The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) has evolved through thick and thin into what it is today. Its contribution over the last half-century to Korea has earned it its status as a leading think tank in health and social policy research. Accordingly, the expectations the public has of us are high and rising.
These are the times when social changes here in Korea, as elsewhere, are coming more rapidly than ever before. The current pace of technological advancement is mind-blowing, to say nothing of the implications of the upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution. On the flipside, however, there are social risks that keep intensifying. A good part of the world today, including Korea, is marked by a range of megatrend challenges—population aging, low fertility, social inequality, neo-poverty, growing social insecurity, family breakdown, and gender inequality—whose solutions cannot be found without breaking away from the lingering shadow of Korea’s compressed industrialization, under which inclusive income-led growth has for so long been denied.
We now need a major change in perception, a gestalt shift from putting growth and distribution in binary opposition to viewing the two as a complementary pair. Research grounded in such a view should be able to lead to development of social policies that are in balance with economic policies. KIHASA will keep focusing its research energies on: developing social service policies that actually make a difference in people’s quality of life; laying out the ideological groundwork for an inclusive welfare state; developing social policies that put people first and accord well with long-term expenditure projections; devising policy instruments conducive to peacemaking between South and North Koreas and to their integration. All these will serve as building blocks for realizing the Moon Jae-in Government’s overarching vision of “Just Korea, a People’s Country.”
Here I put forth four principles I will adhere to as I lead KIHASA into the future. They are the principles of creativity, autonomy, public responsibility and transparency. Research at its core is about creating new knowledge. Creativity does not emerge in coercion or by force. I believe that researchers must be given professional autonomy to be creative. A national think tank like KIHASA must uphold the principle of public responsibility. It must keep its ears open to the needs of people, putting public weal before private gain. Also, KIHASA as an organization must keep itself open and transparent, for closed organizations make for injustice and corruption.
These principles will guide as my fellow KIHASA colleagues and I work toward the following five goals. Firstly, KIHASA as a leading social policy think tank will map out policy directions and workable strategies for a proactive, inclusive welfare state, which, as envisioned by the government, is a “state taking care of people’s lives.”
Secondly, KIHASA will channel part of its research capacity into studying the history of social welfare in Korea. As the year 2019 marks the centennial of the Republic of Korea’s founding, it behooves KIHASA to probe in-depth into the last hundred years of health and social policies in Korea and present an analytic outlook of health and social policies for the next hundred years, following the dictum beob-go-chang-shin (“build the new onto the old”), which was coined by Yeonam Park Ji-won, a writer and thinker who lived in the 18th century Chosun Dynasty.
Thirdly, KIHASA will keep strengthening its contribution to national policymaking. This requires that our research outcomes have direct impact on people’s lives and that our research be conducted in a manner described by Jeong Yak-yong, the 18th-century thinker best known for his pragmatism, as silsa-gushi (“seeking truth grounded in real-life evidence”).
Next comes strengthening KIHASA’s creative research capacity. This will involve maintaining a talented workforce, improving the research information system and nurturing a vital organizational culture of interactive communication.
Lastly, KIHASA pursues open management. It will be administered and managed in a way befitting the expectation the public has of us, adjusting and harmonizing different points of view, yet, as the phrase hwai-budong from the Analects of Confucius suggests, without compromising the principles I mentioned above.