More Korean youth dream of becoming global leaders

SEOUL: At the turn of the century, few Koreans might have thought that two of the world's most significant institutions would be headed by compatriots within 12 years.

Ban Ki-moon, Seoul's former foreign minister, was elected UN secretary-general in 2006, being re-elected in 2011 to serve another five years.

Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American physician and anthropologist, became the president of the World Bank last year.

Koreans, especially young people, have been encouraged and inspired by the scenes of the two leaders crisscrossing the globe to address tasks facing the international community.

A growing number of ambitious and competent Korean youths have been knocking on the doors of various international organisations with a dream of becoming global leaders like Ban and Kim in the future.

Despite this increasingly positive attitude, Korean staff presence in major global bodies, especially in finance, remains relatively weak. Recent data submitted by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance to a ruling party lawmaker showed that the proportion of Korean employees at international institutions was far below the level of the country's financial contributions to them.

The number of Koreans currently working at the World Bank stands at 52, accounting for a meagre 0.35% of its total staff, while Seoul shoulders 1.4% of the funding for the global public lender.

Korean staff presence in the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the African Development Bank remain at 1.77%, 0.67% and 0.17% respectively, while the country takes up 5.03%, 1.02% and 0.45% of international contributions to the coffers at each of the three lending institutions.

According to the data compiled by the Finance Ministry, the gap is relatively narrow at the International Monetary Fund, where 29 Korean employees account for 1.12% of its total manpower, slightly below Seoul's share of its funding at 1.41%.

Korea can and should expand its contributions to global organisations to commensurate with its economic power if it is to play a more active and significant role in the international community.

To take a more useful and substantive part in improving conditions of the global village, it is essential to increase the number of Korean workers at international organisations serving that purpose.

In recent years, government officials have repeatedly said they will strengthen support for a greater number of qualified Koreans to land jobs at global bodies, especially on managerial and higher levels.

But the fact is that their pledges have not been backed up by specific measures, failing to produce meaningful results.

A Finance Ministry official was quoted by local news media last week as saying the ministry was planning to help Koreans find more opportunities to work on the global stage through job fairs for international financial institutions.

More comprehensive efforts should be made by all relevant government agencies in a more persistent and connected manner.

Young students also need to be taught to be more open-minded and accommodating toward different cultures and ways of life.

This attitude, coupled with professional competence, would help their talents stand out globally, though they may not necessarily work at international organisations.