Byeong-Ho Kim, a self-made businessman, has donated land worth 30 billion won ($25 million) to KAIST, the university"s authorities said on Thursday (Aug. 13).
The 68-year-old businessman said his aim is to give students from lower-income families a chance at a decent education and, ultimately, make Korea richer and powerful through development of science and technology. He runs the Seojeon Farm in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
Kim visited KAIST on Wednesday (Aug. 12) with his wife and 36-year-old son to finalize details of the donation with KAIST President Nam-Pyo Suh. He signed papers to certify the deed to donate 94,380 square meters of land in a ceremony.
"I promised my family I"d invest our money for a good purpose. Now I hope KAIST can educate students who can"t afford to pay tuition fees. I wasn"t able to study
further than elementary school due to poverty," Kim said, wishing that his donation could be used in fostering talented students and great scholars from around the world.
Kim"s wife, Sam-Yeol Kim, 60, sent an e-mail to KAIST last July 27, on behalf of her husband who suffered a stroke in 2004, to inform the university of her husband"s intent to make the donation.
Kim had pledged to his wife and son that some day he would return all his assets to society before his death. He began to look for the right beneficiary five years ago and chose KAIST as he was impressed by reformatory and innovative efforts at the university where its president was donating all his extra earnings to the university.
“I believe that KAIST can make my dream come true. It is to have advanced science and technology education turn Korea into a country where everyone can live happily,” said Kim at the ceremony.
He recalled his early life, saying, “I left for Seoul when I was 17 years old with just 76 won. I had to save money so much it was scary. Even when the weather was stifling, I refused to buy myself cold soft drinks just to save 1 more won.”
Even though he grew up in a difficult environment, Mr. Kim maintained a firm conviction in familial ties and education. Being the oldest of seven children, he had to support his younger siblings’ education, but never complained about his own lack of opportunity. When his father died, he took money that had been left over from funeral expenses and donated it to relatives as scholarships for their children. He believed that such kindness was the best way to make his father’s passing meaningful. In addition, he donated one billion won to a scholarship fund that helps those like him, who never had a chance to study or learn.
Mr. Kim’s favorite phrase is, “Earning money takes skill, but to spend it is an art.” This mirrors his philosophy of saving and economizing in order to make as much money as possible, then donating generously to the upbringing of future generations.
The decision to donate was also heavily influenced by the support of his wife, and his family. When he first hinted at his intention to donate, his family simply accepted the decision, saying that they were proud of him. Kim had always emphasized that wealth should be given back to society, and as such, his son Se-Yoon Kim donated to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other charity organizations every month, saying that his actions were an obvious duty.
KAIST officials said they were emotionally moved to learn that Mr. Kim donated the fortune to a university, which is completely unrelated to him or anyone in his family, simply for the sake of the nation’s future. They said that Kim is a figure that all of Korean society should follow, and that everyone in KAIST will etch his wish into their hearts, and try their hardest to make sure future generations will prosper.