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Visit to The Beautiful Foundation

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Last Friday, 23rd August, our NGL Forum’s Foreign Students World Reporters group visited the headquarters where missions of fundraising for charity causes in Korea are born – “The Beautiful Foundation”. Established in 2000 and ever since led by the voluntary participation of citizens, “The Beautiful Foundation” is a non-profit organization that aids in the creation of a more affluent, more loving world through its fundraising with the main aim of spreading unconditional philanthropy by supporting neighbours in welfare activities on both public and community level.

Although it might sound as an overstatement, everything about “The Beautiful Foundation” is, indeed, beautiful, starting from its location. Its office is situated in the heart of Seoul, between the royal palace Gyeongbokgung Palace, the current presidential residence Cheongwadae and the remains of an old Korean traditional district. Combined with the mind-soothing scenery of the nearby mountains, it comes as no surprise that at such a place, rich with historical and natural energy, deeds of kind heart take root.

As soon as we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by the smiling personnel and promptly met with our host for the day, Mr Chan Kwon, secretary-general of the Foundation, who introduced “The Beautiful Foundation” to us.

The name “Beautiful Foundation” (kor. “Areumdaun Jaedan” – “areumdaun”, beautiful, “jaedan”, foundation) speaks of a different kind of beauty than the one that meets the eye – namely, the beauty of sharing, which lies in the idea of having common values and can only be understood by treating others the same way we would treat ourselves or would like to be treated. This foundation dreams of the beauty of a just society, one in which the affluence we gather is shared equally even with those who were unable to receive the same. That spirit is deeply embedded and carefully implemented in everything they do.

Their distinctive logo and slogan also tell a story of its own. The orange colour of the logo symbolises maturity and health, while the tree with its many sprouting seeds instead of branches stands for the idea that each individual’s 'seed' of good and kindness, of donating, gives birth to a tiny, but significant change that will eventually grow and blossom into something big and beautiful in the same way that big trees grow from small seeds. Therefore, the slogan “Tiny change that changes the world”(“세상을 바꾸는 작은 변화”) also implies that what we can do, as ordinary people, is exactly that tiny bit, that first little change in the community sharing with someone in need.

Having learned about the Foundation’s core values of transparency, public welfare and mutual respect, we were also introduced to its flagship campaign – “1% Sharing”, led by the idea that 1% symbolizes not merely 1% of one’s income, but also of one’s heart, so people can share 1% of their income or of their talents and skills. Following that, we were told the amazing story of a remarkable woman, the Foundation’s first donor-advised fund establisher, grandmother Kim Gunja who was a sex slave during the Japanese rule over Korea. After overcoming numerous hardships throughout her life, she donated all of the assets of her work to the Foundation and established the "Grandmother Kim Gunja Fund"(“김군자 할머니 기금”) with the aim to support college tuition and give scholarships to orphaned children.

Miniature model of the "Hope Stores"

Another remarkable donation we learned about was initiated by the founder of a famous Korean cosmetic company called “Amore-Pacific” (“아모레퍼시픽”), Mr Seonghwan Seo, whose donations are aimed to support and educate low-income single mothers while helping them start their own small business under the name of “Hope Store” (“희망 가게”). The reason why the “Hope Store” stands out is that it functions through a loan called 'microcredit', which instead of merely providing short-term economic aid, builds a foundation for single mothers' economic independence and places great stress on a training and consulting support system as well. Another project that we thoroughly talked about was the “Dasomi” (“다솜이” – old Korean word for “love”) project which helps with funding low-income families with prematurely born babies.

When asked about the feeling he gets after meeting the people whom “The Beautiful Foundation” had helped years later, Mr Kwon replied that during his previous career at Microsoft he had had a similar experience in which he was able to help students with scholarships. He recalled receiving a long letter from one of those scholarship students, which, stirred various emotions in him and which, he believes, is very similar to the feelings all the donors in the Foundation have many years after.

Next question we asked was about the best ways of donating, both online and offline, to which Mr Kwon answered that every method of donation is important and counts, however when it comes to promoting the Foundation offline, they do not go out on the street or knock on people’s doors to ask for participation. They do put their booth out, however, during certain fundraising events, but at the end of the day, they do not invest much in self-promotion. He emphasized that having the right network of people is important and word-of-mouth always travels when it comes to good deeds, so most of the donors come to the Foundation themselves. Regarding foundations other than “The Beautiful Foundation”, he said that rather than feeling intimidated by them, on the contrary, he still feels proud and that others’ success, as long as it is for a good cause, should be celebrated.

Also, when asked for an advice on how to nurture the culture of donating in other countries, Mr Kwon said that, being opened to everything and everyone while creating a global network and sharing channels might be the answer. He also stated that us being there on that day was surely one of the ways to achieve that purpose, since by meeting and learning from each other, numerous opportunities could arise. He suggested offering help in the form of educational seminars to any of our countries’ representatives who would come to Korea with the idea to learn about fundraising culture.

Our last two questions were related to the ways the Foundation decides who is most in need when allocating its budget, as well as what is their approach to the problems of social labelling. To the former, Mr Kwon replied that the difficult process of selection requires lots of paperwork and thorough examination, during which “The Beautiful Foundation” tries its best to ask necessary, but not overly personal or intrusive questions. For example, instead of asking about the recipients' difficult life stories, the Foundation focuses on their perspective for the future, and many people, when writing about the future have the tendency to start with the past. In other words, the decision-making process is not easy, but the policy of the Foundation is to bot push people, rather to let them share as much as they feel is necessary and to help them with preparing the necessary documents.

Finally, the way of dealing with social labeling is undoubtedly another thing that makes “The Beautiful Foundation” so unique. Their “brand image”, as seen on their website, shows no pathetic stories and images of crying faces that could undignify the less fortunate or try to provoke pity among people. The example Mr Kwon gave of their fight against social labelling was related to prematurely born babies. Since the conventional Korean word for a premature baby, “misuka” (“미숙아”) implies a handicap or a disability, to eliminate the negative connotation, they created a new term “ireundungi” (“이른둥이”), which has a somewhat cuter note to it and literally means “a baby who entered the world earlier than others” , which can be also understood as “an early starter”.

After finishing the interview, Mr Kwon gave us a short tour of the building and we were able to meet the employees and have a word with the committee for deciding the funding allocation who were having their annual meeting. One thing that we could not help but notice was the sincerely pleasant atmosphere of the Foundation where all the staff members seemed to have the spirit of generosity, sharing and connectivity with one's self, in accordance with everything the organization stands for.

Our World Reporters team with Mr Kwon and our mentors, Mr Kim and Mr Hwang

Our visit was brought to an end over a lunch in a nearby restaurant, where we continued exchanging ideas and opinions in the same relaxed manner. Mr Kwon shared with us a bit more of his personal story such as the reason that had brought him from working for a company as big as Microsoft to managing what he believes is the right cause of life and paying his debt to society. Finally, he gave us words of encouragement and advice, based on his own life experience, some of which you will soon be able to hear in the video message he prepared especially for our homepage.

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