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Jun Hwa Jeong

Say Thanks to Philanthropy: Leaving Wisconsin

by Jun Hwa Jeong Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I knew it. Time flies fast like a spring in Madison. While having been a student for the last two years, now I am about to be back to my original role, an arts administrator in a government agency, and a father in his forties with two kids in South Korea. It was too short, just in a twinkle, so there are still lots to learn in this great school, and also about this country. Growing up with the blessings of American culture, from music to movies, it was not that totally different world to me (note that, in my high school days, as a teenager in Far East Asian country, I was listening to 1970’s American psychedelic rock such as Jefferson Airplane, even though it was the 1990s). While having so much affection for this country and getting more accustomed to new environments, some still remains as the things that I cannot understand; why people say ‘Bless you’ when others sneeze, and why so many people riding motorcycles don’t wear helmets while most of others wear that when riding just bikes.

If I have to choose just one word for the learnings here, that would be ‘Philanthropy’. That’s the thing that I really want to remind you folks here, how great it is, while most of you take it for granted. I remember my wrap-up presentation for arts seminar class, and my key takeaway in that first semester was philanthropy, which is still valid. In that presentation, I introduced the World Giving Index 2014 released from Charities Aid Foundation in the UK in that November. The index score was based on three factors; donated money to charity, volunteering time, and helping a stranger. Two countries were on the joint top position for that year; the United States and Myanmar. Interestingly enough, one was the richest country in the world and the other was one of the poorest. It was considered that main reason why Myanmar is on top comes from their unique Buddhist community which is deeply related to their historic charity traditions. Then, why the U.S.? Because they are rich? Absolutely not. Only 5 countries among G20, the world’s largest economies, were in the top 20. While studying in this country, I got to know that philanthropy plays a critical role in the whole arts ecosystem in the United States. Americans for the Arts said that even small fluctuations in the contributed revenue can mean serious deficits for many arts organizations. Really? That’s not that critical in most of other countries in the world. If you feel strange for Myanmar, be sure that people outside the United States can feel the same way for your philanthropy.

The role of government sector to support and promote arts is regarded general all over the world. Meanwhile, arts in the United States developed on the foothold of the endowment by enterprises and individual donors. I remember the surprises on my colleagues faces when I mentioned that Arts Council Korea, my workplace in a country which is even smaller than Wisconsin, is spending more budget than NEA. It’s not because we are rich but just because that’s the role of government. I want you to make sure that the culture of philanthropy that you are naturally breathing in is never given, or made easily. That’s the power and symbol that makes this country great. Also, I want to mention one more thing, you folks studying and working in this area. In my non-profit board leadership class, one of my colleagues mentioned that baby boomers tried to make money for their lives, but, we, millennials more focus on social impact. Live for social impact, what a great idea, isn’t it?

Above philanthropy, the best that I get here is the people that I met. I had a chance to study with great faculties and colleagues in Grainger Hall, and beyond that, there are lots of talented professionals around here including devoted alumni. They all welcomed this grey-haired, clumsy-English Asian in a hearty way and gave me wonderful moments of two years here. It was a great honor and privilege to be a Bolzie and I would like to express my gratitude. I will never forget it. Thanks all. Good bye Wisconsin.