History of Korea's International Development Cooperation

Korea International Cooperation Agency

Transitioning from an aid recipient to a donor country in only a half century, Korea is now playing a critical role in supporting socio-economic development of developing countries.

The Establishment of KOICA
The Republic of Korea (hereafter "Korea") was once one of the poorest countries in the world to receive aid after World War II. However, less than half a century, the size of Korea's economy expanded to the level of middle income countries. This led to a recognition that Korea needs to play a larger role in international community, befitting its rising national status.

However, Korea's previous aid system was fragmented as the responsibility to carry out aid was spread across different government ministries. The absence of comprehensive plans and low awareness about development cooperation posed challenges to unify Korea's ODA (Official Development Assistance) system.

The Korean government attempted to establish an exclusive international cooperation organization since it saw that aid could be more efficiently implemented if projects, resources and knowledge could be coordinated.

The government issued the Presidential Decree 13328 on March 18, 1991 without delay. Ten days later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs officially approved the establishment of KOICA.

Eventually, on the first day of April in 1991, KOICA was founded as a government agency responsible for Korea's grant aid system.

Upon the foundation of KOICA in 1991, it overtook the overseas volunteer programs which had been overseen by the Korean National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The KOICA Fellowship Program is one of main activities to support partner countries secure human resources by sharing important technical skills and knowledge as well as building capacities for their sustainable development.

Policymakers, public officials, technical staff members, etc of partner countries are invited to Korea.

Through KOICA, Korea has been committed to enhancing the effectiveness of development programs by collaborating with businesses, civil society organizations and universities.

Korea has deployed disaster relief teams and cooperated with international institutions in cases of natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, tsunami and flooding as well as man-made disasters such as civil wars and conflicts.

Korea supports partner countries in cooperation with other international organizations such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the World Health Organization (WHO), etc.

For the following efforts, on 25 November, 2009, the OECD DAC (Development Assistance Committee) welcomed Korea as its 24th member, meaning that Korea officially transformed its status from one of recipient countries to one of donor countries.

Korea strengthened its role and responsibility by hosting the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in Busan, Korea in 2011. The HLF is an inclusive political forum that brings diverse development partners to make collective actions for the future of aid for all stakeholders.

More information on the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness website

About sixty years ago, Korea used to receive assistance from the United States, one of key donor countries. However, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by two countries in 2014 demonstrates how they formulate a partnership and mutually support partner countries' sustainable development today.

In 2009, the Korean government consolidated overseas volunteer programs provided by different government agencies into a single brand. This government initiative gave birth to 'World Friends Korea' (WFK). Currently, it is operating a wide range of volunteer programs to engage from high school graduates to retirees.

More information on the World Friends Korea website

World Friends Korea volunteers provide services related to about 50 fields including education, public health, administrative systems, rural village development, industry and energy, etc.

In regard to global health, Korea has been striving to provide quality health care services and to ensure universal health for residents in developing countries.

Korea has established a number of hospitals and worked to reduce mortality rate of children and mothers dying from preventable diseases, to raise women's awareness on sex, etc.

With foreign assistance, Korea could study with new textbooks and in formally established schools. Today, Korea aims to increase access to quality education for children and youth in crisis.

Based on Korea's experience of rapid growth, KOICA strives to improve the administrative capacity and the social and economic systems of partner countries.

More than half of the world's population live under non-democratic governments. It is thus important to support free elections by establishing fair electoral and voting system and increasing transparency through the improvement of audit capacity.

Korea has invested in the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem against climate change, in the improvement of food production and supply system, in the extension of agricultural technique, etc.

Korea also tackles a massive number of water-related issues in developing countries by enhancing access to safe drinking water and sanitation services.

"Unless there is a miracle, it will take more than 100 years for South Korea to recover from the Korean War", stated by the U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, who led the UN forces during the 1950s in their defense of Korea. However, contrary to what he said, a 'Miracle on the Han River' did occur within 50 years as Korea entered the OECD DAC. Today, Korea will keep working in the front-line of international development cooperation.

For more information on KOICA

Korea International Cooperation Agency
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Exhibition Curator l Ran Ro

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