Choson Exchange seeks speakers for North Korea startup festival

A street in Pyongsong, in North Korea

Fed up of Brexit Britain? Ruling out Hong Kong with its protests? Singapore too middle of the road? How about somewhere a little unconventional for your next gig – like North Korea?

A Startup Festival is coming to Pyongsong in North Korea (yes, I’m a little surprised too) in November 16-23, and social enterprise Choson Exchange is looking for applicants to take part in speaking and mentoring roles. I consider myself to be geographically quite astute, especially having lived in Asia for a number of years, but I’d not heard of Pyongsong.

A quick Google search reveals that Pyongsong is an hour north of Pyongyang, with a population of 284,000, making it the size of Derby (and probably just as exciting).

Improbably described as the Silicon Valley of North Korea, or more technically a tech-focused special economic zone, Pyongsong doesn’t appear to have many attractions.

There is the Atomic Energy Research Institute which, at a guess, you probably won’t get to visit unless you’re Dennis Rodman. Pyongsong also offers ‘attractions’ that include a town square, a school and a plastic leather factory.

Choson Exchange has been with entrepreneurs in North Korea for a while, as mentioned previously on this blog (Could you be the Choson one?), so it seems you’re in safe hands.

How to apply

If you have a background in entrepreneurship, marketing, economics or consulting, and wish to contribute to peaceful economic development in North Korea, sign up on the Choson Exchange website (but hurry: the application deadline is 25 August).

As can be expected,  citizens of the US, Japan and South Korea cannot be considered due to restrictions.  If you’re a British citizen, you should probably also read the FCO’s travel advice:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to North Korea (DPRK).

Few British people visit North Korea. Those that do are usually part of an organised tour. If you decide to visit North Korea, follow the advice of your tour group and the local authorities. Failure to do so could put your personal safety at risk.

Offences that would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea, particularly actions the authorities deem to be disrespectful towards the North Korean leadership or government.

SafetyWing targets digital nomads with a safety net

While in Ho Chi Minh City recently, I became a little sick.

I had the flu and spent a lot of the time looking at the ceiling and talking to my imaginary alter ego (the brain plays weird tricks when you’re running a fever) who was giving me a big task list in my delirious state. I dealt with it by going to the pharmacy and requesting prescription drugs…without a prescription. Not ideal.

It could have been much worse.

I’ve been fairly adventurous reckless over the years, prioritising exciting experiences over personal health and safety. I chose street food over fresh vegetables, for example, and allowed myself far too much exposure to the sun and often terrible air quality.

I thought often about repatriation (when you are flown to your home country in the event of an emergency) – especially while on the heavily trafficked streets of Vietnam – but did nothing about it. I very rarely visited a doctor. But I’m older now, and I believe wiser (though some might disagree).

Remote workers can feel more at ease when bouncing from one country to the next by doing the right thing and taking out insurance.

SafetyWing swoops in

Norwegian startup SafetyWing is targeting digital nomads specifically with  medical and travel insurance, which is which is available to everyone apart from nationals from Iran, Cuba and North Korea. The default length of coverage is 4 weeks (28 days), and helpfully moped/scooter accidents are included…

SafetyWing is not your typical insurance company: the business is staffed by digital nomads working across continents and time zones, so they get it and speak ‘our’ language – quite unlike the suits working for big insurance corporates, who have a very different travel experience. This is reflected on their easy to use website, though I’m not sure what the cartoon characters are about…

Taking advantage of a summer transfer window…with TransferWise

You will save US dollars if you use TransferWise

With the British pound sinking quicker than a Neymar dive, I figured that now would be a good time to take advantage of the exchange rate by making a global transfer out of Hong Kong.

I’ve done a few of these over the years from Asia, usually through the same bank – a global bank I won’t name – and always without a problem (though moving money from China was a tad tricky, owing to red tape).

But now I’m trying a different approach. The fintech revolution has produced many exciting startups that promise to do things better – among them TransferWise. TransferWise has received a lot of media attention recently, which is how I got to know about them.

In a nutshell, TransferWise makes it easy to transfer money across borders without it technically crossing borders. It does this by instead enabling the user to make a local transfer (which they can very easily to through the mobile app) – and they do the rest. This is convenient as it ‘bypasses’ intermediary banks and therefore hidden fees.

It also uses the Google exchange rate, which works out fairer than the method apparently used by some banks: adding a markup to the spot rate to increase the profit made on each transaction.

There are other great features, too. The Google exchange rate used by TransferWise is guaranteed for 48 hours while you make your transfer (a bit like booking a flight through an airline website and holding the price of the flight). You also can track the exchange rate as it goes up and down.

Wise words

Aside from the money transfer aspect, TransferWise excels at something else: communication. The traditional bank that I use is extremely corporate, communicating in a language that perhaps only lawyers or financial professionals can readily understand.

Not only that – the bank’s digital communications are archaic. To get a sense of how much I would be charged for executing a global transfer, I had to wade through more than one PDF on the bank’s website. It was cold and intimidating – and hard to trust. It’s almost as if they’re hiding behind a wall.

In contrast, TransferWise writes for humans. Through their website they address typical issues and concerns that people might face. They are quick to reply on social media, too. The following question I had was answered within 15 minutes on Twitter, which is mightily impressive:

It’s hard to imagine any traditional bank adopting a similar communications approach – they are typically highly conservative institutions bound by rules and regulations (and internal politics) – and “digital transformation” seems more of a buzzword than anything.

But the world is changing, and it’s the likes of Estonia with its e-Residency, e-wallets like Big Pay, and course TransferWise leading the charge. And thank goodness for that.