The battle against Covid-19 has often been described as “wartime”. As a nation that has risen from the devastation of the Korean War, Koreans understand that in difficult times, the most underprivileged members of society are the most vulnerable.
In late February, when the number of coronavirus cases in Korea skyrocketed from 30 to 7,513 in only 20 days around Daegu, thousands of volunteer medical personnel rushed to the city where 95% of all deaths in the nation occurred. All types of aid from hand-stitched face masks to lunch boxes and over KRW 250 billion were donated to help contain the outbreak. The Korea Exchange (KRX) donated KRW 150 million and pledged 30% of all executives’ salary for four months.
The Korean capital market opened in 1956, when the economy depended heavily on foreign aid. In the next three decades, the nation achieved an average 9% annual GDP growth to become one of Asia’s economic powerhouses. KRX, which served as a key financial infrastructure that enabled such transformation, grew along with the economy and joined the WFE in 1979.
As market capitalization increased, KRX employees felt the need to share the growth of the market with underprivileged groups. In 1991, 91 employees set aside part of their salary to help 12 children in need. Most of these were living by themselves looking after siblings or with a grandparent without regular income. The variety of activities to support these children and the number of KRX participants gradually increased. Such dedication later formed an important part of KRX’s programme of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which was reinforced when the exchange set up a KRW 23 billion “KRX Happy Foundation” in 2011.
Today, 100 children and 100 employees share a mentor-mentee relationship, while about half of KRX staff donate part of their monthly income. The Happy Foundation matches the donation by two times. KRX also recruited full-time certified social workers to help employees maintain a friendly relationship with the children. The mentor employees write letters/cards and take part in events at amusement parks or go shopping with the children. The Foundation provides KRW 200,000 per child/month as financial aid and arranges school supplies and gifts on birthdays and graduation.
What started as a small group donation by employees has developed into continued support for underprivileged groups in society. In the face of Covid-19, KRX was able to provide even more active support.
In early February, when there were only 23 local cases of Covid-19, KRX took immediate steps to help protect the children most in need. KRX provided 27,000 face masks and 370 sanitizers for 1,450 underprivileged children including the 100 mentees, single-parent households and 27 community child centers and group homes sponsored by KRX. As graduation ceremonies were cancelled or postponed to March, the flower industry was struggling and so KRX purchased flowers and sent them to 240 graduating students who have received KRX scholarships.
As the pandemic reached its peak in March, KRX increased its aid to 10,000 students from 1st to 12th grade at schools near KRX’s Seoul office by providing them each with hand sanitizers. KRX also supplied 15,000 face masks to 500 children of single-parent families and KRX scholarship recipients.
In April, the Korean government postponed the start of the school year and introduced temporary online classes as a precaution to prevent the spread of Covid-19. KRX provided 100 PCs to its 100 mentee students in a bid to help the underprivileged school-goers learn online.
Since 2014, KRX has been supporting environmental improvement projects for children’s centers that provide after-school care programs for children from low-income families. When schools are closed, these facilities are vital for children, giving them warm meals and care when their parents are at work. (Korea has not imposed lockdown since the Covid-19 outbreak.)
On January 28, Jiwon Jung, Chairman & CEO of KRX marked the opening of the 35th KRX-sponsored childcare center in Incheon.
“I hope that our future generation can grow their dreams in a safe and more comfortable environment,” he said. “KRX is strongly committed to continuing its CSR activities to help and sponsor the socially disadvantaged, while working hard to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.”
The vulnerable and disadvantaged people in local communities are in critical need of attention and support, he added.
The mission of KRX’s CSR is “To Share the Fruits of Capital Market Growth to Make a Better World for All”. 91 KRX volunteers started a small movement to share the financial market’s growth with children three decades ago.
Today, KRX’s CSR ranges not only from supporting children but to scholarships for university students, remodeling projects for libraries, food/heating/medical service for elderly communities, lending help at local farms and even providing PCs, agricultural equipment and medical help in rural areas of neighbouring Asian countries.
The movement continues today by sharing with the ones who need the most, when they need it the most.