Dr. Min-Sung Kim (he/him)

Diversity leads to greater innovation, and this in turn increases our economic prosperity.
Who are you and what do you do?

I am Min-Sung Kim. I have invested for AllianzX and Samsung Catalyst Fund, among others, and today I am a managing partner and investor in a venture capital fund and co-founder of 2hearts – a community for people with a migration background in the digital sector who help each other with networking, mentoring and careers.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and upbringing?

I grew up in Hamburg with Korean roots. My mother had a very strong influence on me.

She always told me during my school years that I had to try harder than the “typical German.” That’s something I actually hear from most members of 2hearts! For example, if I had an average cut on my report card, I thought that was pretty good. But then my mother always said: No, that’s not good enough. If two people in Germany apply with the same grade, they will take the “German” one. You always have to be much better than the Germans to have a chance.

If you could change one thing in Germany, what would it be?

One important thing would definitely be to make immigration easier. I’ve heard of so many qualified people who didn’t get visas or were sent back – even though they had a job. I would just like all the people in our administrative apparatus to understand that we need qualified professionals from abroad, because they can create added value. The new immigration law is definitely a right step to get moving and adapt to the new global challenges.

Of course, that's a blatant demand for performance right from the start.

I don’t want to adopt a victim attitude here. My upbringing and education gave me a strong sense of achievement and thus many opportunities, so that I am very privileged today. Nevertheless, my origins were always part of my upbringing, and the subject of fare evasion, for example, was absolutely taboo. My mother always said: If a German forgets to buy a ticket, it doesn’t matter, but if a foreigner does it, then they immediately say: ‘Of course, that’s how they are, the foreigners.

But: You are German, you are not a foreigner.

Yes, that’s true, but it’s always about perception. In terms of perception, I’ve actually always been a foreigner, even though I’m German, of course.

Since we're talking about perception: Asian traits also trigger positive attributions, right? Have you had any experiences there?

Yes, absolutely. In German university, I always felt foreign, but there were also a lot of assumptions based on my looks, for example that I was automatically good at math and IT. In a talent program, for example, I was gladly put together with other Asian-looking candidates in project groups to solve tasks in the field of technology/computer science. I also received scholarships more easily in some cases, at least I think so, because I increased diversity as an Asian-born German at a German university.

So, I was also often promised positive attributes that I don’t necessarily fulfill at all, so prejudices work both ways, there is also positive discrimination. Whether that ultimately helped me, I honestly can’t say exactly.

What have been your experiences with discrimination so far?

The usual questions and comments that come up all the time and that I didn’t notice before: that my name is always spelled wrong, that Frau is written in letters instead of Herr Kim. The question about where I learned German so well, where I actually come from (Hamburg) and so on.

What do these regular comments do to you?

You’re just constantly caught between two stools. I never quite felt like a “real German. The other way around, when I’m in Korea, the Koreans know right away that I’m not one of them. When I speak, I have an accent – I simply stand out there. Ultimately, this has led to me adapting strongly everywhere I go. This in-between-ness is one of the most common issues for people with an immigrant background. That’s why my work at 2hearts, which I founded together with Iskender Dirik, Gülsah Wilke and Oktay Erciyaz, is so incredibly encouraging: We now have a community of more than 2,000 people here who all felt the same way. The moment when you realize that you’re not alone, that it’s not me, but that it’s a systemic issue, is very liberating and encouraging.

Who is in your community?

Professionals from abroad who are looking to connect here (1st generation) and Germans with a migration background who live and work here and are highly ambitious. Many share a similar history, but there are of course very strong differences in prejudices and attributions between Germans of Asian origin, people of Turkish or Arab origin and people of color. Depending on the country of origin and religion, there are significant differences in the severity and frequency of discrimination. In the case of some participants (and here at 2hearts we are talking exclusively about academics), it is almost a miracle that they have managed to get through to high school or university.

How did they overcome the resistance? Is there a pattern there as well?

There was almost always a role model, a person who believed in them and didn’t repeat the same old narrative of ‘You’re not going to be anything anyway, you’re only going to have children or the most you can do is transfer to a secondary school’, but encouraged them and strengthened their strengths. That is exactly the model of 2hearts.

How do you work exactly?

We connect young ambitious people with mentors from over 150 nations to give them access to opportunities. That makes all the difference: if I have already built a career and a network here, then I have access: access to internships, to capital, to knowledge about career opportunities, an understanding of what good schools, universities are, etc. People from socio economically weaker backgrounds without prior academic experience and / or indeed families with immigrant backgrounds do not have this very access. That means they have a very tough learning curve and simply don’t have the same opportunities.

That means we are only talking about academics here?

We started with academics in order to establish a culture of allyship and helping each other and to produce these success stories, so that in the next step we can also accept and support people with other biographical backgrounds. We have a lot of ambitious people at 2hearts who are eager to contribute.

What does diversity mean to you personally?

We need diversity in order to survive. Biologically, but also in terms of the history of nations, too much monotony and homogeneity simply mean extinction. But diversity also means higher overall financial performance, higher gross domestic product (GDP), through the high degree of technological innovation that a diverse society produces. At the same time, diversity means a higher communication effort, since different groups cannot be picked up with a homogeneous message.

Can you elaborate on that a bit?

We have so many global challenges today, the climate crisis or digitalization, for example. How can we ensure the necessary innovations for this? How do we even get the talent that can develop these innovations? Only a global, international, diverse mindset can help here. All systems and societies that are too much in their own juice and too homogeneous will eventually die out. This is also somehow biologically understandable; diversity is needed in order to survive. Even if you compare autocracies with democracies, for example, democracies are more innovative because they allow diverse viewpoints and opinions by definition. We have to learn to integrate this into our thinking, because diversity leads to greater innovation and this in turn also increases GDP, because innovations make economic processes more efficient or more effective.

Do you feel German today?

Yes, absolutely, I am German. But I still don’t ride a regional train in the East. I think the discussion about no-go areas is unfortunately not over and should be continued.

How does it feel to have to be afraid in your own homeland because you don't look "right"?

Funnily enough I haven’t asked myself this question yet, because of my appearance I always had both advantages and disadvantages. I think it’s much more important to ask how we understand “home” – as a community of people who look alike or as a community of people who stand up for certain values.

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