Jeju Olle

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Jeju Olle

South Korea
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Myung-sook is harnessing citizen participation to create cultural and economic development opportunities outside of large metropolitan areas. By mobilizing ordinary citizens to build new hiking trails that pass through villages, she enables local residents and hikers alike to discover previously unappreciated natural and community resources and to build lasting ties beyond those created through typical tourism channels.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

According to Statistics Korea, nearly half of South Korea’s national GDP and its 50 million citizens are concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area. Seoul’s population density is the highest among major cities in OECD countries – twice that of Mexico City and eight times that of New York City – creating constant traffic congestion and pollution. The efforts to reduce the socio-economic gap between Seoul and other regions of Korea have largely been driven by the central government. This has generally occurred through implementing large-scale infrastructure and industrial development in areas identified as urban growth centers. Regional governments compete to attract people and investment by hosting government institutions, high-profile events, or large corporations. The result is uniform development with little consideration for unique local culture and environment. Citizen participation is often limited to influencing minor budget adjustments or protesting environmentally damaging construction projects. When local governments look to tourism as a flagship industry of the region like Jeju island has, a common strategy is to serve the high-end customers at luxurious resorts owned by outside investors or selling package vacation programs detached from local realities. Most economic benefits go to outside investors and local residents often have little means or drive to monetize the unique economic potential their environmental and cultural assets may present. In addition, Korea’s rapid industrialization and urbanization resulted in intense competition and societal pressure to work long hours. People in Korea work 2,090 hours a year, one of the highest rates in the OECD where the average is 1,776 hours. More time spent at work means less time for leisure and rest.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Myung-sook created a low cost alternative to government-driven and capital-intensive development projects by engaging ordinary citizens on a volunteer basis. Through her organization Jeju Olle, citizens participate in identifying, building, and maintaining hiking trails, and in doing so reinvent local economies and cultures as opposed to simply channeling citizen voices to influence government-led work. Jeju Olle is much more than an eco-tourism initiative. Unlike most hiking trails that highlight the natural beauty in the surroundings, every Jeju Olle trail is designed to pass through at least three villages to maximize hikers’ exposure to everyday lives and ordinary people in various Jeju communities. The collective effort is intended to develop and manage the trails as well as the hikers’ appreciation for the local culture and nature, in addition to fostering community pride, civic participation and collaboration. In addition, Myung-sook has leveraged Jeju Olle’s increasing popularity to create socially-oriented businesses and initiatives to benefit local residents and hikers beyond tourism channels. In essence, Myung-sook has established Jeju Olle trails as a platform through which local residents and outside visitors interact with each other and build lasting ties. Myung-sook has come to see Jeju Olle as a template for citizen-led, environmentally sustainable development, especially in Asian societies that are rapidly industrializing and urbanizing with little regard for creating a work-life balance. Myung-sook has developed formal and informal networks to replicate Jeju Olle’s success in Japan, China, and other parts of Korea. She also plans to transform Jeju Olle into a knowledge hub to educate others in its principles.