It’s been 20 months since COVID-19 began calling the viability of our livelihoods into question. No matter how creative and adaptable the market tried to be, the result appeared to be the same: failure. Stock markets fell, businesses closed, and mass layoffs were rolled out for those that stayed open. Combined with mandates to stay at home and avoid contact with people, relationships were strained and depression rates rose.
Out of the darkness of depression facing business owners, the Fail Expo program of the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) shines a light. First co-hosted by MOIS and the Ministry of Startups and SMEs (MSS) in 2018 as the first expo of its kind in Korea, the upcoming 2021 Fail Expo will mark the 4th annual round. The 2018 and 2019 expos aimed to raise awareness about government resources and to create a space for business owners to share about overcoming their failures. The overarching goal of the expo’s main program was to bring small business owners together and to create a more open atmosphere that encourages them to remain persistent by challenging themselves again in the face of adversity.
The Fail Expo not only helps entrepreneurs strategically but also anyone facing emotional struggles. Hosted only in Seoul, the first year of the Fail Expo garnered support from more than 50,000 people. Rather than only granting money or other resources, this expo focused on rehabilitating attendees through emotional support so that they would continuously stand back up out of depression. From 2019, the Fail Expo program spread to regions all over Korea to spread the culture of encouraging and supporting the success of individuals nationwide.
After impacting tens of thousands of business owners through both online and offline events in its first two years in existence, the Fail Expo 2020 was already on track to expand its reach. Furthermore, due to the unexplored terrain of the global pandemic, the 2020 program gained a new wave of interest from business owners navigating the new set of challenges posed by the global pandemic. Private and public institutes also introduced autonomously planned programs to expand participation nationwide based on local needs. The result was transforming the social perception of failure as an opportunity to develop and advance toward one’s goals rather than give up or halt progress.
Since 2020, increased cooperation among local governments and public and private institutions diversified the offerings of the Fail Expo program to be year-round, across a variety of regions, and both online and offline. Over the past 4 years alone, this program has supported more than 1.5 million Koreans and hopes to become utilized by more foreigners in the future.
The spokesperson of Korea O2O Future Vision Association, a consulting company that is advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, expresses their thoughts on the Fail Expo:
“The Fail Expo program has helped our organization to overcome the fear of failure. We got to experience a supportive and accepting atmosphere and challenge ourselves to continue growing our business again.”
The Fail Expo 2021, set to take place this December, will be unique due to stronger partnerships between local governments, central government agencies, and public and private social organizations. Program resources will be even more accessible through expanded online channels. The event comes as a collaboration among 3 local governments of Busan, Daegu, and Jeju; 14 social support institutions addressing issues across youth, gender, employment, startups, and small businesses; and the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), among others.
The 2021 Fail Expo will also offer support in areas of life beyond business, including relational counseling and financial counseling. Central government agencies have designated ten experts to provide counseling and policy information and selected 50 program ambassadors, known as “Again人(DASI-IN)'s”, to support this program. Among the ambassadors are ten professional counselors, as well as journalists, content creators, and social influencers. As ambassadors (Dasi-In) of Fail Expo, they are providing online counseling to support people’s efforts to overcome failure and communicate the stories of those who have overcome their obstacles through compelling content shared in real-time.
So far, collecting the wisdom of citizens through deliberate discussion of challenges and issues has identified 75 policy priorities related to the topic of defeating failure. Out of those policies, 35 have already been incorporated into central and local government policies. This constitutes a major accomplishment in changing the social perceptions of failure across society. As for the 2021 program, there will be a stronger focus on identifying policy priorities through policy deliberations and discussions held by 17 participating organizations. There will also be expanded public participation through an online collection of opinions and agenda proposals.
The success of the Fail Expo program sends a powerful message to the public. It is true that most of the time, government and business sectors disagree with each other, whether because of tax policies or or other regulations. At the end of the day, however, both are committed to serving the public. Governments raise the quality of life through policies while businesses profit on providing goods and services that promote the public’s happiness. The collaboration between businesses and government may sound unfamiliar, rare, and unique, but it is necessary to happen, and it should happen more often. When the majority of the people are struggling, the people who can help should do so. COVID-19 has brought people together through collective hardship, and it is crucial that we come together to alleviate those hardships.
The Fail Expo program is committed to doing exactly this through small business grants and professional advice.This program acknowledges the premise that granting money is not always the solution. Sometimes, it should be noted that people don’t want billions of dollars. More often, an average amount of money to rehabilitate, paired with a significant amount of professional consulting or emotional support, is more crucial to a company’s long-term success. After all, if entrepreneurs are not in a healthy emotional state, the likelihood of using the funds sustainably decreases. Most importantly, the program offers support through a community where people share openly with each other and build their hope and passion during these trying times.
Indeed, it is true that failure hurts. However, many philosophers and psychologists say people learn from failures, which is a milestone to success. According to B.F. Skinner, who was a renowned behaviorist and professor of psychology at Harvard University: "A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.
The Fail Expo 2021 already has countless people involved in this event for support. Event ambassadors have shared more than 200 stories and have already been offering professional and civic bits of advice. This trend makes it worth looking forward to how the upcoming program will help citizens struggling as we near the end of this year.
The Fail Expo program is truly open to everyone, regardless of your citizenship or visa status. Please visit the homepage (www.failexpo.com) for more details on Fail Expo 2021. Online programs are available for everyone.
Benny Hwang is a senior at Korea International School, Jeju Campus, with a passion for policy and people. He intends to attend university in the United States, where he will major in international relations and public policy.