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Global nonprofits feel right at home in Korea

Mar 21,2018
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Employees of the Global Green Growth Institute at its headquarters in central Seoul on March 7. [KIM SANG-SEON]
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Korea is increasingly becoming a hub for international organizations. As many as 60 operate in the country, and managers advise young Koreans to use them as a springboard for international opportunities.

“The experience one gains at an international organization in Seoul can be a stepping stone for future work abroad, such as at the United Nations headquarters in New York,” said Chung In-hee, manager of the sustainability and safeguards department at the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul. “Many international organizations in Korea are looking for people with language skills - in English, French, Spanish and more - as well as expert knowledge and passion in a field.”

The Global Green Growth Institute is one of three international organizations with its headquarters in Korea. The organization, established in 2012, recently appointed former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as its president and chair.

The institute runs sustainable growth programs in 26 countries, most of them developing economies, and the workforce is quite international.

“We have around 50 Koreans out of some 300 employees here,” said Nirmal Sinha, deputy director and head of human resources at the Global Green Growth Institute. “We have 28 member countries, but the employees are from more than 40 countries.”




The other two international organizations with headquarters in Korea are the International Vaccine Institute, based in Seoul since 1997, and the Green Climate Fund, based in Songdo, Incheon, since 2013. The vaccine institute worked on a treatment for the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which wracked Korea during the spring of 2015.

There are 60 international organizations in Korea, many of them affiliated with the United Nations or operating as branch offices of global NGOs. Most are located in Seoul or Songdo, an international business district in Incheon. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has a Korea office in Seoul as does the World Food Programme. The World Bank Group has a Korea office in Songdo.

Thirteen organizations operate out of one building, the Seoul Global Center, which houses the branch offices of Citynet, the World Wildlife Fund and Unicef.

To support job seekers looking for work in international organizations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established the International Organizations Recruitment Center. Its website includes guidelines on applying to jobs abroad and information about vacancies at international organizations.

“There is growing interest in working at international organizations,” said Choi Sung-eun, a researcher at the center. “We’ve been running an annual information session with about 10 human resources managers from international organizations and have about 2,000 participants each time.”

Managers who have been working at international organizations for years tell prospective applicants to have patience in developing their expertise in a step-by-step process.

“When you start working, you find that it’s a whole different story from what you learn in school, whether you majored in development cooperation, international relations, economics or law,” said Moon Na-young, a monitoring and evaluation officer at the ASEAN-Korea Centre in Seoul.

“For the first few years, it is unlikely that you will be applying anything you learned in school to your everyday work, but as time goes, the small details that accumulate bring you perspective, and you realize that you are becoming an expert in the field … I can say that international organizations in Korea provide sufficient learning opportunities for young staffers.”

For some international staff members working in organizations in Korea, the experience provides a glimpse into a new culture and lifestyle.

“Seoul is becoming a more and more foreigner-friendly environment,” said Alexandra Sidorova, a program officer at the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization in Seoul. “Working in an international organization in Korea is a good experience to have.”

BY NAM JEONG-HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]