However, there is one social enterprise that helps North Korean refugees become self-dependent and even go on to support others. Eden Greening is a flower business where South and North Korean youths work together to assist the elderly in an underprivileged neighborhood in Namdaemun.
Initially established as a project group of Enactus Yonsei in 2013, Eden Greening is a student organization from Yonsei University that runs social enterprises. The project group started with the aim of promoting the self-reliance of North Korean students in South Korea. Members of Eden Greening hoped to make a greener city through the harmony of South and North Koreans. Thus, the organization was named after “Eden” in the Old Testament, where recovery and harmony exists in an unpolluted environment.
Two years after the establishment, the organization began to serve an additional goal of assisting the elderly by helping them make a living in flower business. It also teaches vocational skills to North Korean youths, enabling them to get jobs after leaving the enterprise.
In order to do so, Eden Greening currently runs a flower shop named “Let it bloom” in Jung-gu, where five senior citizens from an impoverished town in Namdaemun operate everything from flower production and packaging to delivery. With the help of a florist with 10 years of experience, Eden provides education on flower design to the five workers. The education has enabled them to create their own portable flower designs that make selling flowers on the streets convenient for the elderly.
In addition, three South and two North Korean workers in the organization take charge of the marketing, accounting and management of the business. The workers cooperate with Namdaemun Counseling Center to recruit inhabitants in Namdaemun to work with at “Let it bloom.” They have also designed the interior of the flower shop by themselves.
Despite the challenges of running a social enterprise, the members of Eden Greening are satisfied with their work.
“In the past, I only received help from others,” Yang said. “It is now my turn to assist those in need.”
In just two years after launching “Let it bloom,” Eden Greening has sold flowerpots and bouquets to organizations such as Seoul National University Hospital and Hyundai Engineering that have agreed to sponsor them by buying flowers. Students working for Eden Greening recalled how the satisfaction of the customers boosted the confidence of the elderly workers.
“The elderly have regained hope for their future after working at ‘Let it bloom,’” said Yang Sun-mo, the representative of Eden Greening. “Before, they were unemployed and lived in tiny rooms in impoverished villages. But now, they take pride in their jobs and have created their own manuals for flower production.”
With the goal of hiring one additional worker from Namdaemun every year, Eden Greening has opened a pop-up store at Dongdaemun Design Plaza for two weeks where flower products of “Let it bloom” were sold. It has also displayed flowerpots and distributed brochures at the opening ceremony of the MBC brand store. Recently, the enterprise has provided centerpieces for decoration at ICLEI World Congress 2015 held in Seoul, a world summit on climate and the environment.
“We want to provide a stable job to the elderly in poor neighborhoods,” Yang said. “By hiring the elderly at ‘Let it bloom,’ we want to give them hope. In order to increase the number of our workers, we constantly need to raise awareness of our flower shop and receive support.”
As for the North Korean youths working for Eden Greening, there had been communication problems between the South and North Korean workers due to cultural differences. However, the workers were able to understand each other by helping others at work.
“One of our workers formed Uptown X Downtown in April 2014, a group where South and North Koreans could build a common ground through discussions on reunification and cultural festivals,” Yang said. “After getting to know each other, we had greater mutual trust and became loyal friends.”
Currently, two North Korean refugees are working for Eden Greening. The workers are each 21 and 29 years old, and one of them is in charge of product design while the other looks after flower production, quality control and delivery. Yang says they are helpful as the former majored in design and the latter is talented in handicraft.
Meanwhile, Yang and two other co-workers from Enactus Yonsei are in charge of marketing, management, and accounting for the organization.
“Working at Eden Greening has been a great opportunity for the North Korean youth who have and are working here,” Yang said. “In fact, some youths have gotten new jobs after leaving this enterprise. Also, they have gained greater understanding of South Korean culture and learned that the South and the North can get along with each other.”