Donations to charities are slowly increasingMicrosoft’s creator Bill Gates and 40 other American billionaires announced recently that they will donate more than half of their wealth to society. Koreans have praised them highly, and some wonder why the wealthy class in Korea cannot do the same.
The reality is that the rich in Korea have a long way to go in terms of sharing their wealth. Community Chest of Korea reported that 70 percent of Koreans have made donations at least once in their lifetime, but most of them are from common folk. Large donations are difficult to find.
There have been signs of change this year, however. At the center of the change is Honor Society, a group of millionaire donors within Community Chest. The 20 members donated or pledged more than 100 million won ($86,000) between January and July of this year. Along with the original members who joined in 2007, the 35 members made donations worth nearly 6 billion won.
“There is a growing consciousness among the rich that it is about time to donate,” said Kim Hyo-jin, the communications director for Community Chest. “While the rich were afraid of being seen as ‘showing off their wealth’ by donating, nowadays they proudly donate, saying ‘what’s wrong with that?’” she said.
Many among the new members are self-made CEOs of small- and medium-size businesses, including Han Chul-soo of Goryeo Steel and Kim Yil-gon of Daewon Hall Weddings.
Kim has been donating to Eastern Social Welfare Society and other charities to help patients with rare diseases. In 2002, Kim donated 100 million won to families of soldiers affected by the Yeonpyeong conflict between North and South Korean naval patrols near the border.
Donations from others are also catching people’s attention. After Park Jum-shik, founder of ChunjiTax, became the first professional to become a member last January, Kim Yil-sup, the Korean head of Deloitte Consulting, and Kim Young-gap, a senior lawyer at the Seogwang law firm, also joined. Song Kyung-ae, representative of the travel agency BT&I, donated 100 million won in February, becoming the first female entrepreneur donor within the Honor Society.
Among the 35 members, the only representative of a conglomerate is Choi Shin-won of SKC. Choi so far has donated 930 million won. Specialists say it is important to encourage societal acceptance of donating and to reform policies that make non-cash donations difficult.
By Shin Sung-sik [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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