A private think tank aspiring to become Korea’s answer to the Brookings Institution of the United States has been launched.
The Future Consensus Institute was founded by Cho Chang-geol, the founder and honorary chairman of Hanssem Co., Korea’s leading interior company that provides furniture, appliances and household accessories.
Cho has promised to contribute 400 billion won ($357 million) worth of his shareholdings in Hanssem to the institute to ensure its financial independence. In March last year, he contributed 600,000 Hanssem shares worth 100 billion won.
The founder has decided not to assume any role in the institution to avoid it being associated with him or his company. He has left its management entirely to a 10-member board, which is headed by Lee Hun-jai, a former finance minister.
Other members include Kim Doh-yeon, president of POSTECH; Ahn Dae-hee, a former Supreme Court justice; Kim Beom-soo, chairman of Kakao Corp.; and Kim Hyun-chong, a former UN ambassador.
The institute will conduct research on four main topics -- world in transition, sustainable development, digital society and new civilization.
In a news conference, Lee said the institute would seek to become a platform where policy experts in Korea and abroad could exchange visions about creating a new, post-industrial civilization and a new world order.
Another main objective of the institute is to foster young leaders who would spearhead the transformation of Korea and Northeast Asia.
A country develops when independent research institutes gather talented researchers, encourage them to create visions for a better society, and inspire public officials to implement them.
But in Korea, the scale and standard of research institutes does not match the size of its economy. Most research centers in Korea are funded by the government or public organizations. These institutions cannot operate independently.
Research institutes affiliated with universities cannot speak in their own voices either as they are subsidized by the government.
Research centers set up by private corporations also exercise great caution not to ruffle the feathers of the government when they release research papers.
Korea badly needs independent research institutes that live up to high standards. In this regard, the launch of the Future Consensus Institute is encouraging as it pursues a high standard of excellence in research based on financial independence.
The institute’s founder has set a good example of how a successful entrepreneur can give back his personal wealth to society.
Thus far, Korean businessmen have tended to set up nonprofit foundations only to park their wealth or reduce inheritance taxes. They now should try to emulate Cho’s example and explore ways to use their wealth for the enhancement of public interests.