Ahn’s true ambition

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Ahn’s true ambition

Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, has announced that he will donate to society half of his 37.1 percent stake in Ahn Lab, the nation’s leading antivirus software company, in another fresh move to spur a still-backward local donation culture. The donation - which amounts to 150 billion won ($133 million) - could well be an extension of his earlier dissemination of free antivirus software to the public in an early stage of his enterpreneurship.

But Ahn must first clarify the real purpose of his philanthropic gesture. Otherwise, people won’t be encouraged to join him. If he can persuade others to follow in his footsteps, he could help establish a new culture that goes far beyond individual contributions.

Ahn explains that he is just doing what he wanted to do long ago. But why now?

Ahn has been riding a “political train” since it was rumored he would run in the Seoul mayoral by-election last month, which is why his every move is put under the political microscope. Recently, he was asked to join the new unified political party by Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, Moon Jae-in, former presidential secretary in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon - all avid proponents of integrating the divided opposition camp.

Ahn is not the first political figure to make a large donation. As a presidential candidate, Lee Myung-bak pledged to donate 33 billion won of his wealth to society, and last August, presidential hopeful Chung Mong-joon orchestrated a 500 billion won donation by Hyundai Group ahead of next year’s presidential election.

But Ahn must separate his decision to donate from his political ambitions. Of course, there is no reason for him to refrain from donating money just because he wants to be involved in politics. But there is no guarantee that he can separate the two impulses. If he wants to prove the purity of his intentions, he should clarify his political ambitions, if he harbors any.

In an e-mail to employees of his company, Ahn stressed the importance of noblesse oblige. But when it comes to charitable giving, the elite class’ morality deepens in proportion to the sincerity of the donation. If tainted by political ambition, the authenticity of the donation decreases. People accept the pure motivations behind the $30 billion from the Gates Foundation or Warren Buffett’s commitment to donate $44 billion because neither one is involved in politics.

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