Issue/WT Notices2012.06.07 13:39

[May 15, 2012] WT Newsletter #4- Korean Social Enterprise News 4.

Public Apartments in Korea are Changing

Written by Hyun-Ha KIM, a Bridge Volunteer

“We got along well with the neighbors, which we couldn’t seem to do before”, said one tenant living in Iksan, Jeolla-do. Another added, “While working here, a few things in my life have changed. One of them is that I’ve learned about how to respect myself by going back to work.” She used to work before getting married; however, she gave up her career to raise children, just as other women have. What happened to them? Dating back to two years ago, you may find a clue to describe this changing tide.

In 2010, a new public apartment community-based business, called the ‘LH (Land & Housing) Community-based Social Enterprise Project,’ was launched. LH is the name of a government-owned construction company, which became the name of this project. One of the purposes of this project is to offer economical apartments to people, especially who couldn’t afford to rent a house, as a public service. However, LH felt that this support was not enough, due to social issues such as social polarization and rising unemployment rates across the country. Particularly, LH tried to expand the concept of public service, and the company decided not only to offer public apartments but to give job opportunities as a way of supporting tenants. For this reason, LH donated funds to the Work Together Foundation, one of the biggest foundations supporting social enterprise in Korea, to achieve its objective. The Work Together Foundation remains in charge of everything, including the selection of organizations, business incubating and giving the chance to network.

The LH (Land & Housing) Community-based Social Enterprise Project set out to create jobs especially for women and elderly tenants who can’t find a job easily due to their children and/or age, and to enhance a mutual aid network that allows tenants to help each other. Unfortunately, as Korean society rapidly develops the social safety net in small communities has been weakened, dissolving the once strong ties between neighbors. We don’t know who lives next door, even when a death occurs. This background points to what the project is based on and what it aims to do.

There are eight public apartment enterprises operating on a national basis: in Kyunggi-do, Choongchung-do, Jeolla-do, Kwangwon-do, Daegu-si, and Ulsan-si. The Donggu Happy Network in Daegu (Hyun-goo Kang, CEO) was founded in 2010, the first year of the project. The lunchbox store Welldorak and a culture studio called Banban, where adults play instruments as a hobby and adolescents learn traditional instruments that spark their interest, are businesses run by the Donggu Happy Network. There are very few opportunities to enjoy rich cultural experiences near public apartments, since most of public apartments were built on abandoned land. A care center for both disabled and able-bodied children is another business run by the Donggu Happy Network.

Teachers take care of them until 6 o’clock, when their mothers come back home after work. The care center is run through a support fund from the local authorities and the net profit earned by Welldorak. Currently, the Donggu Happy Network is gaining money mostly by conducting government projects related to cultural education for youths. This enterprise was certified as a preliminary social enterprise and official community business by the local authorities on March, 2011.

Another example is Hangbok Naruteo (Jae-duek Kim, CEO) in Iksan, Jeolla. It consists of an urban agriculture business, a crafts room business, and two educational cultural centers for students. The urban agriculture business is using vacant land public LH leases free of charge because some of land is not expected to be used for a couple of years. These days, the tenants are cultivating potatoes and beans, as they are relatively easy to plant. The educational cultural center for students, Ggumnamu, takes on a pivotal role in taking care of about 25 children in each center. All the parents in the community are demanding a space for children to learn without any worries; however, supply can't keep up with the pace of the demand. Luckily, it was also certified as an official community business and could get capital for operations and an initial investment from government.

It has been two years since they started as social enterprises, so it is too early to define what the performance of each social enterprise is and to anticipate to what extent they can grow. However, what you should be aware of before defining them is that community business is based on problem-solving, not profit-making. If a patient leader is allowed to continuously give people the motivation to solve problems, even though it will take longer to get to the bottom line, the prospects will be quite bright. Whether it will succeed or fail depends on having leaders who can give a strong motivation to community. When tenants find the motivation to change, they will spontaneously become the backbone of community business and work as hard as if they were all the CEO.

Translated: by Hyun-Ha KIM

Edited: by Patrick Ferraro

Posted by hamkke