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Posted : 2013-03-07 20:58
Updated : 2013-03-07 20:58

Cafe Oasis promotes social enterprise

Chung Sun-hee
By Yi Whan-woo

It's no secret that companies hire employees to produce goods that generate profit. One cafe in Seoul, however, considers not only its bottom line but also how it can contribute to society when recruiting.

Chung Sun-hee, director of Cafe Oasia, is a longstanding advocate of the social enterprise concept. "I've been trying to promote this idea since the 1990s when I learned of it during my master's degree studies," Chung, 51, said in a telephone interview with The Korea Times, Thursday.

The cafe opened in February at the POSCO Center, the steelmaker's headquarters in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul. The cafe is the nation's first store supported by 10 social enterprises, comprised of other cafes and the Social Enterprise Support Network (SESNet), founded by Chung and her colleagues in July 2011.

A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.

The mission of SESNnet is to support social enterprises through pro bono work by professionals. Chung said she is glad the country is gradually realizing the importance of sharing each other's skills.

Chung's efforts focus on hiring disadvantaged workers. For example, Cafe Oasia has employed three immigrant women from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam as baristas. In 2004, after noticing a flow of immigrant workers including foreign women married to Korean men, Chung published a book, "Social Enterprise." The Ministry of Employment and Labor invited her to share her ideas with large firms, such as POSCO.

According to Chung, POSCO, the world's fourth-largest steelmaker, has been supportive of her and SESNet's efforts to help the socially vulnerable.

"That's how Cafe Oasia came to launch at the company's headquarters in southern Seoul, and I sincerely appreciate the company's help," she said.

"A social enterprise cannot stand without support from large firms, because it lacks financing as well as functional expertise, such as in accounting, marketing, and sales."

However, Chung said this cafe is just the start of her ambitions.

"We'll try to open another Cafe Oasia in the near future that will be run and owned independently by a social enterprise," she said.


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