The 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service
CITATION for Park Won Soon
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2006, Manila, Philippines
In less than a hundred years, Korea has suffered the loss of its sovereignty, foreign occupation, civil war and partition, and then poverty, dictatorship, and industrialization--all this before South Koreas dizzying breakthrough to democracy and prosperity in the past two decades. Despite recent successes, Park Won Soon believes that South Korea still suffers from "lingering authoritarian styles of leadership" and other ills arising from its past. More democracy is the cure. As an activist and institution builder, Park strives to expand South Koreas democracy by expanding the power of its citizens.
Born in 1956, Park grew up under military dictatorship in South Korea. At the age of nineteen, he tasted the hard hand of the state. Arrested for joining a political demonstration, he was imprisoned for four months and expelled from his law course at Seoul National University. Persevering, he passed the bar examinations in 1980 and threw himself headlong into South Koreas emerging democracy movement. He became a human rights lawyer. Forgoing the rewards of a conventional legal career, he took up the cause of political prisoners and victims of media censorship, torture, and other authoritarian abuses.
Then, as the political tide began to turn, Park addressed himself to South Koreas troubled transition to democracy. In 1994, he helped form Peoples Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD). Under Parks leadership from 1996, PSPD assiduously monitored the stewardship of the countrys movers and shakers. It exposed the human rights records of lawyers and judges and pressured the judiciary to be "fair in the application of the law;" it advanced legislation banning corrupt practices in government and protecting whistleblowers; it hounded regulatory agencies to investigate fraud and waste in government contracts. Parks PSPD also championed the rights of minority shareholders in Koreas domineering business conglomerates and filed lawsuits against executives for illicit transactions and insider trading. In 2000, it mounted a controversial blacklist campaign naming eighty-six candidates "unfit to run" for seats in parliament. Fifty-nine of them were rejected by voters. By this time, PSPD had become a national force.
Park stepped down as head of PSPD in 2002 to lead The Beautiful Foundation, a PSPD offshoot. Aiming to rekindle Korean habits of generosity and to popularize philanthropy, Park challenged individuals and companies to donate just one percent of their income or time. More than twenty-six thousand people have done so. The Foundation redistributes the money to the needy and to local public-interest groups. Meanwhile, in the Foundations chain of Beautiful Stores, volunteers recycle donated goods and clothing for sale to low-income shoppers.
For Park Won Soon, philanthropy itself is not really the issue. His is a larger vision: a "just society" in Korea. To achieve this, he says, "we cannot depend on the bureaucracy and businessmen." Civil society must take the lead. Moreover, Korea today is becoming more complicated. "We are stepping up as the worlds tenth trade power," he says. "We should be prepared to design our future in the right direction. " Park is doing just that at his newly established Hope Institute, an independent think tank where ordinary citizens convene to devise pragmatic, policy-oriented ideas to guide and strengthen South Koreas ongoing democratization.
Thinking of the rising gulf between South Koreas rich and poor today, of corruption and abuses of power in public life, and of the moral confusion arising from rapid social change, Park admits, "We have a long way to go." His own optimism is based on the power of social movements. "Hope does not fall from the sky," he says. "We create hope ourselves."
In electing Park Won Soon to receive the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the board of trustees recognizes his principled activism fostering social justice, fair business practices, clean government, and a generous spirit in South Koreas young democracy.
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