Smart city alliance leader vows to help tech startups find overseas opportunities

Asia's Tech News Daily

Smart city alliance leader vows to help tech startups find overseas opportunities

Park Jung-sook, secretary general of World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGo) / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Pandemic creates more opportunities for ICT companies as ‘going online’ has become the new normal, says new WeGo Secretary General Park Jung-sook

By Kang Hyun-kyung

TV show host and hallyu expert Park Jung-sook has returned to the public eye, this time with a new title, as the leader of a Seoul-based international association of cities and local governments seeking smart city solutions in public administration.

On Sept. 23, Park was named by Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon to lead the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGo) as secretary general.

WeGo is a smart city initiative launched by Seoul Mayor Oh. Established in 2010 with 50 founding members all over the world, WeGo aims to share its member cities’ experiences in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based public services to learn from each other.

“There’re still a lot to catch up on because I took the helm just a month ago,” she told The Korea Times. “But I think there is certainly a role that I can play to make WeGo a more responsive and visible organization to the public as well as to our public and private sector partners with my previous experiences.”

Before joining WeGo, Park had served as the Korea representative of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for 10 years. She also helped mixed-heritage children with a Korean and foreign national parent get access to various cultural and educational programs through her campaign called Hope Kids Korea.

As the head of WeGo, Park said she will work closely with the mayors of member cities and private sector partners to help the organization attain a stronger presence. Increasing WeGo’s membership is another key goal she said she’d like to achieve during her three-year tenure.

“I will meet the leaders of local tech startups to encourage them to join WeGo to share their technologies and expertise to improve the quality of public goods and services,” she said. “Through WeGo, I think our overseas members will be able to discover Korean companies they can team up with to upgrade their services. The same will hold true for Korean cities, too. They can find overseas partners to work with.”

Stressing the organization’s unique role of bridging city governments and tech companies, she said WeGo can be a prime platform that can help strong but lesser-known local startups find overseas client business opportunities outside of their countries.

Since its launch in 2010, the smart city initiative lost momentum a year after it was founded with Mayor Oh’s abrupt resignation in 2011, after his policy opposing free school meals for all children was thwarted by the Seoul City Council, which was dominated by members of the main opposition party at the time, the Democratic Party. Earlier, Oh had vowed to step down if free meals for all children were adopted against his will. He was elected Seoul mayor again in April this year.

Park declined to comment about the impact of Oh’s departure from the metropolitan government back then on the smart city initiative, but noted that such a policy shouldn’t become a victim of partisan politics.

After the pandemic, she noted that the role of ICT has become even more significant for local governments than ever before.

“I think the pandemic and climate change are two game changers which have greatly impacted the way we live our lives. As we’re all too familiar, things have just stopped after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we now see the huge differences in our lives before and after the pandemic,” she said. “As we’ve seen in the past two years since the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic and climate change are interrelated. Waste has emerged as a fresh headache for many governments following the surge of e-commerce and online shopping after the pandemic.”

Some local governments have used technology to solve the problems created by the pandemic.

Sejong City, for example, introduced a smartphone app service informing the residents of the availability of face masks within 5 minutes of their arrival at a nearby store. Thanks to the app, the residents were able to purchase masks without wasting time.

Sejong is one of the winning cities during WeGo’s General Assembly held online on Oct. 18. Goyang, Jeju and Seongnam are other Korean local governments that were recognized at WeGo’s triennial gathering. Experts from member cities and private sector partners met online to share their views about the theme of, “The New Normal with Smart Sustainable Solutions for All.”

While she becomes the head of WeGo, Park said she would like to diversify the role of the organization.

“Despite the significance of technology, I think technology is not all our smart city projects are about. To become a more responsive organization to our partners amid the pandemic, I’d like to meet more people to listen to their opinions and expectations and encourage more young people and private sector entities to join our organization,” she said.

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