South Korea increases ODA, pushes for 'win-win' foreign aid policy

South Korea Prime Minister Jung Hong-won. The country has upped its foreign aid spending by 11 percent, a step toward making foreign aid 0.25 percent of its gross national income by 2015. Photo by: World Travel & Tourism Council / CC BY

Following its meteoric economic rise and growing role as a top donor, South Korea this week announced it is increasing its official development assistance to help recipient countries fast-track their development progress — and give back to the world the help it received during its postwar era just half a century ago.

Prime Minister Jung Hong-won has committed on Monday to spending over $2 billion worth of ODA for the next 12 months, an 11 percent increase from last year and a step closer to keeping its promise of making foreign aid 0.25 percent of the country’s Gross National Income by 2015.

This development commitment will be a continuing trend to make the country a vital part of international development, according to the country’s ODA bureau deputy director.

“We are taking efforts to increase steadily the size of our ODA for several years and we are planning to increase [it more] going forward,” Minho Cho, deputy government director for official development assistance, told Devex. “We are committed to making our 0.25 percent [of GNI] commitment by 2015.”

Among the priority regions, Asia will get 47 percent, with 17 percent and 6 percent, respectively, allocated for Africa and South America. The Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States, on the other hand, will receive about 5.5 percent of the money, to be distributed through different channels including Korea’s official development agency KOICA as well as multilateral partners.

South Korea’s development footprint

Cho said the bulk of the funds are earmarked for bilateral assistance and will focus mainly on building social and economic infrastructures, especially in the least developed countries, as well as water treatment facilities, education, healthcare and energy.

A portion will also be set aside to fund South Korean volunteers and their mission in developing countries to help increase the country’s development footprint.

In terms of development, South Korea is a Cinderella story. The country emerged from the ashes of the 1950-1953 Korean War, after which it became an aid recipient, to economic powerhouse and top donor — as well as a member of OECD-DAC since 2009 — in just sixty years.

South Korea’s rise was also underlined following the World Bank’s recent decision to establish a new office in Incheon. The office, according to the bank’s regional director, Klaus Rohland, will extend the Washington, D.C.-based institution’s mission to assist developing nations in the region by sharing South Korea’s success story as “[the country] plays an increasingly active role in global development issues.”

‘Win-win’ ODA, policy priorities

Cho said the assistance that South Korea is extending to the rest of the world this year will be focused on a “win-win” definition of cooperation which highlights mutual benefit, cooperation and effectiveness through evaluation as priorities.

The “win-win” characteristic of South Korea’s aid this year will highlight a more tailor-fit and contextualized development projects to the recipient countries, making sure that the programs supply what is needed by the people — something that will make aid effective and mutually beneficial.

“This year’s [development] policy priority is, first, we like to push for what we call a win-win ODA which means that both [the Korean government] and the recipient countries receiving aid are benefitting,” Cho said.

Another 2014 goal is multi-sectoral cooperation to make development efforts more effective and transparent. Cho explained that establishing a strong foundation of collaboration and cooperation between ODA agencies and other sectors can effectively streamline development goals and fast-track learning curves through information-sharing.

Lastly, the South Korean government will also strive to ensure value for money, and that’s where close evaluation of each project will be the key to success.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.