OECD seeks to learn from Saemaeul Movement

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 9, 2014 - 20:48
  • Updated : Jan 9, 2014 - 21:38
Mario Pezzini, director of the OECD development center. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Korea’s Saemaeul Undong, or New Community Movement, is often dismissed as an outdated legacy of the past administration. But the concept has been increasingly catching the attention of the global community, which sees the campaign as an efficient blueprint for jump-starting rural development.

This is why the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development decided to launch an in-depth study on Korea’s rural development experiences, according to an official.

“Many countries in the developing world are looking at Korea as an interesting case of industrial development, and at the center of that history is the Saemaeul Undong,” Mario Pezzini, director of OECD’s development center, told The Korea Herald in an interview.

The director exchanged a letter of agreement with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, initiating a joint study on Korea’s rural development project in the 1970s.

Over the next 18 months, the OECD task force is to collect and analyze the data on Saemaeul Undong, aiming at finding out how the government-led program and the political leader’s commitment led to the voluntary participation of the local community.

This is the first case where the international organization has launched an independent research team to perform a success factor analysis of an individual state, according to the official.

“Korea’s Saemaeul Undong had a number of unique characteristics, which are worth studying,” Pezzini said.

First, it had a two-way dynamic involving both the top-down leadership of the government and the bottom-up participation of the local community, he explained.

“The government would hold the initiative of the entire project and give out a reward to communities that attain their given goal, but it was not just the administrative drive which triggered the people’s voluntary participation,” he said.

“(The Saemaeul Undong) was a strange yet ideal mix of competition and cooperation.”

Once it has analyzed the pros and cons of Korea’s experience, the OECD task force will see if the example may be of help to other countries that are currently in their developing stage, the official said.

“Of course, we do not believe in taking Korea’s local program and simply transferring it elsewhere,” he said.

“But we may learn from its experience how Korea allocated its limited resources to rural development and how that, in turn, contributed to the country’s rapid growth.”

The fact that the corresponding campaign was initiated by former President Park Chung-hee, a man criticized for his high-handed administration, is not a matter of concern for the global community or other countries, he added.

Also, the comprehensive concept of the Saemaeul Undong revitalized the importance of integration when it comes to development policies, according to Pezzini.

“Rural development is a complex term as it not only includes the agricultural sector but all other sectors of society, such as infrastructure, administration, and small and medium-sized corporations,” the director said.

“The Saemaeul Undong, despite disputes within the local society, was a consistent movement which continued for some 10 years, and there is much we may learn from this sustainable development model.”

By Bae Hyun-jung (