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Why I Start ESG & Impact PE

Kyungsun Chung22.11.07


Kyungsun Chung, Managing Partner of The Sylvan Group



The word “sustainability”, no matter how positive it sounds, at its core, implies that what we have now — our health, our life with our loved ones, and clean water and air — could be gone at any second. This concept has been important to me since my young age, as my father runs an insurance company; conceptually, an insurance product should be a safety net for us when things are suddenly not “sustainable” anymore.


Impact investment (or ESG, or whatever you like to call investment that considers a holistic outcome) serves the role of insurance—not for individuals, but for all of human civilization. Scientists have been warning us for many decades, but it seems like this year is finally the time that the public realizes our civilization is in an “unsustainable situation,” having experienced burning forests in California, the worst drought in 500 years in Western Europe, and one-third of Pakistan being underwater. Impact investment (however late it is) is actively building technologies and infrastructure that mitigate the damage of climate change, the increasing cost of healthcare, the weakened social safety net, and more.


For me, spending the last 10+ years building an impact ecosystem in Seoul (Root Impact1) by developing a robust community of impact entrepreneurs (HeyGround2), starting impact VC (Holistic Growth Initiative3), and replicating this model for BIPOC entrepreneurs in the Bronx and Brooklyn (Communitas America4) all go back to the same concern that our civilization is not sustainable anymore and that we need solutions quickly, as the damage will only increase exponentially if we do nothing. Some people may argue that the privileges and sense of responsibility I held while growing up in a Korean Chaebol family are why I decided to start building such an ecosystem, but the truth is that I do what I do because of survival instinct, since no matter how privileged I am, we’re all in great danger together.


"We need to mobilize much larger capital to build sustainable infrastructure on a societal scale to adapt to change that is coming much faster than we expected." 


My reason for starting Impact PE was because of this urgency. Nonprofit and Impact VC is crucial, but we need to mobilize much larger capital to build sustainable infrastructure on a societal scale to adapt to change that is coming much faster than we expected. Sylvan is working with large corporations that understand this urgency and are committed to becoming more sustainable.


The current state of human civilization is not that different from street vendors who break FDA regulations, discard trash illegally, and abuse part-time workers only to maximize their profits. Considering all the risks you can imagine, no reasonable investor will be willing to invest in their operation. However, when we are focusing on impact, investors are becoming defensive and blaming their mandate for not investing in impact products. In the end, the only thing we must remember is that unlike unruly street vendors who can always open their operation on any other street when they got closed, we do not have another planet to restart on.


Through Sylvan, an active buyout impact investor, I will support sustainable changes and continue to build a strong impact foundation.



[1] Root Impact is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by KSC. It builds and operates a variety of tangible and intangible infrastructures based in Seongsu-dong, including a co-working space (HeyGround), a daycare center, and an impact career development program (Impact Career Challenges), to gather changemakers and assist in their growth.

[2] HeyGround is a co-working space founded in 2017 with the vision of creating environments where the social values are created and accumulated in the process of cooperating and growing with changemakers. HeyGround is currently located in Seongsu-dong and Seoul Forest.

[3] The Holistic Growth Initiative (HGI) is an impact investment VC based on Seongsu-dong HeyGround. It invests in impact start-ups from Pre-series A to Series D within the themes of creating a sustainable planet, sustainable people, and a sustainable community. It currently operates four impact funds, and its total AUM is around 100 billion KRW.

[4] Communitas America, the U.S. version of Root Impact, was founded in 2018. Based in the Bronx and Brooklyn, it builds an inclusive impact ecosystem primarily made of BIPOC and women changemakers who are helping create social changes in historically under-resourced communities in the U.S.