SINGAPORE — The head of the World Federation of Overseas Korean Traders Associations (World-OKTA) said it will play a major role in expanding Korea's global footprint by supporting the globalization of small firms and helping young Koreans start businesses abroad.
"We will place top priority on helping Korean small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find a way to win exports by taking advantage of our overseas network," World-OKTA Chairman Park Ki-chool said in a recent interview.
World-OKTA is the nation's oldest and biggest overseas Korean economic federation with 137 branches in 70 countries. It has over 23,000 members.
On Feb. 16, the federation set up the Global Business Center at KINTEX in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, to offer "more practical and comprehensive" help for both SMEs seeking expansion abroad and overseas Korean firms looking for opportunities in Korea.
Following the establishment of the business center, Park, who is also chairman of PG Automotive Holdings based in Singapore, said that OKTA is seeking to expand its services by capitalizing on its intangible assets, such as networks and knowhow.
He said that OKTA is well aware that finding overseas buyers is the biggest challenge for SMEs, particularly those in small provincial cities. The federation is already working together with several cities, including Gumi and Jinju.
"KOTRA and other state-run organizations are doing similar services but I was told that their services were not really helpful in reaching business deals. Our goal is to provide a service that leads them into a real contract," he added.
"We can draw up a customized exports program and help them use our network so that they can find a buyer abroad," he said. "For example, our members in the United States can share information about products and markets there. Then we can help them hold an exhibition and set up a meeting with a buyer."
For a more systematic approach, OKTA opened the Global Trade Strategy Institute at the business center, which serves as a think tank for the federation. It will build a database of exporters and buyers and come up with practical strategies for Korean firms' overseas expansion.
Park said that the global business center will provide a win-win solution for small exporters and overseas Korean players.
"KINTEX is Korea's largest international exhibition center. There are always exhibitions by SMEs throughout the year. We would like to make the best use of it. The center will be a place where our members communicate to create new business opportunities," he said.
"In many cases, our members visit Korea with their buyers. So if they come to visit the business center, there will be more opportunities for Korean SMEs," he said. "At the same time, our members can also create new opportunities. It is a win-win solution."
Park said that this year, OKTA will focus on laying the foundations to generate more money-making businesses for its members and Korean firms.
"We are now trying to link Korea's electronics products-related SMEs to our branch in Shenzen, China, while matching fashion and textile firms with our branch in Los Angeles. Cooperation in the fishery industry is also underway," he said.
Park, who took the helm of the federation in October, 2014, said that OKTA will also make efforts to help young Koreans find jobs or start their businesses abroad.
To this end, the federation opened the Global Startup Support Center for the Next Generation under the business center.
"We want to set the stage for young Koreans both at home and abroad to exchange ideas and work together," he said. "Using the support center, we can help those who are seeking to start new business abroad and overseas Koreans who want to do a business in Korea as well."
"They can take advantage of our global network and we plan to provide a minimum amount of fund for their startups," he added.
OKTA has secured a startup fund of $2.3 million through the "Next Generation Rising Star Project." It is currently operating a youth startup program in cooperation with Ajou University, Goyang City and Gyeonggi Province.
The federation is also running an internship program for young Koreans seeking jobs abroad.
"Most interns are hired as a full-time worker after their internship. Both employers and employees are satisfied with our programs," he said.
Park said that OKTA members share the mission not only to contribute to the trade development of Korea but also to make Korea a better country.
"As a responsible member of Korea, we feel obliged to help our mother country by playing a certain role in tackling challenges in Korea, such as youth unemployment and small firms' exports," he said.