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Insights and Analysis

We Must be Wise Philanthropists

December 9, 2009

By Lee Hong-koo

South Korea’s name and role is being recognized on the world stage because of its economic and political accomplishments.

Hosting the Olympic Games in 1988 and the World Cup in 2002 shed a spotlight on our progress in industrialization and democracy. Chairing the G-20 summit talks in Seoul next November accentuates the country’s rising political and economic status.

In the latest tip of the hat to Korea, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee in Paris a few weeks ago extended its 24th membership to South Korea in official recognition of its eligibility to join international campaigns to help poorer countries. That move marks significant progress for a country that a half-century ago was one of the top recipients of international aid.

South Korea was welcomed unanimously into the wealthy donor club in view of its “great progress, as a nation, as an economy and a provider of aid to the world’s poorest nations.”

Yet amid the fanfare, we cannot shake off nagging anxiety over our new national status. That’s not because we don’t believe in our potential and desire to become an even more advanced society. It’s only because we know in our hearts that we must contain ourselves from getting overexcited or, worse, overconfident. And we must remember that assistance to economies a few steps behind us in development can be misconstrued and even, at times, resented.

Charity, whether it be on the giving or receiving end, is as hard among nations as it is among people…

Read the full piece originally published in JoongAng Ilbo on December 5.

Dr. Lee Hong-koo is a trustee of The Asia Foundation, a former prime minister, and a former ambassador to the United States. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University.

Related locations: Korea


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