So-Young Kang

Adaptation is the future. Technology is vastly evolving, making it challenging for individuals to constantly develop necessary skills to stay abreast of these advancements. Like many companies that wanted to successfully upskill their employees, the Awaken Group witnessed the absence of a platform that enabled people to learn new skills in an engaging way, in lieu of the typical one-way dissemination of information via videos and text. As most systems were passive content delivery platforms, So-Young Kang, the Founding Chairman of Awaken Group and now CEO of Growbe, formulated the idea of Gnowbe, a micro-authoring tool that enables intuitive and thoughtful learning on the go. The two-time founder recognized the problem of growing skills and mindset gaps when she launched Gnowbe five years ago. “According to WEF, 85 million jobs will be displaced by tech while 100 million new jobs will be created,” mentions So-Young. Unfortunately, the skills possessed by individuals mostly do not match with the skill required for new and upcoming jobs. “This is going to require people to adopt new mindsets and behaviors towards lifelong learning,” she adds. So-Young was looking for technology to help scale the communications, training, and engagement required for a transformation of Awaken Group. This led Gnowbe to be driven by the need to leverage tech in a more human way. So-Young believes that it is not enough to just provide video-based content in passive ways because skills are often developed through task-based practice and application. The Future of Work will require individuals with critical thinking, creativity as well as strong collaboration and communication skills. These skills can only be developed through peer-to-peer engagement, on-the-job practice, and reflection. This forms the core principle behind Gnowbe, which aims to grow knowledge into being through social learning and practice.

Experiential learning in workshops, coaching, mentoring, and on-the-job training are all powerful human experiences that are traditionally done face-to-face and hard to scale consistently. This led Gnowbe to design a system from scratch based on the human experience of creating connections, social learning, discussions, reflections, and taking actions to change behavior. The company therefore developed the MPPG framework - microlearning, participatory, personalized, and group-based learning - based on the latest science and research on adult learning, behavior design, and gamification principles. “Our ‘why’ is about impact - business and personal ROI from people performing at their best (e.g., higher sales, higher retention, higher confidence, better customer experiences, better relationships),” says So-Young. Gnowbe makes it very easy to create these digital experiences which help people perform better, be it from onboarding, sales playbook training, leadership development or even product updates. It is one of the early pioneers of microlearning and has helped the e-learning industry to evolve. It also coined the term MLC or ‘microlearning course’, launching the world’s first publicly available MLC library as the next generation of the MOOC called GnowbeLearn. In 2019, this technology was recognized as a $2 billion global industry. “Gnowbe is consistently ranked in the top 3 of this new category,” shares So-Young.

Being a human-centered performance enablement tool for teams, Gnowbe is designed to help people get the info and resources they need to perform at their best. It utilizes microlearning and micro-authoring to make it super easy to create, distribute and track multimedia content from one’s mobile phone. “It’s a ‘playbook in your pocket’ for all the employee moments that matter,” states So-Young. Gnowbe’s wants to humanize the world through its 3Cs - raising consciousness, building authentic connections, and inspiring change. The company is passionate about scaling the human experience in ways that are social, engaging, and action-oriented. It renovates the employee experience by supporting employees in the ‘moments that matter’ which includes all the stages faced by individuals in the workforce, such as onboarding, becoming a manager or growing as a leader.

“Our ‘why’ is about impact - business and personal ROI from people performing at their best (e.g., higher sales, higher retention, higher confidence, better customer experiences, better relationships)”

Addressing unconscious bias
“Half the world’s population are women,” So-Young shared earnestly. The inequalities faced by women around the world dampens the tremendous potential of this half of the world population. “Women bring a ‘feminine energy’ which is reflected through a greater sense of empathy, ability to forge relationships and build communities in very human ways,” she adds. The world is seeking more holistic, integrated solutions to global issues and women can bring a lot of creativity, integrated thinking, and understanding of humans to these challenges.

So-Young, being a female tech founder, often faces unconscious bias which has been challenging given the stereotypes about a “typical” tech founder. “I don’t fit the mold,” she mentions. “I’m a petite Korean-American woman who doesn’t have a tech background. I can’t say that I have overcome these stereotypes or broken through any glass ceilings but I’ve learned a few things along the way.” She firmly states that both men and women need allies to challenge the biases that exist for both of them and work together to address them. As learning about ‘unconscious bias’ and how it impacts our perspectives plays a significant role, So-Young created a Gnowbe microlearning course (MLC) on ‘Fostering Gender Inclusive Cultures’ to provide simple activities that are designed to raise awareness of these issues.

We need to take conscious steps to address ‘unconscious bias’,” asserts So-Young.

But So-Young highlights that it all starts with how we educate and empower young girls and boys in the family, at school, in the playground, and then extend to the workplace. She says, “We need to share more role models of successful females in leadership roles across industries so that they see what is possible.” She followed it with an instance and says, “I just got off the phone with a male mentee who has become a tech startup founder.” She offered to introduce him to the CEO of one of the largest companies in X country. “He immediately assumed the CEO was a ‘he’,” she adds. “And he was incorrect.” The CEO is a ‘she’ which as So-Young describes was not his fault. Sadly, we don’t see enough positive stories of females in leadership roles. “This is about the press, media, PR, social media, etc. Women tend not to self-promote as much and often don’t also promote other women as much as we could. It goes both ways and opportunities for both men and women to support more women,” she emphasizes. “Women need allies and support to move ahead in their organizations and society. Some of my biggest supporters have been male mentors and leaders who pulled me up and invited me to have a seat at the table. For example, I never heard of the World Economic Forum or the Young Global Leader network until 2013. A male friend of mine told me about it and nominated me. He invited me to have a seat.”

“Leadership starts with yourself and having the courage and humility to know what you don’t know everything and be willing to learn”

“Create your own mold”
So-Young’s life’s goal and mission is to maximize human potential. She does this through her company’s non-profit work, her volunteer activities, as well as through the things she writes and speaks about. All this could only be possible with the mindset to constantly grow as an individual. “Leadership starts with yourself and having the courage and humility to know what you don’t know everything and be willing to learn,” she quotes. She hopes to multiply the impact of her work to reach a billion people. “I believe with Gnowbe we can do this as there are over 4 billion people around the world with mobile phones,” she says. Through Gnowbe, she plans to get closer to their 3C mission by raising consciousness, building authentic human connections, and inspiring change. Ultimately, So-Young wants to be remembered as a person who lived a purpose-driven life that positively impacted many lives and “a good daughter, sister, aunt, friend, boss, partner… someone who was loving, kind, generous and there for those around her.”

As for the generation of women behind her, seeking to be leaders, So-Young’s words of wisdom are truly noteworthy. She asks female leaders to be courageous and invest in knowing themselves as they grow in their careers. “Unlocking the fullness of who you are will be your greatest asset and strength on your journey,” she suggests. “You don’t have to fit into a mold of what a female leader looks like. Create your own mold. The world (especially young girls) needs new role models.” she continues. “Embrace your femininity as well as your masculinity.” She advises them not to be afraid to be fully you— “fully female and fully great!”