[Keynote Speech] 2018 Busan Democracy Forum




Keynote Speech

 At the 2018 Busan Democracy Forum (BuDF)


Jan 22, 2018

Busan Haeundae Grand Hotel

Mikyung LEE

President of KOICA



1. Introduction


(Words of Greeting)

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

I sincerely welcome all of you who have come to Busan, the symbolic city of Korean democracy and development cooperation. I would like to express my special gratitude to the participants from abroad for sharing your experience and insight on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and democracy, despite your busy schedule. I would also like to thank the Community of Democracies(CD), the Asia Democracy Network(ADN), and Asia Development Alliance(ADA) for the successful preparation of this event.

I would like to begin with a story from the movie ‘1987,’ which depicts citizens who practiced democracy thirty years ago. This film inspires not only the generation that directly experienced the 1987 civil movement, but also the younger generation in terms of ‘People’s Power,’ which reflects the values of human rights, democracy, peace, and equality which symbolize modern Korean society. Furthermore, this film directly engages with the value and direction of international development cooperation, which coincides with today’s discussion topic.

Around the year 1987, I had the experience of organizing civic and women’s movements during the military dictatorship regime in the 70s and 80s with the assistance of foreign aid agencies that supported people’s and women’s power. Financial support was provided for the opening of Korea’s first lecture on women’s studies for female workers, for victims of sexual violence and female workers who were discriminated against, and for a women’s peace movement calling for an end to conflict. In the course of receiving aid, our independence of activity was neither infringed nor did we receive any pressure to make visible quantitative achievements. Rather, my colleagues and I received strong encouragement and support whenever our activities were threatened by the dictatorship. The aid we received was a valuable resource in supporting gender equality, human rights, and democracy in Korea. This helped lead to a great transformation in Korean democracy that we have come to witness presently.

I was lucky enough to experience the fact that foreign aid can help develop people’s power and women’s power, along with human rights, equality, and democracy, and thus I would like to make a promise to all of you. I will strive to expand ODA aligned with ‘gender equality, human rights, and peace,’ reflecting the aspiration of SDGs to ‘Leave No One Behind’ based on Korea’s experience receiving foreign aid. This is not only my personal promise as the president of KOICA, but also the promise of KOICA as a representative institution overseeing Korea’s grant aid.



2. The Symbolism of Busan regarding Democracy and Development Cooperation


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As mentioned earlier, the fact that this forum is taking place in Busan conveys a profound symbolic message in terms of both 1) democracy and 2) development cooperation.


(Bu-Ma Democratic Protests)

First of all, there was a democratic movement against the Yusin Reforms in Busan and Masan in 1979. The Democratic Proclamation was distributed and citizens performed a massive anti-government demonstration to overthrow the authoritarian regime. As such, Busan’s symbolism as the birthplace of democracy makes this forum’s location much more meaningful.


(Candlelight Democracy in Busan)

Busan’s symbolism of democracy can be seen even from the recent candlelight demonstration. Each and every person’s small action to protect the sovereignty of the people, one of the most important elements of democracy, came together and made a big change. This event revealed that there is always hope for democracy and proved that peace rather than violence, a sense of ownership rather than silence, has the power to change the world.


(Busan Global Partnership)

Not only is Busan an important city for its close relation to democracy, it also has significant connections to development cooperation.

First of all, this is the city where the “2012 Busan Global Partnership,” a global development cooperation platform was founded with emphasis on △sense of ownership of recipient countries, △ inclusive development partnerships, and △ transparency. In accordance with these standards of international aid, KOICA is constantly exerting our efforts to improve the quality and performance of Korea’s ODA.


(Development Cooperation and the Busanhang Port)

Another relation Busan has with development assistance is that Busan is also the city where development assistance began. In 1950, aid goods came through Busanhang Port to help reconstruct Korea after its devastation from the Korean War. Busanhang Port, once the place where aid goods were unloaded to help the Koreans, is now one of the world’s top five container ports and a central hub for transporting aid goods shipped out to foreign countries.

These aspects of Busan, with its profound connection to democracy and development cooperation, add to the significance of this location as well as this forum.



3. UN SDGs and Democracy


(Democracy and the Advent of SDGs)

In 2016, the SDGs were launched based on the foundational spirit of “Leave No One Behind.” Above all, Goal 16 of the SDGs emphasizes peace, democracy, and the implementation of the core values of human rights.

Furthermore, there has been an increasing worldwide demand for expansion of SDGs projects in relation to gender equality and basic human rights of the poor, children, and persons with disabilities. This shows that values such as human rights, gender equality, and democracy are basic ideas which cannot be overlooked in today’s development cooperation.


