After years of receiving aid, Korea giving back

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After years of receiving aid, Korea giving back

When American Pastor Robert Pierce visited Korea as a war correspondent in 1950 during the Korean War, he was struck by the country’s abject poverty and sympathized in particular with the orphans, many of whom were malnourished and living in filthy, squalid conditions.

When he returned to the United States, he made it his mission to start a fund-raising campaign with Pastor Han Kyung-chik that would assist widows and orphans. The charity organization eventually expanded internationally, and today World Vision International has 45,000 employees working in more than 100 countries.

Kevin Jenkins, the current president and chief executive officer of World Vision, visited Korea on Feb. 3 to attend the aid agency’s annual executive committee meeting, but during his three-day trip, he also volunteered at the Seongnam Social Welfare Center in Gyeonggi with 10 other directors, handing out lunch boxes for those in need.

He also met students from Yatap Middle School in Bundang District, Gyeonggi, where Jenkins showed a particular interest in the school’s charity program, under which students are encouraged to raise money to help children in African or Asian countries.

“For 14- and 16-year-olds to take the issues that most vulnerable children in the world are facing so seriously is something that we don’t see in many places,” he said. “Korea is not only a model nation that has changed from a receiving country to a giving country, but it also presents marketing strategies and invests in international organizations.”

Jenkins mentioned that the yearly executive committee meeting held here proved Korea’s elevated status in the international community.

“The total expenses for World Vision’s business last year was $2.7 billion, and Korea donated $200 million, the fourth-largest donor,” he said. “The organization that was originally established to help Korea is now growing with the help of Korea.”

Jenkins added that the driving force behind that achievement lies in young people’s willingness to help the less fortunate. Because Koreans received foreign aid not so long ago, he noted, the younger generations are more familiar with the donation culture.

“Even if a donation starts from something small, it has the potential to become something big in the end, and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the future,” said Jenkins.

A native of Canada, Jenkins formerly worked as the president of Canadian Airlines International. He was the director of World Vision Canada from 2000 and assumed his post as president and CEO of World Vision International in 2009.

He said that working at the Christian relief agency changed his priorities. Now, material pursuits or achieving specific milestones of success seem trivial when it comes to helping others, though he feels his career in business could help the charity group achieve more efficient management strategies.

Jenkins emphasized with the need for international NGOs to become more specialized in the fields in which they provide and to have more transparent systems of administration.

Sponsors have the right to know how the lives of the children they support are improving and how the money they donate is used, he said. He also said World Vision publishes annual business reports for their donors to meet this obligation.

Jenkins mentioned that the humanitarian aid organization would try to make use of smartphones in the near future to allow its sponsors and its children to communicate in real time and share information. “This means that [donors] will be able to monitor the care of the children more closely,” he said. “For this we need help from Korean corporations that are well developed in the field of information technology.”

When a student at Yatap Middle School asked about working at international organizations like World Vision, Jenkins recommended that the teenagers develop their own expertise beyond good intentions.

“To work for an organization, you need expertise: public health, nutrition, education, caring for the disabled - expertise that touches on the core issues,” he said.

World Vision appreciates all the help from its sponsors, he acknowledged, but “every mother’s wish is to provide their child a healthy life,” he said. “You are not only providing food and water to that child - you are answering that mother’s wish.”

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