UNDP Seoul Policy Centre Director calls for ‘Korean development wave’

30 Apr 2012

imagePHOTO: Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald

The following is taken directly from an interview with the Director of the UNDP Seoul Policy Centre, Anne-Isabelle Degryse-Blateau by the Korea Herald.

Seoul’s new United Nations Development Programme director aims to harness the wisdom of Korea’s development story for a new kind of Korean Wave.

Instead of spreading K-pop around the world, the UNDP Seoul Policy Centre hopes to pick the brains of those who helped transform Korea from a third world country to an aid-giving nation in just one generation to inform global development cooperation.

“Korea’s development experience is unique, so it can provide unique knowledge to countries facing similar challenges today,” she said. “The fact that people who went through this process are still alive and can talk about it, how they did it, what worked and what did not is a huge plus and very attractive to other countries."

“Export led growth, industrialization, green growth and other areas are particularly interesting for a range of countries and many look forward to more cooperation with Korea.”

The UNDP Seoul Policy Centre opened last year, and aims to work with the Korean government, private sector and civil society to help them assist developing and middle income countries through research and policy dialogue.

Gathering the experiences of those who lived through Korea’s rapid shift from aid recipient to one of the fastest growing donor nations will be key to this work, said Blateau.

“I always get fascinated and feel empowered when I listen to the human stories and many details, some very important, that are often not captured in the big brush strokes. In the end, it all comes down to people, their thoughts, dreams, actions and reactions to stimuli from their environment."

“I would love to be able to help capture some of that wisdom and experience.”

She is not the only one hailing Korea as an example for other nations. Goldman Sachs chairman Jim O’Neill, who famously labeled Brazil, Russia, India and China as the emerging power group of BRIC nations, last month called on developing economies to follow South Korea’s recipe for growth.

And Blateau said Korea felt a responsibility to assist others. Korea is one of the few OECD nations to increase its official development assistance in recent years. While most donors cut or froze contributions, Korea’s ODA increased by 5.8 percent to reach $1.32 billion in 2011. And the country has committed to giving 0.25 percent of GNI by 2015.

Korea’s Millennium Development Goal Trust Fund launched in 2010 and, managed by UNDP, recently approved projects to provide a total of $8.7 million in development assistance to Laos, Timor-Leste, Rwanda and Colombia. Three projects were launched in 2011 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Sudan.

In June, the UNDP will hold an international workshop with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea Development Institute, where Asian experts will share views on the global development agenda after 2015. The UN set out eight global Millennium Development Goals, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is now consulting on future global targets beyond that date.

The Seoul Policy Centre will also follow up on the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held last year.

Domestically, while recognizing progress made, Blateau thought that Korea should focus more on issues such as gender equality. The country should work to raise the number of women in Parliament from the 15.7 percent voted in this April to the global target of 30 percent, as well as getting more women into work and promoting women’s rights in the workplace. Work should also be done to cut maternal deaths during childbirth in Korea, where 18 out of 100,000 live births result in maternal mortality, compared to an OECD average of 12.

She praised Korea’s global peace keeping operations as well as technology and knowledge-sharing, and acknowledged the work of the Global Green Growth Institute and International Vaccine Institute.

But she called on all countries to boost efforts to increase the impact of their overseas development assistance, making sure that aid projects were effective and sustainable.

“For lasting results, we need to link economic growth with social and environmental sustainability. This will be at the core of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio in June,” she said.

“If you build schools or clinics, you must also think about how to work with the local or central governments to make sure that when the project finishes and Korean money is no longer available, the government is able to appoint teachers and doctors so people will continue benefiting from the services, and to ensure books or medicines can continue to be bought at affordable prices.”

She also encouraged Korea to untie more of its aid to give the receiving countries more choice over where they buy goods and services. Currently 48.4 percent of Korea’s aid is untied, compared to an OECD average of 84.4 percent.

“Everyone agrees that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in development. Korea was in the driving seat when designing its own path and choosing its own development options,” she said. “With that understanding, I trust it can help empower other countries to find their own solutions.”

Report by Kirsty Taylor, Korea Herald Diplomatic Reporter (kirstyt@heraldm.com)

Read the full transcript in the Korea Herald