(Economic Development and Democracy in Developing Countries)

Although Freedom House reports that democracy has significantly expanded over the past several decades, data from the last 10 years shows that worldwide freedom and democracy have been on the decline. Moreover, the 2017 report shows that out of the 195 countries assessed, 87 countries (45 percent) were rated as “free”, 108 (55 percent) were rated as either “partly free” or “not free.” This tells us that we are yet to be satisfied when it comes to spreading democracy around the world.  

Democracy is a stimulator and a prerequisite for poverty reduction, improvement in human rights, realization of gender equality, and sustainable development. In other words, democracy is a precondition and the foundation for achieving sustainable development goals in emerging economies.


(The Impact of Democracy)

Sometimes, there are many who may be thinking ‘Does democracy really feed the people?’ However, peace, respect for human rights and gender equality cannot be established without democracy, even if a certain level of economic development has been achieved. Above all, the fruit of economic development cannot be handed over to citizens in the absence of democracy.

President Moon Jae-In has mentioned that “democracy is food and food must become democracy.” As such, democracy should mean more than this superficial statement, even to those suffering from severe economic inequality. The voices of citizens longing for democracy and human rights in emerging economies should be listened to and we need to step forward to help foster their capabilities.


(Cooperation for Enhancing Democracy)

Because of this, the importance of international and regional cooperation as well as solidarity to promote and consolidate democracy, continues to increase.

As democracy is never a final state but a continuous process of development, cooperation with various entities is crucial for its progress. In addition, because the proliferation of, and threats to, democracy are transnational, joint measures are more effective in contributing to long-term regional peace, stability, and economic development.



4. Developing and Implementing ODA that Reflects Core Values

(Further Efforts)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Various efforts are necessary in order to support the implementation of SDGs in our partner countries. Among them, there is a pressing need to step up efforts to implement core values such as democracy, peace, and human rights are especially urgent in this era. In particular, additional efforts by diverse entities are essential, since SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 16 (Democracy and Governance) are areas that relate to each goal, from SDG 1 through SDG 17.

KOICA will also actively participate in research and communication in areas such as democracy, peace, human rights and gender equality. We will also expand and develop ODA projects that are closely related to these fields. It is also our duty to endeavor to achieve these values of democracy, peace, human rights, and gender equality, which are spread across all fields of international development cooperation.


(Korea’s Responsibility)

Above all, Korea including KOICA, holds an international responsibility regarding these core values. The international community highly values the development of Korea, since it is regarded as a prime example of economic growth along with democracy and human rights development, all accomplished in one generation. Therefore, sharing our experiences of democratic development has far more significance and value.

Accordingly, KOICA has the responsibility to establish exemplary ODA projects related to SDGs Goal 16, and we are expected to play a leading role in regional and international cooperation to promote ODA through core values.

We need to utilize our experience of democracy and human rights enhancement but at the same time seek measures that are in line with the traditional, cultural, and socioeconomic status of developing countries to avoid unilateral and forceful transplanting. We will continuously assist each countries’ effort in achieving sustainable development and expanding SDGs projects to strengthen peace, human rights and democracy by reflecting the characteristics of our partner countries.



5. Stating the Will to Implement ODA through Cooperation with Civic Society


(The Importance of Domestic Civil Society)

In the process of Korea’s democratization, civil society has made major contributions in three aspects: political development, balanced economic growth, and social integration.

First, civil society has been a driving force of political democratization and contributed to enhancing government transparency and accountability as a supervisor and critic of national policy. Second, civil society has played a key role in representing the interests of minority groups in the process of rapid economic growth. Finally, civil society has played a leading role in creating an inclusive society by coordinating social conflicts arising from various differing ideologies and values in Korean society.


(The Importance of Empowerment through Civil Society)

Internationally, the participation and role of civil society is gaining more and more importance. Civil society is expected to play a bigger role in promoting democracy and resolving social inequality in partner countries. More importantly, not only the legal system, but also the empowerment of citizens is critical in order to sustain a long-lasting democracy in partner countries.

While I am currently the President of KOICA, a representative donor agency in Korea, I was once a recipient of a development program for women’s studies supported by Germany. From this experience, I was able to take part in the feminist movement and gender equality of Korean society through contributions such as creating textbooks for women’s studies. I personally felt that the empowerment of individual citizens could eventually contribute to development of recipient countries at the national level.


(The Importance of International Civil Society)

For democratic institutions and citizen’s capacity to complement each other, I believe that expertise in development cooperation, local networking, and long-term business experiences of the civil society are crucial.

