▲ A lecture concerning Koreas international relations future during a workshop entitled Aid or Development? Lessons Learned and Challenges for Korea at the Jeju Peace Institute . Photo courtesy Jeju Peace Institute
From Oct. 18 to 20, the Jeju Peace Institute (JPI) invited experts in the field of foreign aid from all over the world for a workshop at the JPI titled “Aid or Development? Lessons Learned and Challenges for Korea.” The purpose of the forum, conducted in conjunction with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, was to create a proposal for the central government concerning how best Korea can help underdeveloped countries.
It was not long ago that Korea was a recipient of foreign aid, but due to its rapid economic growth the country’s role in the world has changed. This transformation from a recipient to a donor country was officially marked in November of last year when it became a member of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and also the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
With its inclusion as a member of DAC, Korea has pledged to triple its aid contribution from its current 0.1 percent of its gross national income, according to the JPI. The country has also agreed to reformulate its foreign aid policies and practices to help attain the UN Millennium Development Goals. The purpose of the workshop was to “gather experts from all over the world to discuss the issue of how effective foreign aid should be and how important aid is on development in least developed countries,” said Walter Klitz, Resident Representative of Korea for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
“What we are talking about,” Klitz told The Jeju Weekly, “is the future of international relations, it’s about the future of our globe, it is about how we can contribute to overcome poverty … not by just delivering money, but convincing ... leaders that they should make change happen.”
When it comes to a complicated issue like foreign aid, many factors need to be taken into consideration, such as a country’s culture, history and social background. “It is not one size fits all,” Klitz said referring to a single model which he contends cannot simply be applied to all countries.
The main discussion of the workshop revolved around the use of aid and how to better utilize resources to create infrastructure. “Aid [does] not necessarily lead to development,” Klitz said, elaborating that there are countries in Africa where those in need receive a dollar a month of foreign aid and by doubling that amount, which constitutes a large increase, it would still be short of creating drastic change.
“With foreign aid alone,” Klitz continued, “you will not have any change. You don’t change anything.”
Ahn Eungho, Country Research Officer of the Korea Export and Import Bank, altered the old adage during his lecture at the workshop saying that “We are not just teaching them how to fish, but how to fish best.”
One of the dilemmas concerning foreign aid, said a workshop participant, is that donors do not necessarily know what the recipients need, that those who have are somewhat disconnected from the problems afflicting those without.
Since Korea was not too long ago a member of the latter category, Korea’s contribution to the development aspect of foreign aid could help to close this divide. “Korea itself has developed in the last 30 to 40 years in a remarkable way and what we are doing is [to see] if this could be a model for other countries,” Klitz said.
Much of what was discussed during the workshop was how Korea utilized its foreign aid to create development. “The first conclusion today was that market access is a very important point, meaning that you have to lift your economic isolation,” Klitz said. Another aspect that was referred to in relation to Korea’s success was the example it set in that of ownership over policies and the direction the country decided to pursue.
“I doubt that it was foreign aid alone … it was more of the fact that Korea put itself in the driving seat and said ‘we want to make a change, we have to move forward and we have to get out of the situation by dealing with the situation we are facing now,’” Klitz said.
The question then remains, how do you prevent a country from becoming dependent on aid and create ownership?
Klitz said political leaders have to set a good example and the will of the people must be strong. To gain the confidence of a population living in an impoverished environment is a difficult task, especially if the psychological effect of being a recipient of foreign aid has had a negative impact on the populace’s self-confidence.
“Loans create confidence and you need to have confidence for direct investment. Grants don’t give confidence … This is a very psychological thing,” Klitz said elaborating that this simple difference was a factor in Korea’s ability to create change.
By the end of the three day workshop a proposal was created advising on how Korea could transform its policies to better help those in need. Han Tae Kyu, president of the JPI, said it is now up to the government to decide whether or not to implement their suggestions.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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