Policymakers develop policies every day – even more frequently in the developing countries, where numerous reforms are required to increase the growth and expand economic development. Many times, the impact of these development policies is unknown or requested without empirical backing. To this end, researchers continue to hone their skills in evaluating the effects of policies and projects. As a result, the methodology of evaluation has evolved tremendously with sophisticated technology. Having been a developing country itself, South Korea is intent on helping the global south development through the modularising its own developing experience and sharing with interested countries.
Perhaps one unique component of the Korean development experience is that of shared growth. Korea not only concentrated on the development of urban area but also rural area. Korea achieved this feat through the Saemaul Undong in the 1970s. The movement sought to modernize rural areas to improve the standard of living of rural dwellers. Participating villages received materials in the form of cement, steel wires, etc. from the government to implement community projects that would provide organized infrastructure for the community members. With the governance of this movement domiciled in multiple villages, the government increased support to villages who performed well and provided training to poorly performed villages to improve their performance.
Other countries have adopted the Saemaul model for their respective rural development aspirations, Cambodia and Myanmar being the latest. Consequently, the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has collaborated with KDI School to evaluate the impact of the model in these two countries. The project is ongoing in thirty (30) villages across three (3) provinces in Cambodia, and 100 villages across nine (9) regions in Myanmar. Each participating village is given a grant of US$20,000 yearly, and they will design and implement development projects in their communities. A team from the KDI School has been tasked with evaluating the impact of the project on social capital in the two countries. An integral member of this team outside of the professors is Yoonjei Dong – a KDI School Ph.D. student in development policy, and Research Assistant.
During the middle school field trip to Egypt, Yoonjei saw a world that needed help and she wanted to become a human rights lawyer to help the people in need. Even though she did not become a lawyer, she studied economics at Wesley College in the United States, and returned to Korea to get a Master of Development Policy at KDI School. It was at KDI School that she received firsthand experience in impact evaluation methods. She graduated and went to work for the World Bank’s Impact Evaluation Team for two years before coming back to Korea to start her Ph.D. at KDI School.
While it is still too soon to speak to the results of the Saemeul Undong project in these two countries as the evaluation project is still in the data collection phase, Yoonjei notes that the villages she has visited, showed the signs of improvement. She has witnessed sanitation efforts leading to cleaner streets, and a modular soap-making factory built to help engage and improve the income of women. The team observed that competition worked, and the quality of village leadership mattered in the success of Saemaul replication in both countries. In fact, they have found that leadership was more critical in Cambodia, where it took the confidence of the village head for the villagers to agree to speak with the team’s enumerators.
For Yoonjei Dong, the opportunity to work on such an important project with a highly skilled team of professors could only be provided here at KDI School. When she was asked to give advice for those who might be inspired by her story, she said “it is important to have at least one skill that you are good at. In addition to your passion, be it proficiency in stata, programming or writing so that people will need you and want you to be part of their project.” Also she mentioned that she hopes to publish her findings as soon as possible.