation programme. This involves workshops and mentorship on advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and general business skills such as project management and setting up your own company. Solve For Tomorrow launched for the first time in the UK in December. Across its initiatives, Soohyun Park reveals feedback has been very positive. Samsung ultimately wants to offer a pathway for young entrepreneurs to build technological solutions to problems they care about, regardless of their background. She says he has been touched by some of the reactions, especially around the Not A School programme.

“Quite a lot of them walked into the [Not a School] programme feeling quite down, and also not knowing what to expect. But the feedback has been great. Someone said ‘I don’t feel small anymore’, others said they have a clear picture of what they want to do next. From an educational perspective, you really can’t ask for more than that”

“Quite a lot of them walked into the programme feeling quite down, and also not knowing what to expect. But the feedback has been great. Someone said ‘I don’t feel small anymore’, others said they have a clear picture of what they want to do next. From an educational perspective, you really can’t ask for more than that.” Soohyun Park admits the company has had to adapt fast to the shifting learning environment brought about by COVID-19. She is encouraged by the collaboration that is more prevalent in industry generally in the wake of the pandemic, and says the move to online has forced her teams to think of new models of delivery. “It has highlighted issues that we hadn’t necessarily focused on before,” she says. “It’s highlighted evermore so the importance of creating access and trying to make sure that whoever we’re trying to reach, the opportunity feels like it’s grabbable. “With online learning, it’s really interesting to see what the formula is going to be in terms of getting across the type of content and kind of information that you need, but also in the way that people digest it. It’s been interesting for us to see, build-in breaks and look at optimum lengths of learning to keep people engaged. And it’s also about thinking of people’s wider wellbeing needs alongside the learning experience. That’s what you need to consider and build in when you’re trying to deliver something online.” Overall, Soohyun Park is hugely encouraged by the potential of people and technology to combine in the future. She quotes a mid-pandemic survey that showed how the target market of Samsung’s CSR initiatives largely feels the same. “We ran a research of our own with young people a couple of months ago, called the Compassion Nation, and what was really surprising and really lovely to read about was that they feel more compassionate than ever. They are also really positive about the potential of technology to solve some of the issues that they really care about.”