Companies teach a new lesson in social giving

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Companies teach a new lesson in social giving

In a third-grade classroom at Daewang Elementary School in Segok-dong, southern Seoul, about 20 students sat carefully folding paper into shapes like ice-cream cones or candy boxes.

“People tell me that I’m good with my hands, so it’s really fun to have an origami class in school,” said Kim Chae-rin, 11, as she worked on making a pencil box. “I’m learning and I’m working really hard.”

The origami class is one of several after-school programs offered by the school, normally at a cost of 30,000 won ($26) to 40,000 won per student. But this time, Hyundai Department Store is picking up the tab for the entire class.

Most Korean companies routinely make some kind of social contribution in order to boost their public image, but where in the past that has usually taken the form of financial assistance to members of the poorer classes, a recent trend is seeing more companies giving back by focusing on educational programs.

Hyundai Department Store this year is funding 47 different after-school programs, including origami, yoga and English musical performance classes, by sending instructors across the country to visit schools weekly.

Like other department stores in Korea, Hyundai sells classes in academic and cultural programs ranging from origami to foreign language targeting elementary school students and housewives. Chae-rin’s origami teacher, Lee Nan-yeong, has been giving weekly classes at the store’s Jungdong branch; the visits to the school get her off-site once a week.

“Origami helps a child learn ways to maintain balance when they’re using their hands and improve their brain development. It’s been a popular class at the department store, too,” Lee, 46, said.

“We searched for the best way to contribute to Korea’s schools, and we thought [free after-school programs] would help children become more educationally competitive in the long-term,” said Kyong Chong-ho, vice president of the department store.

SK Group is another company targeting schools for its social contribution. SK runs the “Happy School” program in partnership with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and women’s human resource development centers.

Happy School is an after-school program run at 12 elementary schools in Seoul. It offers classes in eight subjects including Korean, English and mathematics at 30 percent of the price that asked by the local hagwon, or private academies.

SK donated 2 billion won in addition to Seoul city government’s 1 billion won for the project. Women’s human resource development centers based in Seoul send out 150 instructors to the schools.

Jo Mi-hwan, 47, who coordinates the Happy School program for Yeomri Elementary School in Mapo, western Seoul, said the after-school classes are popular among parents because they know children are in a safe place during the afternoon. “Happy School was established with the goal of solving social problems, and to make the company’s contributions more than just a one-time event,” said Park Yong-ju, a senior official in the social contribution department at SK Telecom.

By Kim Sung-tak, Park Su-ryon []
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