1.5 mil. expats in Korea and creative economy

2013-07-14 13:43

1.5 mil. expats in Korea and creative economy

Lee Dong-geun
The population of resident foreigners in Korea now exceeds 1.5 million. From 680,000 in 2003, the number has more than doubled in the past 10 years. This means that out of every 100 Korean residents, three are of foreign nationality. While this is of course lower than Dubai, where 90 percent of the residents are foreigners, or even Germany (8.7 percent) or Russia (7.7 percent), the number still tells of a major change in our society, especially when considering how the Korean people have always prided themselves on their homogeneity as a single-race society.However, there is a surprising amount of historical evidence indicating that Koreans actually have long lived in a multicultural environment. For example, records show that the naturalization of foreigners began in the early years of the Three Kingdoms Period, about 20 centuries ago. As a result, over 130 of the 280 or so family names in Korea come from naturalized ancestors.

However, perhaps because we have always emphasized our status as a “single-race nation,” the rising population of resident foreigners is accompanied by a certain amount of concern. There is no doubt that the cultural friction around multicultural families is an issue that needs to be resolved. Conflict between foreign and Korean workers, the result of wage levels falling and competition for jobs increasing with the inflow of low-wage foreign labor, is another point of concern.

However, if this concern over the increase of resident foreigners originates from our “pure” identity as a “single-race” nation, I would recommend my fellow Koreans to cultivate a fresh perspective on the matter.

Why do we need a fresh perspective? My recommendation is not merely based on the fact that we are the cultured citizens of a global top 20 economy, nor that we should regard the foreign labor force as part of the solution to help us overcome labor shortages and the issue of a low birthrate. Rather, I believe a new perspective is necessary if we are to realize the new opportunities provided by the diversity of a multicultural society.

This diversity will allow us to improve our adaptability to new environments. All living organisms in the natural world have evolved in a direction that increases genetic diversity. Possessing a richer genetic diversity allows a race to adapt better to changes in the environment. In business and economics, the increase of foreign domestic workers increases our cultural diversity and thus allows us to adapt to global changes more effectively.

Also, as we become more diverse, we gain new perspectives that make new advancements possible. If we as a society are to realize positive change, we first need to discover the areas in which change is necessary. It is difficult for Koreans, who are accustomed to the current state of matters around them, to identify such areas of improvement. On the other hand, expatriates living in Korea provide a fresh perspective on matters that we do not even notice anymore, thus making it possible to discover areas that require change and develop ideas on how to carry out such changes. As we assimilate these ideas, we become that much closer to realizing the globalization of our culture as well.

The convergence of diverse views leads to innovation, and this is the key to our vision of fostering a creative economy. It is true that, up to now, the Korean economy has achieved growth based on the efficiency of homogeneity, rather than diversity. But the consensus is shifting toward the understanding that growth in this manner has now reached its limit and future economic growth must be fueled by creative innovation.

Creative innovation is born when different perspectives are brought together and various specialties are combined. Studies show how groups with more diversity perform better on creative tasks than homogeneous groups.

Rather than adhering to our identity as a “pure and single-race” nation, we should embrace diversity and incorporate it into Korean society. We can see how Athens, caught up in the narrow view of nationalism, failed to grow into an empire, while Rome chose to grant citizenship to ethnic citizens and went on to construct an empire that held sway over Europe for 10 centuries.

The foreign laborers working in Korea, the foreign wives and husbands of Koreans, foreigners working in culture-related areas or the sports industry—these people are diplomats that introduce Korea to the world and forge meaningful connections between Korea and the international community. They are essential contributors to our cultural diversity and will help Korea adapt to global changes and foster a creative economy

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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