Monica Kang is the Founder of InnovatorsBox, which offers creative educational workshops, services, products and a diverse community for professionals in all industries to better integrate creativity into work and life.
What made you want to go into the nonprofit/social purpose sector?
It all started when I felt stuck, despite having my dream career. I was working in nuclear nonproliferation but the lack of creativity in my job had made me risk-averse. I couldn’t remember the last time I created something on my own because I wanted to.
It wasn’t until I integrated creativity into my daily routine that things changed. My productivity skyrocketed, I got promoted and I was able to share new insights and perspectives with top clients. On a personal level, I found myself less stressed, more confident and more eager to attack the next big project. I soon realized that I was not alone in this struggle. In fact, according a 2016 Gallup study, 87 percent of professionals in the world say they feel “stuck” and lack a creative outlet. When I learned this, I decided to use my expertise in project management, curriculum development, business and community building to create a space for professionals to rediscover their creativity. This is why I started InnovatorsBox.
What key challenges have you faced as a leader, and how have you addressed them?
Two things stand out: My first challenge was clearly articulating my vision and work to people, who had never considered the importance of creative expression. It was difficult to explain the tangible benefits of an intangible experience. Eventually, I became more mindful of messaging and learned how to describe my work in one sentence and how explain its value. I became more patient and focused on learning from each interaction. In the long run, this helped me be more aware, thoughtful and patient, which has helped us focus more on long-term goals than short-term wins.
Another challenge was time management. At first, I was willing to meet with anyone who wanted to learn more about InnovatorsBox. However, when I found myself repeating the same story twelve times to twelve different people in one day, I knew I had to become more efficient. I still have lots of meetings, but I learned to limit the number of people I meet per day so I am able to effectively manage my workload. I also ask questions to better understand the goal of the meeting. Most importantly, I began to say no when I did not have time. This change of approach has saved me time and energy, while allowing me to better meet the expectations of clients and potential clients.
Monica (right) leading a session on creativity.
Photos by: DJ Doherty, InnovatorsBox
What has been your biggest area of growth as a leader in the past year or two?
Understanding the mindset of an entrepreneur. I considered myself a good leader but did not fully understand how to be a good entrepreneur. I now know that good entrepreneurs are resourceful and passionate. You must manage risk and uncertainty, while staying determined, flexible and patient. I developed a hunger for a better product, better relationships, better services and better program development. Every experience has given me a chance to deepen my understanding of who I am and what I can do to make this world a better place.
What impact or success are you most proud of?
I am especially proud of the supportive community we’ve built, especially in our current technology-based society. In our first 11 months, we held 42 events in seven different cities. Since then, we have stayed true to our mission of delivering offline experiences that foster creativity and personal growth. Our real-world community engagements are one of the key components that allow our members to experience creativity and personal growth.
Speaking of growth, you attended the Ashoka Changemakers Emerging Innovators Bootcamp in September 2016. What was that like?
I left empowered and enriched. The Bootcamp taught me how to be more resourceful and strategic and how to communicate and lead more effectively. I learned new ways to raise money, build strategic partnerships, communicate with the press, solve challenging problems and handle difficult conversations with various clients. The knowledge I gained through the program has resulted in better press coverage, new sponsors, new clients and more social media engagement—all areas in which I previously struggled.
Equally important, the program taught me how to be a more patient, diligent and strategic thinker. The insight I gained from speakers with decades of entrepreneurial experience was invaluable. I feel less overwhelmed and better equipped to deal with complex situations. In addition, it was empowering and exciting to meet equally passionate leaders working to make the world a better place.
What’s your greatest piece of leadership advice for your social sector peers across the world?
Be patient, be determined and don’t stop dreaming. Every step and new relationship will make a difference if you are persistent and proceed with intent. Most importantly enjoy the process, not just the end goal. And never forget that you are here for the long-run. It’s a marathon. Take care of yourself and your relationships because the path is long and you want to be prepared for it.
What is something that people don’t know about you from reading your resume?
I love traveling alone. As much as I love socializing and meeting new people, I love solo walks in new cities where I can observe and learn. It reminds me to feel and experience life as it is instead of thinking about what it will be. For instance, when I used to live in Vienna, I spent every weekend hopping on a train to a new destination to deepen my awareness of myself and of different cities, cultures, languages.