Monday, July 23, 2018

Lessons from the Republic of Korea

Group photo of participants with program coordinators. Image courtesy: Korea Youth Work Agency.

For me and my friend Yeshi Tshewang, landing at Incheon International Airport on the morning of 6th July 2018 was like entering into a paradise on Earth. The rising popularity of Korean music and drama over the years has made South Korea a dreamland for many Bhutanese people especially the youth. The beautiful landscapes interwoven with the tapestry of beautiful people and their beautiful culture left us with a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm to explore more about the social, cultural, political and economic life of Korean people. We have been part of the Bhutanese delegation to attend the training on program development for teenagers and youth which is organized by Korea Oversea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and Korea Youth Work Agency (KYWA) from 6-27 July 2018. Apart from the training, we have also been exploring and learning many different aspects of Korean life and I have a lot of memories and lessons to take back home.

From being a poor and relatively insignificant nation in the past, the Republic of Korea now stands up in the international forefront as one of the richest economies in the world. But every Korean knows that this transformation did not happen overnight. The glimpses of historical events that can be seen in museums and heritage sites tell us that the bloods and sweats of millions of Korean people have gone into the foundation of this great nation. It was even colonized by Japan for 36 years.

The economic crisis that paralyzed the nation in 1960s and 1970s instilled in each and every Korean citizen the value of hard work and determination. Thousands of Korean miners and nurses went to work in Germany in exchange for financial loans and grants for their country. People did not mind even working overtime without incentives. It was during this era when the economic transformation began. With foreign remittances sent by oversea Korean workers and grants received from Germany, new infrastructures began to mushroom in the country that are visible in good shape even to this day. By 1990s, the country had managed to catch up with some of the greatest economies in the region. This extraordinary transformation is often referred to as Economic Miracle but in fact, this was not a miracle. It is the outcome of the collective effort of the entire Korean population who sacrificed their time to build their economy. The unwavering dedication and constant hard work of the people translated the harsh realities of the time into the economic prosperity they enjoy today.

Group photo of participants during the training session

Another secret of their success is that they have realized early the importance of investing on the so-called the ‘Next Generation’ that has now been producing strong, capable and competent human resources in the country. Since 1991, the government has passed several youth laws mandating all relevant agencies to focus on nurturing and empowering children and youth in the country. The National Youth Policy backed by strong legislations has laid the foundation of a strong system for youth development. The country currently has over 800 Youth Centers and hundreds of other facilities for youth. The great infrastructures of these Centers and the quality of services/programs they provide for young people show that their government attaches the highest importance to youth development.

Although Bhutan and the Republic of Korea share many similarities, there are a couple of things we can learn from the experiences of South Korea. It looks like the socio-economic situation of Bhutan in 1960s and 1970s could have been similar to that of South Korea, but the kind of spirit with which the entire population came forward to contribute to their economy is what actually transformed their nation. For a small economy like Bhutan, we cannot afford to be complacent as His Majesty the King regularly reminds us. If every Bhutanese citizen could equally work hard, we can definitely make a difference in our economy. Although our dependency ratio has decreased from 60.6 from 2005 to 47 in 2017, it is still a matter of concern. We cannot be satisfied with only 53 percent of our population working and the other 47 percent depending on them for livelihood. We can certainly reduce this gap further if all of us who are within the economically productive age-group could at least do something to contribute to the society.

Like South Korea, Bhutan also invests on youth development but without legislations in place for empowering youth, it has been quite difficult to streamline and strengthen youth development activities across different sectors. The National Youth Policy of 2011 does not have the legal teeth to mandate all the stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner. It is therefore high time that we also have youth-specific laws in place to ensure that our youth get the highest priority from the government and stakeholders. We can build a strong future for our nation only if we invest heavily on our youth today.

Group photo of participants at National Youth Healing Center. Image courtesy: KYWA.

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