By Haoliang Xu, Assistant Administrator & Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP & Stephan Klingebiel, Director, UNDP Seoul Policy Centre

Education is a high priority in all societies. Nevertheless, the amount of attention families in the Republic of Korea (RoK) are paying to the education of their children is truly amazing. Long school and study days are quite common. To ensure students’ health, authorities have enacted rules for after-school programs to close by 10 pm in some provinces or at midnight in other provinces.

Parents know about the central role of education for the future opportunities of their children. In a very similar way, “knowledge” is a foundation for prosperous societies and countries. It requires “knowledge” if we wish to achieve a higher level of human development. In the simplest term, knowledge is the capacity to act. It is a precondition to anything else: It is about the capacity to increase agricultural productivity; it is about the use of technological innovations and much more.

The Republic of Korea is a perfect illustration of the use of knowledge. The country is known for its technological innovations (artificial intelligence, IT startups, etc.). A lot of Korea’s soft power today – visible, for instance, via the interest of foreign students to come to the country, or the effective pandemic management – is based on its successful approach to knowledge. From a long-term perspective, the socio-economic progress over the last decades seems to be a result of a smart knowledge management concept.

Interestingly, the Republic of Korea was and still is partnering with knowledge actors in many ways. The country smartly used development cooperation over several decades. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the country with around 270 programs until 2009 in many areas, with science and technology a key focus.

Part of the RoK’s unique development path is its transformation from being a “developing country” to a development cooperation provider of the OECD community of wealthier countries.  This is why UNDP, and other development partners, phased out its support program in the RoK. Today, the country has even become a member of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD.

There is one more interesting fact illustrating the transformation. After the closure of UNDP’s country office, the Korean partners, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and UNDP agreed to jointly establish a UNDP Global Policy Centre in Seoul which is operational since 2011. And the Centre is one of the five Global Policy Centres UNDP has established worldwide also in Istanbul, Nairobi, Oslo, and Singapore.

For 10 years the Seoul Centre has been facilitating knowledge exchange - knowledge that is mainly based on the RoK’s own development experiences. There is a high demand for this knowledge in many regions of the world, especially for the more recent experiences.

The Seoul Centre is known for sharing the RoK’s experiences.  Currently, the center is working with 26 countries in almost all developing regions, covering topics such as anti-corruption, Sexual & Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), sustainable forestry, and effective development cooperation. In all these areas, RoK’s profile is unique based on the country’s own and often challenging development history. All knowledge activities are done in close collaboration with partners such as the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission (ACRC), the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Korean National Police Agency and Korean National Police University, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Seoul Sunflower Center, Korea Forest Service, Korea University, the private sector such as impact investors, and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). Since the beginning of the pandemic and due to RoK’s well-known pandemic management approach, COVID-19 has been an additional cross-sectoral focus of the Seoul Center’s knowledge exchange activities.

Knowledge and knowledge exchange is at the heart of UNDP and of the UNDP Seoul Policy Centre. It is a fundamental and valued concept - like investing in the education of our children! The concept has global relevance – in countries with all levels of human development.

Knowledge and knowledge exchange need to adjust effectively to a dynamic context. As crises and crisis response and recovery are increasingly dominating global agendas, non-public actors such as academic institutions, private sector, civil society organizations, etc., are becoming increasingly relevant partners from a knowledge perspective. The Republic of Korea has interesting experiences and capacities to offer to the world in managing new challenges.  UNDP is keen to partner with the Republic of Korea in this worthwhile endeavor.

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