On November 11, 2020, the Asian Leadership Conference was held for registered viewers throughout the world. Hosted by Chosunilbo, one of the oldest and largest daily newspaper sources in South Korea, the conference was streamed online from Seoul, South Korea. Held since 2005, the event featured 400 sessions, with 1000 speakers and 18,000 online attendees, making it one of the largest and most prestigious gatherings of world and business leaders in Asia. This years’ conference was held virtually and rescheduled from its original date in May 2020.
Each year, global leaders gather at the Asian Leadership Conference to discuss and provide solutions to pressing issues faced around the globe. For 2020, the topic of discussion was the world after COVID-19: rebuilding global leadership for the next 100 years. Sessions during the conference centered on rebuilding global leadership in the wake of COVID-19 and elections worldwide, especially the United States; the global economic outlook, including Brexit, the U.S.-China trade clash and the Korea-Japan trade dispute; North Korea as a nuclear threat; populism and the future of the Asian continent; and the 4th Industrial Revolution.
In the past, key speakers at the Asian Leadership Conference have hailed from around the world, with Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush representing America. This year, philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith joined their ranks, speaking on the driving force in overcoming social barriers and the challenges he faced when setting up his own company.
His session, titled “Redefining Progress in a Digital World With Robert F. Smith,” was hosted by TV Chosun news anchor and journalist, Jiah Kim. With job transfers and unemployment on the rise in South Korea, coupled with the expectation to go to college and acquire a prestigious job after graduation, Smith was asked what advice could he provide to South Korean youth who are constantly worrying about their futures and the stability of their careers. He also commented on the role that government, businesses and various organizations should play in terms of alleviating the pressure on future generations. Smith also addressed how the digital age is changing since the wake of the pandemic and what opportunities await individuals and businesses.
Shaping Careers and Educational Opportunities for Students in the United States
While Smith may not have a direct impact on students in South Korea, he is working hard to expand educational and career opportunities for students in the United States, especially those of minority groups. Most notably, Smith pledged to pay the student loan debt of the graduating class of Morehouse College in 2019. His gift totaled over $34 million and was extended to cover the loan debt of the students’ parents, as well.
Additionally, Smith has partnered with the United Negro College Fund, creating scholarship programs to help students of minority groups. In 2020, in conjunction with the Fund II Foundation, Smith helped launch the Student Freedom Initiative as an alternative to traditional student loans. Smith, together with Fund II Foundation, also pioneered internX, which is an internship program to help advance the careers of minority youth. Most recently, Smith also donated to the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants to support their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam Bootcamp Program for Black accounting students.