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Indigenous social enterprise and Jeju Island - Part I
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승인 2014.03.07  17:07:06
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▲ Photo by Brenda Paik Sunoo, author of "Moon Tides" Jeju Grannies of the Sea" (2012).

The following article is excerpted from Dr. Hilty's recent presentation at UNITAR Cifal-Jeju.

This is Part I. For Part II, see here.

"Social Enterprise" is a business model recently gaining in popularity throughout Korea. Not a new concept, the structure itself has existed in earlier forms for several decades around the world, and in related indigenous practices throughout the centuries.

The structure is based on two concepts: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in itself an increasingly popular construct globally; and, a hybrid profit/non-profit status.

A social enterprise benefits its community not only economically but also socially, both tangibly and intangibly. In the recent global trend of re-valuing indigenous wisdom, a view of this model within the larger historic context reveals its true value.

Socially responsible businesses first developed in the US and UK in the late 1970s, with a similar structure in Italy. A reflection of these countries' changing social values generated by civil movements of the 1960s, they were primarily corporations that donated a percentage of their profits to charity and further pledged to uphold transparent and ecologically as well as socially responsible practices. Today's CSR movement is a direct outcome of these pioneer businesses.

In 1970s Korea, the “saemaeul undong” or New Villages economic program under then-president Park Chunghee was implemented to resuscitate Korea's economy following the devastation of its civil war.

This so-called economic “miracle” has also been identified as a form of cultural violence, with village structures absorbed into the boundaries of new cities, local dialects discouraged in favor of the Seoul standard, for business efficiency, and citizens exhorted or even required to renounce traditional practices in favor of modernity.

Social cohesion was no longer based in tradition or village social life but in nationalism.

In the social enterprise business model, which serves to benefit the community and thereby contribute to local social welfare, tangible benefits such as the provision of local employment and donation of profit to the local community get the most attention – and, government funding. Intangible contribution, for example the increase of social engagement and therefore cohesion, is difficult to measure and thus typically ignored.

Korea has a fine precedent for the valuing of intangible benefit, however, already a well-established government program: the Cultural Heritage Administration's identification of both tangible and intangible heritage as per UNESCO. A similar structure for the government's social enterprise scheme could broaden the current definition of benefits or contribution as engaged by the government in its valuation and funding of emerging social enterprises.

The social enterprise structure further incorporates not only the concept of benefits to human society but also ecologically sound practice and contribution to environment, an aspect too often overlooked.

What is today called "social enterprise" or "socially responsible corporation" is not a modern concept. It is a deeply traditional practice rooted in cultures across the globe known as 'mutual aid' – when village members assist and contribute to one another's well-being, with a vested interest in gaining advantage not strictly for themselves but for the community in which they are embedded.

Around the world, there is a recent trend for valuing indigenous wisdom and practice, once thoughtlessly discarded for the sake of modernization. The United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007. In 2004, a full three years earlier, the World Bank produced a document entitled, "Indigenous Knowledge: Local Pathways to Global Development."

UNESCO has developed and distributed educational material on the topic of "Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability." UN Women, at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women (2011), focused on the empowerment of rural women with indigenous practice as a key element. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its 2012 World Conservation Congress held here on Jeju Island, included indigenous environmental practices around the world in its agenda.

In order to render the social enterprise business model as efficacious as possible, this link to indigenous mutual aid societies -- such as that of Jeju Island -- must be understood.

Why is this awareness important? Social engagement and cohesion, the fabric of a society and upon which its economic viability is built, particularly challenged as a society increasingly diversifies, is grounded in traditional underpinnings which reflect shared values. It is this deep rootedness that renders the most sustainable practices.

We may also study such indigenous models in order not only to learn from but perhaps to emulate them. What's more, it is universally understood that the optimal psychological method for gaining participants in any movement – political, religious, or commercial – is one which closely aligns with what is already familiar.

Thus, by understanding and integrating the traditional underpinnings of social enterprise, the current effort to gain increasing numbers of new "social entrepreneurs" will be enhanced.

Next: Indigenous social enterprise: Jeju haenyeo


Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York, currently residing on Jeju Island.

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