A win for donation cultureOn Monday, Kim Beom-soo, founder and chairman of Kakao, said he will donate “half his wealth to address social problems” in Korea before he dies. His announcement could mark a turning point in our outdated donation culture. As the value of Kakao shares he owns is estimated to be about 5 trillion won ($4.47 billion), it is the largest donation by a Korean corporate leader in history.
His stipulation of the purpose of his donation is also the first of its kind in Korea. His decision reminds us of donations in Western society. In an exemplary move, Microsoft founder Bill Gates pledged to give away 90 percent of his assets after retirement and started working on mankind’s most daunting challenges — such as developing Covid-19 vaccines and tackling global warming — through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In the past, when Korean businessmen announced a donation plan, their timing and intent could be suspicious — shortly after triggering a social controversy, for example, or from government pressure to donate their wealth. Also, many of them opted to donate money earned by the companies in which they are the largest shareholder. In that case, critics often expressed concerns that it would damage the interest of shareholders and not their own accumulation of wealth.
Some are still questioning the motivation behind Kim’s decision. They harbor suspicions that he took the action to distract from criticism that he had bequeathed his company stock worth hundreds of millions of dollars to his wife, children and other relatives. But these cynics need to consider Kim’s repeated expression of an intention to donate and the unprecedented amount of his donation.
Professors of business management believe Kim’s donation will help advance Korea’s outmoded donation culture and ratchet up Korean business leaders’ stature. Advanced countries took that path long ago. Once branded a villain for overtaking the business world by storm, Andrew Carnegie turned his reputation around by his sincere — and massive — contribution to American society. In the 21st century, leaders of U.S. IT companies are jumping on the bandwagon one after another.
Kim stopped short of specifying what kind of social problems he wants his money to be used to help ameliorate. Kakao says it takes time to find appropriate targets and ways to support them. Pundits already insist the donation be spent in ways that make our economic pie bigger by fostering promising start-ups or in mitigating inequity.
The government must help advance our immature donation culture instead of forcing corporate leaders to share their profits with ordinary people. Otherwise, it will destroy our donation culture. We hope the government fixes unnecessary tax and regulatory systems first.