“Social entrepreneur” is a term that 19-year-old Veronica Cho applies to herself with confidence these days. She has a clear, inspiring vision for her future, and she was recently profiled by Forbes magazine for her work on gender equality within the G20 Summit.
The feature, titled “How a South Korean Girl Will Fix Gender Inequality,” has given Cho a kind of self-confidence that hasn’t always come easily.
“I knew the type of woman that I wanted to be, and the type of life that I wanted to lead, but I didn’t know how that would manifest,” she said.
After a childhood spent moving around the Lower Mainland, she remembers feeling shy and aimless throughout high school and the beginning of her time at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
“I was pretty jaded. People tell you you can change the world…. It’s become so overused that we as university students in particular have become really desensitized to it.
“Even the people who are at the forefront of it don’t really believe it themselves.”
Cho decided to give student government a try upon starting at Sauder. She was elected as the first-year representative for the board of directors of the Commerce Undergraduate Society, and quickly immersed herself in several other extracurricular activities. However, from the beginning of her time at UBC, she worried that she was heading down a path she wasn’t passionate about. “I would always say, even during my first year, that I’m really an Arts kid at heart…. I didn’t really stay within the Sauder bubble.”
In the summer after her first year, Cho travelled to South Africa on a business internship, and helped create a career-development workshop to equip the members of the community with interview, resume and cover-letter skills.
“It was probably the first time in my life when I fully felt like I was doing something that was completely my own,” she said.
After her experiences in South Africa, Cho had trouble getting excited about returning to school. Cho said she suspects that many students struggle with the secret fear that they may have sold their souls to something that doesn’t inspire them. “I’ve had people message me on Facebook that are kind of like, ‘I’ve thought about quitting, but I didn’t really have the courage to actually do it like you did.’ And it hasn’t just been one person, it’s been quite a few – which kind of surprised me, but not really,” she said, laughing.
Still, she enrolled in second-year classes, bought her books and led a group of first-years through Imagine Day, but all of it felt wrong. “It really just came to a point in the middle of October where it just built up and I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
So she packed her bags, hopped on a plane home to Korea and prepared to do some serious thinking. As luck would have it, that’s when she learned about a government scholarship program that would allow her to teach English in a rural elementary school. The work was fulfilling, and she felt happy for the first time in a while.
It was then that Cho was contacted by a young woman who had represented South Korea the year before at the G(irls)20 Summit, which brings one female delegate aged 18-20 from each G20 country to a conference in the G20 Summit host country to discuss the global empowerment of girls and women. The former delegate had seen some YouTube videos that Cho had posted about her work with the CUS, and suggested she apply for that year’s summit. After initially disregarding the messages as spam, Cho finally researched the event and was blown away. She applied, and was chosen to attend the 2012 conference in Mexico.
“I will forever look at my life as before G(irls)20 Summit and after G(irls)20 Summit,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for female empowerment, and I was a loud and proud feminist too, but I think this opportunity really reaffirmed that this was a life thing for me and not just a side thing.”
She’s now focusing on developing a unique initiative with another G(irls)20 delegate. The project, called Presidential Girl, will be a not-for-profit organization that aims to engage adolescent girls from impoverished countries in the global, political and economic playing field. This August, Cho returns to South Africa to launch the first group of girls in the program.
“If you have a bold idea that you believe can make an impact on society and change the world, you have a responsibility. You owe it to yourself, and to everybody that could possibly be impacted by this idea of yours, to see it through or at least try. It’s not just you anymore.”