#KCONLA2019: Building a bridge to help girls go to school

As part of UNESCO’s partnership with CJ Group, girls’ education was highlighted at the 2019 KCON event in Los Angeles (KCON LA) to raise awareness on a new project in Viet Nam and the importance of girls’ education. Heekyung Jo Min, Executive Vice-President of Corporate Shared Value at CJ Group, tells us about CJ’s partnership with UNESCO and how the “Bright Girls, Brighter Future” campaign is making a difference.

UNESCO and CJ Group ran the “Bright Girls, Brighter Future” campaign at KCON LA. Why it is important to promote girls’ education at KCON LA? How many people have been reached?

KCON is a global convention about all things Korean, from pop songs to fashion and food. It is hosted annually across various countries, with the Los Angeles event being the biggest in terms of reach. KCON LA started in 2014 with 40,000 visitors and has continued breaking records with 85,000 visitors in 2018 and 100,000 visitors this year, most being young women aged 18 to 24.

Highlighting girls’ education at KCON has the potential to amplify the voices of girls around the world who do not have access to, or can benefit from, education. To raise awareness this year, a UNESCO representative opened CJ Group’s CulturePlex Live Studio Stage at KCON LA with a speech underlining the importance of girls’ education. Throughout the event, attendees were invited to leave inspiring messages for girls, ultimately building an inspiration bridge taking girls to school. Visitors were also invited to contribute financially to girls’ education and the campaign, totaling US$2,800 support by KCON attendees.

KCON is a tremendous platform to raise awareness on issues such as girls’ education by engaging popular K-POP artists and KCON participants alike.

Through the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, CJ is supporting 12 UNESCO projects in 10 countries. The newest project is in Viet Nam. Could you tell us a bit more about this project?

UNESCO and CJ recently launched a project in Viet Nam to improve the access and retention of ethnic minority children, especially girls, in lower secondary education and expand employment opportunities among ethnic minority girls and women. The project is taking place over three years in three provinces (Ha Giang, Ninh Thuan, and Soc Trang) with a high rate of ethnic minority groups and low levels of education.

The project entitled “We Are ABLE: Achieving Better Living and Education” aims to ensure that ethnic minority girls benefit from an education and gain the skills and self-esteem needed to be active members of society and have a brighter future. It will include the development of education programmes for girls, textbook provision and basic education awareness campaigns in these provinces. We are also aiming to repair and rebuild school infrastructure that can change the lives of girls, such as bathrooms and water provision.

Watch the project video.

What is upcoming for your partnership with UNESCO on girls’ education?

As a global lifestyle company, we are committed to continuing this awareness-raising campaign to empower girls and women around the world. We hope to expand our campaign continuously.

We believe that improving girls’ lives through education can lead to healthy and sustainable development, and lasting social change.

UNESCO is working to boost girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields through capacity building and research. CJ is also doing work on STEM education with girls in South Korea. Could you tell us more?

In Korea, primary and secondary education is mandatory, so the education level is relatively high for all. However, there is a significantly low percentage of women working in STEM fields, such as information and technology (IT), and engineering. While more young women enroll in tertiary education institutions compared to men, only 19% of Korean researchers working in STEM fields are women.

To address this, the CJ Welfare Foundation created science camps to engage Korean girls in STEM subjects and boost their skills. This year was our second camp event, which provided a mentorship programme for girls to learn more about science-related careers. The event included the participation of CJ’s research and development specialists to share information about STEM careers, and a visit by Korean girls to our research and development facilities.

Society requires creative, interdisciplinary talents with a scientific and innovative mind. We believe it is important to provide opportunities for our youth, especially girls, to gain a diversity of experiences, develop their creativity and follow their dreams.

Since 2014, the UNESCO-CJ partnership aims to provide a better educational environment and a brighter future for girls through education. CJ group is a major contributor to the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, which expands girls’ access to quality education, especially in countries affected by conflict and disaster.