Several years ago, he purchased a five-hectare estate in Cavite province south of Manila to build a new village for cured lepers – an undertaking for which the Department of Health extended nary a centavo of support. He has also produced a full-length movie about the plight of Filipino Hansenites with name actors playing the lead roles. Such acts of altruism are rare in Manila’s maritime sector. But Jae Jung (‘JJ’) Jang, chairman of the Uni Group of Companies, a shipping and logistics conglomerate headquartered in Intramuros district, is a rare bird.
A graduate of the elite Korean Merchant Marine Academy, Mr Jang has made it his personal crusade to rehabilitate and resettle cured Filipino lepers and to erase the stigma attached to the disease. His platform for achieving these twin goals is the Sorok Uni Foundation, named after Sorok Island, South Korea’s infamous former leper colony. The humanitarian outfit describes its main activities thus: ‘The Foundation helps through providing shelters to the abandoned, sending the kids to school and training the grown-ups for livelihood. We pool together our resources to buy cattle for them to raise. We work with them, along with volunteers, to build houses for those strong enough and determined to start anew.’
Mr Jang can be likened to Murlidhar Devidas (‘Baba’) Amte, the champion of India’s lepers and outcastes. He may never have bathed a leper or worked in a leper clinic as Mr Amte did, but his pro-Hansenite mission is not less significant or endearing for its zeal. A senior executive of the Uni Group once remarked, a bit fretfully but with some admiration, that Mr Jang would sometimes be late in coming to company board meetings because he was tied up with some Foundation activity.
Has business taken a back seat in favour of philantrophy? Hardly. Mr Jang simply has this firm conviction that corporate do-gooding can and should exist with corporate money-making. The Sorok Uni Foundation is certainly no token activity, a form of window-dressing. It is part of the corporate family, receiving, so we understand, financial contributions from the various business units of the Uni Group. Just as important, it highlights the God-centred culture that Mr Jang has been trying to nurture within and outside the organisation.
One can argue that this is taking corporate social responsibility to the extreme. A company’s primordial goal, after all, is to create wealth for its owners or shareholders. Mr Jang’s and the Uni Group’s kind of altruism may not be for everyone; it requires time, money and a selfless concern for the well-being of others. Still, it is a fitting reminder that pockets of generosity exist in the maritime business and individual players can be driven by things other than greed. ~Barista Uno