The Kwanjeong Education Foundation has donated 60 billion won, the equivalent of roughly 52.2 million dollars, to Seoul National University for the renovation of the central library. This is the biggest amount that has ever been donated in SNU's history.
LEE Chong-Hwan (89), the founder and honorary chairman of the foundation, has decided to donate the money following the conviction that libraries constitute the essence of successful academic education of global talents. On May 9, he was visited by SNU President OH Yeon-chun, who told him that the school was having difficulties finding donators for its new library construction campaign. After asking questions about the location, scale and more details for about 15 minutes, Mr. LEE said, "Fifty million dollar, I will donate it."
Since March, Seoul National University has been conducting a fundraising campaign called "SNU Library's Friends." The aim is to collect at least 100 billion won, which will be spent on remodeling the current central library and constructing a new one. The central library was built in 1974, and originally designed to hold 1.5 million items. However, the library is currently housing approximately 2.5 million items. Moreover, its facilities are run-down and antiquated. Over the years, many SNU students have longed for a new library befitting SNU's prestige. Thanks to Mr. Lee's donation, SNU will be able to begin the construction of a new world-class library earlier than expected. An SNU official said, "The new library will have six or seven floors, boasting state-of-the-art facilities, media devices, computers, and more books."
Mr. Lee's motto in life is that "It is people, not money, that develop and support a country, a company, and a household." He explained, "In the 60s, I visited Switzerland and it made a huge impression on me. Switzerland's population was only one-sixth of Korea's, but its national income per capita was 40-50 times higher than that of Korea. That is when I came to realize that the best thing you can invest in is people, not some factories or natural resources."
Mr. Lee started out by running a small rice mill when he was in his twenties, and after the Korean War, worked as a trade agent. With the money he earned, he set up Samyoung Chemical in the early 60s. The company was originally in the plastics industry, but it later developed superfine-fibers-film, a key component for many electronics, which was a huge success. In 2002, he established the Kwanjeong Education Foundation as a way of contributing to the future of Korea. His hope is that "one of [his] scholarship students will become a Nobel Prize winner someday."
Since its establishment, the foundation has allocated 62 billion won to 740 undergraduate and graduate students studying abroad and another 19 billion won to 3,900 undergraduates, graduate students and middle and high school students in Korea. Its scholarship funds amount to 800 billion won, of which the yearly expenditure is 12 billion won, the largest donation in Korea.
The Kwanjeong Foundation is also famous for its unique selection criteria. "We don't give out money to med school or law school students. Instead, we select students who are studying basic science, since it is fundamental science that can make enormous changes in the world. The most important thing we consider is potential. After that is financial circumstances," Mr. Lee explained.
So far, Mr. Lee has given back more than 95 percent of his private property to society, hence his nickname "The King of Donations." His strong sense of social responsibility and generosity will become part of SNU's history and will benefit many SNU students in the future.
"Piling up money would have done nothing but make me another billionaire. I see no point in that. I am turning 90 this year. If only I can survive for another five years, I can increase the foundation's funds to 1 trillion won. People say I am as stubborn as a mule. No matter what, I will keep donating money and help more students till my last day," Mr. Lee said.
For more information regarding SNU's fundraising campaign, please visit its website (http://friends.snu.ac.kr/eng).