The 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership
CITATION for Hye-Ran Yoon
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2005, Manila, Philippines
In South Korea these days, prosperity and democratization are advancing hand in hand. But this has not always been so. For decades after the cruel war that divided North from South, authoritarian governments prevailed in South Korea, even as the economy began its remarkable takeoff. In 1987 a democracy movement opened new space for citizens, who responded with a proliferation of civic-oriented, politically engaged nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. But as Hye-Ran Yoon discovered when she left her hometown of Cheonan in 1986 to attend university in Seoul, this positive trend was uneven. Provincial cities like hers were lagging behind. She determined to return home and make a difference.
Yoons student years at Yonsei University coincided with Koreas democracy movement and an upsurge of political and social activism. Not an activist herself, she nevertheless embraced the spirit of the times. When her fifteen-year-old sister was expelled from high school and was suddenly adrift, Yoon learned just how poorly equipped Cheonan was to assist young people at risk. Yoon was familiar with the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA) and its many services for youth. Garnering support from Cheonans growing cadre of civic-minded professionals and from the master chapter in Seoul, she established the YMCA in Cheonan and became its manager and driving force.
Yoon led Cheonans new "Y" to provide social and recreational facilities and other positive outlets for young people such as concerts, study groups, and clubs. She quickly discerned that it was not only youths in Cheonan who lacked social services but also other groups that are culturally marginalized in Korea: the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the mentally handicapped. Passing leadership of the YMCA to a trusted successor, Yoon founded Citizens Opening the World for Welfare, or COWW, in 1998 to improve social welfare in Cheonan for these vulnerable sectors.
At COWW, Yoon steered services to "the lonely elderly" and established the Association for Cheonan Elderly. She launched the Citizens Alliance for a Walkable Cheonan to campaign for everyones right to move about the city safely, including the disabled. She led in founding the Cheonan Parents Association for Handicapped Children and similar NGOs for disabled women, mentally handicapped citizens, and poor children. Yoons innovative approach was to incubate these groups as independent community NGOs rather than to expand COWW. In each case, she articulated a need, formed an organization, identified and trained potential leaders, and then mentored the organization to maturity and financial stability before spinning it off.
As she did so, Yoon also built a network of professionals and NGO leaders to press for public-sector reforms and formed the Cheonan Ombudsman Group to monitor the citys social services. In advance of local elections in 2002, she organized a citizens group to develop a welfare-policy agenda and mounted a public forum where candidates for mayor were pressed to respond. More than one thousand citizens attended the forum and the winning candidate subsequently pledged to honor six of the groups recommendations, including a city mental-health center and new funds for disabled children.
Yoon is a calm but passionate worker. Today, Cheonan is enlivened by the different civic organizations she has incubated and by concrete manifestations of their good worksuch as after-school programs for poor children and a new Center for the Elderly. At her urging, the citys fledgling NGOs not only provide needed social services but also shape local policies. Groups do not have to be large to be effective agents of change, says thirty-seven-year-old Yoon; her own is not. Indeed, Yoons dream for Cheonan is of a city energized by the actions of "many small, healthy organizations."
In electing Hye-Ran Yoon to receive the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes her catalytic role in enabling Cheonans civil society to exercise its social responsibilities dynamically and democratically.
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