Korea has come a long way since its early years as a poverty-stricken country during the 1950s, emerging as one of the world’s most dynamic countries today. The country’s dramatic transformation as an industrial society can be attributed to its “creative economy” agenda, an economic strategy creating new industries and markets by converging science and technology with arts and culture.
Notwithstanding Korea’s natural resource scarcity, it has made a name for itself as a global leader in innovation due to its heavy investments in education, science and technology. The government’s active push for “chaebols” or family-owned business conglomerates to invest heavily in research and development while at the same time protecting them from competition has proven to be an effective strategy in the country’s bid to be a top innovation leader. It is also emphasizing R&D in green technologies, tech convergence and value-added services, and supporting industry-oriented research centers. Businesses, on the other hand, have shifted their focus from manufacturing to R&D and technology investments.
According to the official document released by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Korea’s creative economy program, the 2013 action plan listed the following goals, set in partnership between the private sector and the government:
- To properly compensate for creativity and create an ecosystem that promotes the creation of start-ups;
- To strengthen the role of ventures, and small and mid-size enterprise (SMEs) in the creative economy and strengthen their ability to enter global markets;
- To create growth engines to pioneer new markets and new industries;
- To foster global creative talent that has the spirit to rise to challenges and pursue dreams;
- To strengthen the innovation capacity of science, technology and ICT, which form the foundation for the creative economy; and
- To promote a creative economic culture together with the people of the Republic of Korea
To create a competitive workforce that will drive economic growth, Korea has also strengthened learners’ capacity through the integration of technology such as wireless internet, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality in education systems.
Apart from the focus on education, R&D and technology, inclusivity is also one of the key elements of Korea’s creative economy model. Young people with creative talents and entrepreneurial skills, and virtually any person who has creative ideas also provide invaluable contributions to the creative economy. These factors played an important role in the rapid growth of Korea’s economy and the development of a unique innovation system.
Nearly a decade after the creative economy action plan’s inception, Korea has emerged as the world’s most innovative economy in the 2021 Bloomberg Innovation Index, beating progressive countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and Germany, among others. It has maintained its position at the top among Asian nations for eight consecutive years and is among the world’s top five in R&D expenditure in 2021, with investments of nearly 100 trillion Korean Won. The country also ranks second in R&D intensity and value-added manufacturing, third in researcher concentration, fourth in high-tech density and first in patent activity. Korea’s economy has indeed proven to be resilient even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting the country’s innovation efforts in disruptive times.