In March, I accepted an award, on behalf of USAID, from South Korea’s Health Minister to honor the legacy of a remarkable partnership between USAID (and its predecessor, the International Cooperation Administration) and South Korea that facilitated the reconstruction of Korea’s medical education, research, and infrastructure in the wake of the Korean War. At the award ceremony, I heard the inspiring personal stories of Korean medical practitioners who benefitted from U.S. assistance and went on to transform the medical field in their home country. One that sticks in my mind in particular is Bo-Sung Sim, who received training in the United States from 1955 to 1957 through the U.S.-supported Minnesota Project and went on to pioneer modern neurosurgery in Korea.
But assistance in the medical field is just a piece of a much larger story – one of a productive U.S. and Korean partnership to transform a nation wracked by war into an economic powerhouse and donor partner that itself now provides aid to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Beginning in 1952, USAID supported South Korea’s aggressive growth strategy, helping the country build agriculture and industrial sectors that could fuel development. Fast forward to today. USAID no longer provides assistance to South Korea, which “graduated” from U.S. assistance in 1980. Instead, South Korea has now become a vibrant source of trade for the United States. It is currently the eighth largest market for American goods and services. The development that has taken other nations centuries has been accomplished in just two generations.
And South Korea itself has become a net donor of foreign assistance and the newest member of the “advanced nations’ assistance club” known as the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). Later this month, Korea will host the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, a major forum that will bring together 2,000 delegates to review progress enhancing the effectiveness of aid, and make commitments will transform the way bilateral aid for development is delivered.
A lot can happen in 50 years, and U.S. assistance to Korea is a prime example of the power of development aid to transform lives, create trading partners, and build a future of friendship and prosperity.
For more on USAID’s support for Korea’s extraordinary development, please see our case study “From Aid Recipient to Donor.”