Celebrating the “Beautiful Foundation”
A hallmark of Korean charity culture
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“I happened to be” was a phrase often referred to by Professor Ye Jong-seok (Business Administration) in his effort to remain humble when asked about his long list of achievements. Nevertheless, the array of awards and appreciation plaques that filled the shelves of his office gave more than a hint of just how valued he was by countless people and organizations. One of his most distinguished achievements is the co-establishment and nurturing of the “Beautiful Foundation.” The foundation, with its purpose of being the development and proliferation of a charity culture, was founded in 2000. The once small organization with nothing but a calling for charity has now grown to a massive institution that spends 3.1 billion won a year on public projects. Ye was a part of the foundation since its establishment and has been serving as the chairman of the board from 2012 to this day.
Ye attending a ceremony of "The Beautiful Foundation"
(Photo courtesy of Dong-hwa)
Re-establishing the Korean charity culture
Ye picked out Dale Carnegie as the epitome of American charity culture. Deeply drawn to his philosophy and legacy, Ye described how Carnegie practiced what he preached, spending his lifetime fortune to give back to society by building 2500 libraries, countless foundations, and a university. Inspired by Carnegie, entrepreneurs such as John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and George Soros followed in his footsteps to bring about the height of American charity. Ye desired to reenact this kind of culture in Korea. The concept of donations in Korea is in strict contrast to that of the United States in many ways. For example, most of the donations in Korea are made through corporate donations, whereas most donations are made privately in the US. Furthermore, these promises of donations from domestic conglomerates are rarely carried out. This a fundamental flaw in terms of the Korean charity culture. Thus, Ye sought to change the sources of donation from a small number of large donors to a large number of small donors.
The structure of the Beautiful Foundation was designed by benchmarking the community foundations in the US. At the time, the concept of foundation had a negative image in Korean society, seen as a means of tax evasion during the chaebols inheritance process. Needless to say, the Beautiful Foundation had to start from rock bottom. Not only have they had a negative perception, but people were also hesitant to donate to an infant organization with no credentials. A turning point for the initial hardship of the foundation was the donation from an elderly lady named Kim Boon-ja. Kim was a victim of sexual slavery in the era of Japanese imperialism and had donated her 50 million won worth of compensation money that she had received as a form of indemnification to the Beautiful Foundation. This donation of immense value served as a seed capital to establish a foundation that has collected over 50 billion won during the past 17 years. Another obstacle that the foundation had to overcome was the underlying conflict between charity organizations and conglomerates when it came to donation. In such circumstances, Ye utilized his experiences and acquaintances in both of these areas to facilitate an atmosphere of cooperation.
Ye expressed deep passion for the desire to change the Korean charity culture.
(Photo courtesy of The Hankyoreh)
Personal philosophy and drive
Aside from his hardships in restructuring the Beautiful Foundation to rely less on a small number of large conglomerate donations, Ye had faced numerous obstacles during his years of studying abroad and contemplation on his career path. After having served in over 100 corporate and non-profit organization, Ye claims with full confidence that the key to success is doing what you love: “I enjoy doing things I love. Obviously, I avoid taking roles that I dislike. Taking up a job that you hate will literally make you ill.” As if to prove his point, Ye, well into mid-sixties, seems robust and full of energy. Genuinely interested in liberal arts, he takes his free time to devote himself to an array of fields, such as cuisines, art, and even sports. One example would be his affection for skiing. Having been a devoted fan for the past 50 years, his involvement in skiing to “take a break” has led him to become a key member of the upcoming Winter Olympics. Upon his retirement in the coming year, he plans to lead a “new life” devoted to his pursuit of full-time writing.
The shelves on Ye's office were stacked with photos depicting a variety of activities.
Ye expressed concerns for the next generation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, said to bring about rapid and fundamental changes, surpasses the total impact of change seen in the society for the past two decades. About 65 percent of existing jobs are expected to disappear. In this approaching era of unprecedented change, Ye underlined the importance of students’ discretion in choosing a career path. At the request for advice to students, Ye bluntly answered, “Choose a goal, and work extremely hard.” Above all, he emphasized the importance of choosing the right goal. His definition of a “right” goal was something that can provide joy. “It’s hard to lead a healthy life doing something you dislike. Find something you can commit your life to,” expressed Ye.
Lee Chang-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Chae Guen-baek
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