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2 self-made South Korean billionaires vow to give away half of their fortunes

Agence France-Presse

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Two self-made South Korean billionaires have pledged in as many weeks to give away half their fortunes –- a rarity in a country where business is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates and charity often begins and ends at home.

Kim Beom-su, the founder of South Korea’s biggest messaging app KakaoTalk, announced this month he will donate more than half his estimated $9.6 billion assets to try to “solve social issues”.

Shortly afterward, Kim Bong-jin of food-delivery app Woowa Brothers and his wife, Bomi Sul, became the first South Koreans to sign the Giving Pledge. The philanthropic initiative was set up by Bill and Melinda Gates, alongside Warren Buffett, for billionaires to give away at least half their wealth.

Both Kims contrast with most of South Korea’s ultra-wealthy, who are largely descendants of the founders of the chaebol, the sprawling, usually family-run conglomerates that powered the country’s post-war boom and still dominate the economy.

Unlike the chaebol heirs who inherited their wealth, power, and connections, the two Kims were born to working-class families.

In his Giving Pledge statement, Kim of Woowa Brothers described his “humble beginning” on a small island.

His parents ran a small restaurant, where he slept at night, and as a teenager he gave up his dream of attending an art high school, enrolling instead in a cheaper vocational school.

Wealth, he said, had value when it was used for “the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society”.

Rather than keeping the entirety of their fortune, Kim and his wife said in their statement: “We are certain that this pledge is the greatest inheritance that we could provide for our children.”

Neither of the billionaire Kims has so far provided a precise timeline for their pledged donations or detailed the recipient organizations.

More than 200 super-wealthy from around the world have signed the Giving Pledge, according to its website.

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