BusinessKorea was able to recently meet and talk with President Kim Young-mok of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). We spoke about the role of his government agency in creating cooperative overseas aid initiatives and spreading the Saemaeul movement abroad. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Would you briefly introduce the history of the KOICA?
In charge of the official development aid programs of the Korean government, the KOICA was established in 1991 in order to promote the bilateral cooperation and mutual exchange between Korea and developing nations and help their economic and social development.
At that time, the size of grant-type aid provided by Korea stood at just approximately 17.3 billion won (US$16.1 million) per year, but it has grown rapidly to about US$1.5 billion now. The KOICA is currently executing US$600 million or so of it.
The total aid reached 34,924 won on a per-capita basis as of 2012, which was increased by 5,460 won from the previous year. However, Korea recorded 0.16% in terms of the ODAGNI ratio, which shows the level of ODA vis-à-vis the economic scale of a country, and this figure is much lower than the OECD DAC member countries’ average at 0.31%. The United States, Britain, Germany, France, and Japan are on the top five list.
What are the agency’s ODA strategies and accomplishments up to now?
The KOICA is currently spending US$445.27 million of our budget on 14 organizations in 121 countries around the world. 70% of it is executed in 26 key target countries, to enhance the efficiency of the aid. By region, 67% of the budget goes to Asia, where the segment of poor population is the highest, and Africa, home to the largest number of the world’s poorest nations.
The largest portion of the budget is spent on the education field, followed by healthcare, public administration, industry, and energy. The budget execution is focused on the regions included in the Millennium Development Goals of the UN, and where the demand for aid is higher.
Project-based programs account for 48% of the budget in which material and human resources are offered in a comprehensive manner based on beneficiary-specific cooperation strategies. The dispatch of volunteer groups and invitation of vocational trainees take up 17.7% and 9.9% of it, too.
Such efforts of the KOICA have been appreciated greatly by the OECD DAC member nations such as Portugal, Japan, France, and Germany as well as DAC Chairman Brian Atwood. Korea’s global leadership in the field of international ODA is regarded as a role model for other countries.
What are some examples of the major projects?
The KOICA has been engaged in various types of ODA projects in order to assist in the economic and social development of less-developed nations. The examples include support projects for building schools, hospitals, and vocational training centers, and for providing design assistance during the construction of social overhead capital like airports, ports, dams, and road networks.
In addition, the agency has been committed to the training of public employees from developing countries and sharing of development experiences, the dispatch of volunteer corps staffed with young participants, emergency aid and restoration projects underway in the event of disasters, private-public cooperation programs in conjunction with NGOs in Korea, and ODA manpower training projects in tandem with international cooperation centers.
Also, the KOICA has launched global Saemaeul campaigns, making use of information and mobile technologies to spread the noble values of agricultural development, respect for women, protection of children, and education for a greater number of people the world over. Specific platforms have been established for tailored support, and the programs led by a variety of organizations have been integrated with one another in a systematic manner to achieve higher project efficiency and set the stage for the growth of less-developed nations.
How has the KOICA worked together with its counterparts abroad?
The KOICA is emerging as one of leading international aid providers through MOUs and agreements for seamless exchange with agencies in both developed and developing countries and international organizations such as the United Nations.
For instance, it has concluded MOUs for joint projects with USAID of the United States, JICA of Japan, GIZ of Germany, CIDA of Canada, AFD of France, AECID of Spain, and many more. At the same time, similar agreements have been signed with the AGCI of Chile, ABC of Brazil, and TIKA of Turkey. More recently, it signed MOUs with the TICA of Thailand and AMEXCID of Mexico.
The KOICA is also intending to expand the scope of its cooperation with the UNDP, WFP, UNFPA, and other organizations of the UN, and is planning to work together with renowned and capable entities and foundations in the private sector.
Such endeavors have resulted in successful joint programs with the USAID, Peace Corps, and the like. The KOICA will launch another cooperation project in November with the JICA as well.
What are the agency’s key projects for this year, and how is its innovation going on to this end?
One of the most important ones for this year is the Global Young Talent Program, in which more than 28,000 people will be given access to development cooperation education and hands-on experience for five years to come. In detail, the purpose of the program is to nurture World Friends Korea (WFK) Project managers, experts of international Saemaeul programs, young ODA internees, and those participating in such programs in partnership with colleges.
Plus, the best Saemaeul practices will be further spread into the international community. In this context, strategic targets will be selected for concentrated investment, action plans will be set up to suit the needs of the beneficiaries, and academic seminars will be held so that its philosophy and value can be shared with the entire world.
The systemic cooperation and partnership with international organizations and aid-providing bodies in developing and developed nations will be shored up, too. More ODAs utilizing Korea’s advanced scientific technologies and development experiences will be offered along with those in the fields of culture and art so the people in less-developed regions can enjoy higher living standards.
We are also planning to renovate our systems, including those associated with procurement, software, and consulting, in order to help small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) to find their way into such regions with greater ease. I would like to stress that SMEs constitute an important pillar of the creative economy, and the KOICA will ensure their greater participation in its programs and projects.
In 2014, its evaluation and assessment systems will be made better for more effective and advanced appraisal of the quality of ODA projects. In this vein, the agency will step up the quality management side, focusing on the accountability and learning aspects of the programs, while setting up new criteria which can fit international standards and be shared with overseas entities.
The KOICA will strive harder for greater structural transparency as well. It will make more of its information and data public, join the efforts of the international community for more transparent aid, come up with objective results of aid projects and programs, and handle them with greater efficiency to this end.
Please give an explanation on the future development plan and vision of your organization.
Our vision is to develop the KOICA into a global ODA leader complying with global standards. This can be achieved by enhancing the competitiveness of the private sector and promoting the partnership and cooperation between the private and public sectors and among the KOICA, enterprises, and NGOs. In the long term, we are also planning to increase the ratio of ODAs and procure the required budgetary resources.
The KOICA will turn itself into a textbook example of an ODA provider across the world by means of more professional projects and programs, higher awareness of ODA, greater participation in various activities, and the promotion of education, publicity and research for the expansion of ODA infrastructure worldwide.