International Women's Day Portrait: Yuna Choi

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 On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, we shine a spotlight on eight women plus one – the Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society – who are making a difference at the African Development Bank. This is the seventh in the series.

Interview with Yuna Choi, Senior External Relations and Communications Officer, External Representation Office for Asia

First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.

I consider it a great honor to be a part of this global celebration for all women. I am a Korean national, and I joined the African Development Bank in 2013. I am the Senior External Relations and Communication Officer in the External Representation Office for Asia, and I am in charge of strengthening cooperation and maintaining good relations between African and Asian countries.

I was born in Seoul and lived there until I was 27 years old. Before then, I never lived or studied abroad. The only thing I could do locally was to volunteer for, and attend, international conferences or seminars held in Korea, and I volunteered for more than 50 international events during my time in college. I tried to expose myself to the local and international communities or people in a two-way or interactive communication. After I had some money saved up, I decided to study abroad, in Austria and Costa Rica, which are culturally, linguistically, and geographically different from Korea, my home country, and I have adapted well to these new environments. My education in these countries exposed me to the disparities in the world economy, poverty, gender inequalities, causes of wars, and, above all, ways to remedy all these conflicts and social problems so that we can make this world a better place for all human beings. It is during my educational training abroad that I met my good friends from African countries.

Koreans know the IMF and the World Bank well, because my generation experienced the IMF crisis in 1997. However, I knew not much about the African Development Bank and its activities until I met my thesis advisor in 2009. The professor, who influenced my academic and professional life, is a man from Côte d'Ivoire teaching in Seoul, Korea. He taught me that Africa was at a critical stage in terms of development, and needed not only the best minds but also dedicated people who are truly interested in a sustainable economic and human development of the continent. I strongly felt at that time it would be my mission to contribute to the sustainable development of Africa.

All too often, the media disseminate negative images about Africa, but I have come to learn, through my interaction with the continent and its denizens, a positive image of Africa, an Africa human civilizations. With my experience as a Korean, who has seen Korea developed in one generation, after colonialism and a civil war, I have been trying to contribute to the development of Africa.

In your view, would you say being a woman has been an obstacle or an advantage in the evolution of your career?

Definitely, it is an advantage. Women have special eyes and perspectives in approaching many things. Women have the ability to resolve the numerous new challenges that lie ahead of us. I like the fact that women do their work or perform their duties very meticulously and successfully.

I do respect all the mothers in the world. My mother is a very open-minded person and always encourages me to try new things. I remembered that my mom was the only one in the family who did not cry, when I left Korea to study abroad. She is always strong, and she has inspired me in many things.

What does March 8th mean to you? In your view, should every day be International Women’s Day?

After 43 years, since the United Nations declared the International Women’s Day in 1975, there are more women entrepreneurs and CEOs than ever. Still, improvements need to be made to reach full gender equality. In many countries, some of the vulnerable members of society are still women. Gender inequality does not benefit humankind altogether.

Although March 8th is a day to celebrate and honour women, we should be cognizant that we share that day not away from men, as we are all human beings and linked together. Every day should be gender equality day so that we can respect, and learn from, each other.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?

I am extremely comfortable working in new environment and meeting people from different cultural, ethnic, racial, and geographical back grounds. For instance, I did an internship at the UNESCO Cluster Office to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama in San José and another internship at the WHO Regional Office for Europe in Denmark. I learned not only different tasks and goals from these two different organizations, but also I gradually felt that I became a global citizen. To work at international organizations, we need to have an open mind to understand people from different backgrounds. I would encourage young women to actively express their opinions and improve their communication skills and interactions with different people. Working in international organizations is a great experience. I would like to say to young women to find opportunities and follow their dreams. Luck comes to those who truly look for it.