In particular, gender and peace issues are easily swayed depending on the local political circumstances of each developing countries. Therefore, more support should be provided through civil societies so as to enhance social permeability and minimize political conflicts during the development cooperation process.


(KOICA’s Cooperation with Civil Societies)

Acknowledging such strengths of civil societies, KOICA has long established a comprehensive partnership with domestic NGOs and civil societies. Utilizing the technology and financial resources of the private sector, we are promoting grass-roots public-private partnership projects. Since 1995, we have been pursuing various development cooperation projects with civil society organizations over the past 23 years. The budget allocated for supporting civil society organizations has also been continuously expanding.

In 2017, we launched a total of 122 public-private partnership projects in the areas of education, health, and agriculture. We are also currently working to expand the pool of competent private partners, while at the same time working to ease the entry barriers for their participation in international cooperation.


(Projects related to the Core Values of Democracy, Peace, and Human Rights)

In addition to expanding the scope of cooperation with diverse entities, KOICA is also aware of the importance of core values such as democracy, peace, and human rights, and is striving to expand projects related to these values.


(Democracy) I would like to introduce to you some of KOICA’s recent projects regarding democracy. KOICA has contributed to creating fair and transparent elections, as well as democracy, through the ‘Election Management Capacity Building(14-16/USD 6.2M)’ project in the Kyrgyz Republic. An on-going project, ‘Project for Establishing an E-NID(National Identification) System (16-18/USD 7.5M)’ and consolidating ‘Tunisian E-People System for Popular Participation and Corruption Prevention(15-17/USD 5M)’ are both projects targeted for the settlement of several aspects of quality democracy such as government integrity, popular participation and improved quality of public service. Other than these projects, we are establishing an ODA implementation system that meets the needs of our partner countries, such as supporting the activities of the Congress and strengthening public accountability.


(Human Rights) Concerning human rights, a variety of projects and training programs are in progress aiming to protect human rights and strengthen the capacities of the vulnerable, which include the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, refugees and women. During the first half of this year, KOICA is planning to establish the ‘KOICA Mid-Term Strategies for Human Rights (2017-2022)’ in order to reflect the human rights-based approach in development cooperation projects as well as in our organization management.


(Peace) In terms of building peace, we are constantly focusing on projects targeting victims of violence such as ‘Establishing Preventive Protection Model for Female Victims of Violence in Vietnam(17-20/USD 2.5M)’ and projects supporting peace settlement such as the ‘Removal of Unexploded Bombs in Laos(14-17/USD 3M).’


(Future Role of KOICA)

Nevertheless, KOICA will not settle for its present status. KOICA will continue to expand our plans for ODA based on core values through reinforcing partnerships with civil society members.

By leveraging professionalism and creativity through public-private partnerships, KOICA will foster the ODA ecosystem. We will also continue to assist civil societies to become more competent partners for ODA projects and thus promote mutual growth through these partnerships. We will make sure not to neglect our efforts in nurturing the civil societies of developing countries and supporting the development of local communities as well.

SDGs Goal 17 reaffirms the importance of partnership with various entities. This is to say inclusive partnership and cooperation with civil societies are a crucial element in successfully achieving the SDGs.



6. Closing Remarks


(Remark of Encouragement)

Through today’s forum, I hope we can learn by sharing experiences of each participant and country, and the best practices for creating opportunity to spread worldwide democracy.



In my inaugural speech as KOICA president, I emphasized the importance of going ‘back-to-basics.’ As Korea’s representative organization for grant aid, KOICA will reaffirm and protect the basic principles and philosophy of ODA.

At the basis of the philosophy and principle of ODA lie the humanitarian values of enhancing human rights and gender equality. Therefore, it is inevitable to discover projects fully devoted to the basic principles and philosophy to promote the prosperity of mankind and world peace through core values.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace, democracy, and respect for human rights. Thus, KOICA will also exert our efforts to create a peaceful, fair, and inclusive society based on respect for human rights. By doing so, KOICA will continue to push forward with ODA projects that are fully devoted to going back to the ‘basics.’



I hope this forum will become an opportunity to gather wisdom from various participants who represent national and regional governments and civil societies leading regional cooperation for democracy, and provide resolutions for promoting democracy. I also believe the diverse participants of this forum, those of participating countries, and of KOICA, can actively share their exemplary cases among participants to provide mutual inspiration and increase interest.

Once again, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have created this meaningful forum and hope that together we will make a brighter future towards development cooperation. Thank you.



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