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Retired Samsung CEO turns shutterbug for charity, multiculturalism

Han Yong-oe (center), founder of Inclover, a social welfare foundation for multicultural families, looks at a portrait of a multicultural family after taking their picture.
Han Yong-oe (center), founder of Inclover, a social welfare foundation for multicultural families, looks at a portrait of a multicultural family after taking their picture.
Han Yong-oe, former president of Samsung Electronics’ home appliance unit and Samsung Community Services, immediately began doing what he loved when he retired in 2009.

That year he founded Inclover, a social welfare foundation for multicultural families, with 1 billion won ($935,000) of his own money.

Social services and multicultural families were not strange words to Han. He had done a lot of social work for those in need, including multicultural families, when he headed corporate philanthropy for Samsung Group. In his personal life, he majored in social welfare and acquired a doctoral degree in a field related to multicultural families.

“My life motto is, I will never cause trouble to others. I will live a life of helping others,” he said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

Though he set up the foundation, there was not much he could do with the meager annual interest on 1 billion won.

“The annual interest on 1 billion won is roughly 30 million, which amounts to a single employee’s wage. Sometimes I spend more of my money.”

He tried to figure out what to do for multicultural families with a tight budget, and portraiture seemed a good match for him. While at Samsung, he picked up photography as a hobby before retiring.

Over four years he has taken photos of about 1,500 multicultural families and given them the framed family pictures.

“Many married multicultural couples do not have family or wedding photos. So the family photos I give them may be their first and last ones. I hope family portraits will give them pleasure and happiness,” the 66-year-old photographer said.

Han took up photography in 2006. He attended a photography session organized as part of the humanities and arts programs for chief executives offered by the Samsung Economic Research Institute.

Lessons from photography

Photography has changed him.

“After taking photos as a hobby, I have changed for the better in five ways. First, I have become very industrious. To take pictures of landscapes, plants and people, I need to be on the go and move a lot. Second, as a benefit from being laborious, I have become healthy. Third, my family dialogue and harmony have increased. Members of my family talk together about photos I have taken. Fourth, I have a post-retirement job which enables me to give back my talent and time to society. The fifth and maybe most important change is that I’ve acquired an eye to see the world as beautiful.”

He says that he likes to take photos of stunning landscapes or beautiful flowers but finds it very hard to capture the best images.

“I can’t forget advice from a renowned photographer: The best images cannot be captured by a casual photographer who pushes the shutter button in front of beautiful items which come into his or her sight while traveling. Those things are common travel photos.

“To take a great shot, a photographer should select a good place and wait for the right time to get the desired image. It takes thought and patience.”

Han poses in front of his photographs on display at Gallery One in Seoul on Thursday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Han poses in front of his photographs on display at Gallery One in Seoul on Thursday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
He held his first solo exhibition of 32 photos at Gallery Won in southern Seoul from Oct. 9-15 as a fundraiser for the welfare foundation.

“I studied such issues as the low birthrate and aging population when I was taking a doctoral course in the field of social welfare. I thought that multicultural children who face difficulties adapting to our society may cause serious social problems when they grow up,” Han said. “My doctoral dissertation concerns the welfare of multicultural families. I decided to help them after I retired and did so without hesitation after I left Samsung.”

Charity portraits for multicultural families

Han takes a team of about 15, divided in three or four cars, to state support centers for multicultural families in provinces, takes their family portraits, and gifts them on site. He travels from his house to the country two days a month, Saturday and Sunday of the second week.

They also take along digital cameras, lights, light tents, printers, picture frames, photo-editing computers and other photographic equipment to set up a temporary studio.

Most of time, he takes 20 or 30 family portraits in each photo shoot. Initially, he did not schedule his photo shoots, accepting all applications for free portraits.

“After traveling for about 30 weeks a year, I was groggy. Physically it was too hard. Those around me told me to travel less.

“Large families, among others, perk me up when I shoot photographs. Some wives from Southeast Asian countries bring their parents and siblings from their native countries as well as husbands and in-laws to take their family portraits. Photos of large families show clearly that they live a happy life. When I take photos of happy people, I am heartened.”

Han does not take only family portraits of multicultural households but also runs a class to teach photography to their children.

One class has 38 students in elementary and middle school, who graduate after four semesters. The session runs from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“The program is designed to cultivate photography talent in multicultural students so that they will be able to earn a living in related fields and also to have an effect of preventing children from being juvenile delinquents.”

The photography session is funded by Samsung Electronics and the only Inclover project receiving corporate sponsorship.

The foundation also spends about 10 million won each year to donate children’s books on Korean history and culture to multicultural kids.

“Children of multicultural families face difficulties assimilating into Korean society. Worse still, the divorce rate for multicultural families is relatively high. Those children from broken families are likely to be left unattended, so they are prone to crime. If we do nothing for them, social problems caused by multicultural children are expected to surge in five or six years.”

As a way to prevent the problem, he suggested “alternative boarding schools” for unattended adolescents from divorced multicultural families.

“Children of divorced multicultural parents need to be accommodated into the boarding schools which act as alternative schools as well. They should be raised until they become economically independent.”

Portrait charity will likely outlast him.

“Volunteer photography for multicultural families looks endless. Korea has more than 150,000 families of multiethnic backgrounds. I take about 500 family portraits a year. Given this pace, it will take 300 years to shoot them all.”

By Chun Sung-woo (swchun@heraldcorp.com)
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