Sense and Sustainability (S&S), an online blog founded by students, translates the “research frontier to relevant stakeholders,” and synthesizes “academically rigorous research without academic rigidity.” Recently, members of the blog—many of whom are students and affiliates of Harvard—traveled to Seoul, Korea to attend MoneyToday Media’s K.E.Y. PLATFORM Conference, working to weave in a discussion of sustainability amidst the conference’s focus on business practices.
This was not their first trip to the K.E.Y. Conference; last year the Sense and Sustainability Harvard team won a Green Carpet Award from the Office for Sustainability for their work and partnership with the conference. Sense and Sustainability was also a recipient of a Student Sustainability Grant.
Jahred Liddie, College ’16, recently spoke with Samuel Stolper, PhD Candidate in Public Policy and Graduate Fellow at S&S), and Kevin Jiang, College ’15 and Conference Fellow, on their experiences in Seoul.
Jahred Liddie: What motivates your interest in sustainability? What brings you to Sense and Sustainability in particular?
Samuel Stolper: My interest in sustainability is motivated by a love of nature and an ethical belief that I should not waste things, that I should not ruin places and experiences for the next person. I came to Sense and Sustainability because of the opportunity to write about environmental and energy policy, which is also the focus of my doctoral dissertation.
Kevin Jiang: Personally, growing up in California, I’ve always loved the outdoors whether it’s sightseeing, hiking, or just enjoying a nice day outside in my backyard. Sustainability is an important issue we need to deal with today and every day, even though it is often very tough to motivate immediate action and effectively mobilize toward.
I was first introduced to Sense and Sustainability through Jisung Park, who was my TF for an economics class at Harvard. He was able to provide many insightful perspectives on how sustainability issues can actually be interpreted in an economic context, and not always in the way that we would originally expect. However, what really compelled me to stay with the organization are the amazing opportunities we have had to both discuss and explore a variety of issues in our weekly meetings, small events, and conferences like this one.
Every week, we hold informal discussions in Lowell regarding issues related to climate-induced migration, capitalism and climate change, greenspaces and a whole host of other interesting topics. We invite guest speakers to speak about issues on a monthly basis and publish podcasts as well to bring awareness and discuss important innovations such as social impact investing. Overall, I’ve found Sense and Sustainability to be one of my most intellectually engaging opportunities this semester, exposing me to new topics I had never thought about before.
Overall, I’ve found Sense and Sustainability to be one of my most intellectually engaging opportunities this semester, exposing me to new topics I had never thought about before.
JL: What brought you to the K.E.Y. Conference? What was your role?
SS: I attended the K.E.Y. Conference as part of S&S’s delegation. We were there to instill a sustainability ethic in a business-centric gathering, and to develop relationships with Korean organizations, like Money Today, the conference organizer; the Seoul Mayor’s Office; and Shinhan Bank, Korea’s largest bank. I was simply an attendee at the conference, so I listened and asked questions at some of the presentations.
KJ: I was one of the lead coordinators for the Sense and Sustainability team in terms of coordinating our logistics, as well as providing input for content of speakers at the conference and themes. Sense and Sustainability’s role this year in the conference was to provide both an American, as well as sustainability, perspective to the discussions that are being had by the chief management in many business companies in Korea. While issues centered around topics such as innovation, we were also able to provide valuable commentary in terms of the education system, contrasting the Korean system with both the US and European nations.
My role involved organizing and making sure our 12 member team made it to all of the events, as well as keeping team members in the same mindset regarding content and contribution during speaking sessions.
JL: What did you find most interesting about the conference?
SS: I didn’t previously know much about Korea’s economic story, but through presentations at the conference, I learned that its economic success has come largely from being a “fast follower,” i.e., improving on the manufacture or provision of someone else’s innovation. The interesting challenge now is for Korea to transition to an economy that is more about services and less about manufacturing, more about ideas and innovation, and less about following.
KJ: I think the most interesting aspects of the conference were the sessions regarding the education system in Asian countries, and particularly in Korea. Having grown up in the United States, I was very unaccustomed to hearing and thinking about how the Asian education system is rigorously focused on standardized tests and rote memorization, as a rather large contrast to the US system.
During several education sessions that Sense and Sustainability had a key role in, we discussed the Swedish education system which arguably focuses even more on creativity and analytical prowess than even the States. Contrasting it to the Korean system of education, I think many of the Harvard students were able to add examples and anecdotes from their experiences which have heavily influenced the most rewarding parts of their education here in Cambridge.
JL: How do you feel your education at Harvard and experiences prepared you for contributing to S&S’s presence at the conference?
SS: I’d like to think that my PhD training at Harvard has sharpened my analytical skills, so that I can interact with conference presentations even when the subject is something with which I’m not particularly familiar. My coursework and research has mostly been in economics, and so I tend to think about how incentives are aligned and how scarce resources should be allocated in a given market.
My coursework and research has mostly been in economics, and so I tend to think about how incentives are aligned and how scarce resources should be allocated in a given market.
KJ: Harvard is a very diverse school, both in terms of activities and students. As a senior, I think that my experiences both interacting with students here as well as traveling abroad with other student groups has definitely prepared me for this conference.
Being exposed to different cultures, ways of life, and people provides a valuable personal and intellectual exercise in understanding and expressing compassion for the problems that others face. I think that in addition to being able to contribute during the conference in the form of questions and adding commentary, we were also able to really listen to the issues that were brought up and hopefully engage more of our community in Cambridge to help address these global challenges.
Being exposed to different cultures, ways of life, and people provides a valuable personal and intellectual exercise in understanding and expressing compassion for the problems that others face.
JL: How do you see this conference changing your role in the blog or your thoughts on sustainability or business?
SS: Actually, the best thing about the conference was the opportunity to get to know my colleagues at S&S. I think we all feel much closer to each other after a week in Seoul together. The sense of community is one reason why Sense and Sustainability is such a great group in which to participate.
The sense of community is one reason why Sense and Sustainability is such a great group in which to participate.
JL: What will stick with you most about being in Seoul?
SS: The food! I love trying other countries’ food, and there was no shortage of opportunities to try things that looked very different from your average plate in the U.S.
KJ: I think two things will really stick with me about being in Seoul. First, the other S&S members who attended the conference were amazing to spend time with. In addition to having undergrads on the trip, we also had several grad students on our team from departments as varied as history and engineering; some even had a Korean background, which made exploring the city all the more authentic and exciting.
Second, I will never forget how beautiful Seoul is, a true hybrid of history, nature, and modernity. Visiting temples, hiking around the nearby state parks, as well as exploring the nightlife—that's the beauty of being in a foreign nation with such a different culture, and is surely an experience that will stay with me forever.