“I will help the underprivileged by utilizing information technology (IT),” said Cho Sung-gap, chairman of the IT Angels Rotary Club.
Chairman Cho served as head of the Korea IT Export Promotion Center, chairman of the IT Professional Association of Korea (IPAK), president of the Incheon Information Service (INIS), president of the Korea Information Technology Federation.
“I belatedly woke up to the value of volunteering,” Cho added. In May, Cho formed the IT Angels Rotary Club. ICT guru Cho has been contemplating ways to help people in need via IT.
Cho has recently participated in a volunteer work program to help ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) patients. Lou Gehrig’s Disease is an incurable fatal neuromuscular disease which nearly totally paralyzed Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned living physicist. Since the job of tending patients with incurable diseases is too much of a burden even for their family members, it’s emerged as a social issue.
The IT Angels Rotary Club (Gangbuk-gu District 3650) has been founded to provide IT-driven support to the disadvantaged, including patients with incurable diseases, elderly people living alone, disadvantaged youths and multicultural families.
Q: How many members do you have and what are you planning to do
A: Our Rotary Club’s motto is "Service Above Self.” Though our club was launched less than two months ago, over 150 people expressed their willingness to join our club.
Once our club is well promoted, it will be only a matter of time before we attract hordes of people. Our club is a gathering of IT experts who hope to share their talent with the less fortunate. For instance, if a ‘polio fund’ is created, our Rotarians will study it. We also plan to preemptively research into ways to eradicate MERS. Furthermore, we are preparing a night school program for middle and high school students from multicultural families.
Q: Tell us about your international activities.
Rotary International, which marks its 110th anniversary this year, is a service organization formed when attorney Paul P. Harris called together a meeting of three business acquaintances in downtown Chicago in 1905. Its first public service project was the construction of public toilets in Chicago. It was introduced to Korea in 1969. It now has 62,000 Rotarians, 1,600 clubs in 18 districts in S. Korea alone.
The IT Angels Rotary Club will take part in an international contest to put on a ‘digital samulnori’ performance. If it goes well, we will consider participating in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. We also plan to show off screenless display technology for holographic movies.
Q: I’ve heard you have a plan to invite Bill Gates to S. Korea
In June 2001, American futurist Alvin Toffler, the author of The Third Wave, paid a visit to Korea and met with then President Kim Dae-jung. At that time, I was heading up the IT Professional Association of Korea (IPAK). He also attended an IPAK event and offered his insightful advice on desirable future directions for S. Korea.
Our club is planning to invite Bill Gate, the world’s most famed IT guru. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded in 1994, donated roughly 30 billion dollars to charity. Hence he will become a great example for the IT Angels Rotary Club.
Q: There's a question mark hanging over S. Korea’s status as an IT powerhouse.
A: Critics say that the Ministry of Information and Communication was dissolved under the Lee Myung-bak government and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) gets bigger only in size, thus making the Korean IT industry less resilient. However, the underlying problem is that the foundation for revving up the IT industry has yet to be laid.
S. Korea calls itself an IT powerhouse. But there are neither IT centers nor IT museums in the nation. Except for Minister of Information and Communication Yang Seung-taek under the Kim Dae-jung government and Information and Communication Minister Jin Dae-je under the Roh Moo-hyun government, the top jobs (ministers, vice ministers) at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), the Ministry of Information and Communication and the MSIP haven’t been assumed by technocrats. For example, the post of IT director is nowheresville, so IT directors never dream about being promoted to vice ministers. The time-honored practice of belittling the value of technology has persisted in the nation.
The same is true of private companies. No matter how capable an IT engineer may be, he or she has to settle for the position of research center chief. CEO positions are filled mainly with those who majored in finance, economics or law. IT engineers carry little weight and have neither authority over human resources nor financial power. Thus, a majority of IT engineers never dream about becoming CEOs.
Q: People are calling for the need to reinforce IT software capability.
No matter how many mobile phones and cars we sell to overseas markets, it’s not that lucrative. Thus, Korean companies are eager to sell more to make a profit. Take mobile phones for example. The key components and software, such as operating systems, of Korean mobile phones are foreign imports. In other words, when a mobile phone is likened to a car, Korean manufacturers are producing only vehicle body shells without developing an engine.
Nevertheless, software engineers get a raw deal in the nation. When I asked university students majoring in software development (the reason why they had decided to study software), they said, “I ended up here just because of my SAT score.” Since studying software technology requires an artistic bent that cannot be nurtured in short time, we need to take a long-term approach towards it. In addition, the aforementioned problem of low respect for engineers should also be addressed.
“Software talent should be nurtured through early childhood education just like early childhood education made what golfer Pak Se-ri and figure skater Kim Yuna are today,” Cho mentioned. Coding is part of the regular school curriculum In India and China. Though it still remains to be seen, Korean elementary, middle, high schools are also scheduled to teach students coding. But they are having difficulty in recruiting coding teachers.