Gangnam Style Influencing

The world is definitely changing.

The song “Gangnam Style“, made in Korea and sung in Korean, has gone to number 1 in the UK, number 2 in the US, and has broken the record for being the “most viewed” video on you tube, with over one billion views. It is also being parodied all over the world. There’s my personal favourite –  a Ghanaian version, as well as a Nigerian-British version and a Saudi Arabian version. It’s been used by Amnesty International and Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born British sculptor, to publicise the need for freedom of speech globally, following a ban of a separate Gangnam parody by the controversial Chinese Writer Ai Weiwei.

The origins of Gangham Style are themselves interesting. This article describes how the song has some relatively subversive messages about debt and inequality in Korea’s society, which may well resonate in many other countries around the world.

However rebellious or relevant the message, the fact is that Korea is having a dramatic influence on the music industry. The world is changing. It’ no longer just European or US artists dominating the world’s music charts. Others are coming in too.

There’s a similar phenomenon taking place in development. Korea’s influence is being felt. Take climate change and green growth which I used to work on, and was the subject of negotiations earlier this month in Doha, Qatar. Korea was and is a major player in this arena. The country continues to spend 2% of GDP per year -that’s over $20bn – on specific green growth measures. It has been the first country to set up a Global Green Growth Institute to help other countries follow its path. And one of the positive outcomes at Doha was that countries agreed that Korea should set up the new Green Climate Fund in the futuristic, eco-smart city of Songdo during the second half of 2013.

Korea has also influenced the area I now work on. Just over a year ago, Korea hosted a major conference in Busan, initially billed as focused on “aid effectiveness”. As I’ve set out in a previous blog, aid effectiveness conferences had been held prior to this in Rome, Paris and Accra, but none of them had managed to gain the trust and involvement of countries such as China and India. Korea did. Partly as a result of actively bringing in these partners into the discussion, the Busan conference actively changed its focus on aid effectiveness to a focus on development effectiveness, which was a much wider and broader concept that countries such as China, Brazil and even countries like Colombia and Nigeria better recognised. Korea, and the wide range of countries it helped bring in, made a permanent impact.

Earlier this month, Justine Greening, DFID’s Secretary of State, alongside ministers from Nigeria and Indonesia co-chaired a meeting to follow up that agreement in Busan. It was the first Steering Committee of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Korea was present, representing countries outside the EU that “provide” development cooperation, such as Australia or the Gulf States. As is clear to see in the videos of the meeting, Korea played a constructive role. Korea helped in deciding when the Steering Committee would next meet (in March and June/July next year) and agree plans for a bigger ministerial meeting in October 2013. Korea also helped address the vexing question of what change and success for development that the Partnership, now that it is formed, might deliver. In doing so, the Committee agreed to look at four to five initial topics, which they will be writing papers on in the coming weeks and will be shared and discussed with the international community. In my next few blog posts, I’ll try to explain these topics, and what they might mean in terms of our real lives.

For now though, it’s clear that Korea has and will continue to make an impact. That’s a signal that the world is changing, and work on development is, rightly, changing along with it too. My hope is that we will build on Korea’s achievements and look back on the Ministerial next year as ground-breaking too. Let’s bring on the Gangnam Style!

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