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Bill Gates in SNU – The Voice of Innovation

  • May 1, 2013
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Bill Gates in SNU – The Voice of Innovation

Bill Gates is speaking to SNU students On a lazy Sunday, the weather at Seoul National University (SNU) is warm and the bright yellow characteristic of the guenari (forsythia) creates a welcoming atmosphere. Add that to the presence of Bill Gates and students studying for their midterm exams are sure to leave the library, which is exactly what happened on Sunday, April 21 at SNU.

Founder of Microsoft and extraordinary philanthropist, Mr. Gates arrived on campus to give a lecture to students and professors on various topics. The dialogue, a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to meet Mr. Gates, proved to be exclusive. Out of over 1,700 registrants, only 300 were chosen to attend the event, which was conducted by the dean of SNU’s College of Engineering LEE Woo-il.

Dean Lee began by noting that the world’s richest man “would like to be addressed as simply, Bill”. This helped release the tense atmosphere caused by the presence of such a high-profile figure. Dean Lee went on to ask Bill about his visit to Korea. What brought him here?

Bill divulged, “I’m excited to be here. I haven’t actually been to Korea in five years. This time my focus is more related to the Foundation work, and the work of a startup company looking for nuclear energy called TerraPower.” Bill’s high interest in renewable and atomic energy combined with his concerns about global warming was fitting with the university, as SNU is known for its prestigious and thorough research on atomic energy.

But the main topic of the dialogue was innovation and “creative economy”. As Dean Lee explained, “creative economy” is a term used by the newly elected president of Korea, president Park, referring to a method for new economic growth. This entails the convergence between technology and industry as well as culture, in order to stimulate creativity. Furthermore Dean Lee expounded, Korea’s production skills are now outdated, and the need to “create” is imperative.

Mr. Gates and SNU President.

These are one of the toughest challenges for educational institutions like SNU, but also the biggest opportunities. The nation is praised for having the “brightest” students worldwide. At the same time many people advise that the Korean education system needs to judge success in a wider range beyond test scores. In particular, there must be an emphasis on creativity among graduate students. Naturally, the subject of Bill’s dropping out of Harvard was brought up, an act unthinkable for Korean society, especially for Korean parents.

With an honest laugh, Bill started, “My parents at first weren’t super happy. But it was a very unique opportunity. We wanted to be the first to get out there and write software. And I didn’t have time to finish my degree so I dropped out and started Microsoft.” His easy relating of the experience made dropping out of university seem natural. But he added, “I don’t recommend that path. It’s possible that it’s the right thing to do. But it’s better for it to be the exception, rather than the rule. In most cases, there is nothing so urgent that needs to get done.”

Bill continued by talking about the phenomenal transformation Korea has gone through from being an aid receiving to a generous aid-donor country. He mentioned how in the past it was more convenient for Korea to follow the formula of other countries such as Japan and the United States. But now, since Korea’s institutions and companies have evolved to a world-class level, there seems to be no one to follow. To meet this challenge, Bill pressed on about the need to innovate. “You want to have the ability to take risks and innovate… I think creativity comes partly from having a breadth of knowledge. You don't want to just learn one area of study. Be very broad and think through- try to understand, what are the problems that need to be solved?”

300 students gathered to meet Bill Gates. As the session came to a close, the 57-year old business mogul seemed more like an uncle, giving advice for his nephews at a family dinner. He encouraged students to take the best advantage of their youth, stating, “One thing that has helped me is continuing to study things even after I left the full-time educational environment. [With the technological innovations occurring] It’s an unbelievable time to maintain that ongoing curiosity throughout your 20s, 30s and even later.” With a reassuring smile, Bill nodded, “Being young is a great thing for being creative.”

Written by OH Jung Eun, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Eli Park Sorensen, SNU Professor of Liberal Studies,

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