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November 27, 2006 » 10:12 pm

Ggeh and Trust

Trust is such a critical component of collaboration, it’s easy to dismiss. Other than acknowledging its importance, I haven’t thought too deeply about the role of trust in collaboration. That started to change a few weeks ago, as the concept kept rearing its lovely head in all sorts of places.    (LKM)

One of them was Chang-Rae Lee‘s beautiful novel, Native Speaker, which I reread this past week. On the surface, the book is a spy novel, and a compelling one at that. Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find that the book is really about the many nuances of personal identity.    (LKN)

Featured prominently throughout the book is the notion of a ggeh, a Korean money club, where a small group of people — usually friends or members of the community — pool their money and redistribute it to the others. Lee’s protagonist, Henry Park, says:    (LKO)

Small ggeh, like the one my father had, work because the members all know each other, trust one another not to run off or drop out after their turn comes up. Reputation is always worth more than money….    (LKP)

In our ggeh, if you give a few dollars you can expect to receive a few hundred. The more you give, the more you can ask for; everyone comes to learn what’s a fair amount. You send a letter. Then you come at night and you make your request. You spoke with Eduardo, who in the beginning spoke to John. Now you will simply speak to me. Bring an interpreter or phrase book. Everything is in private, we deal like family, among ourselves, without chits or contracts. This is why I must see your face, hear your voice, make certain that you live how you say. It doesn’t matter what your color is, whether your breath reeks of garlic or pork fat or chilis. Just bring your wife or your husband, bring your children. If you want a down payment on a store, bring the owner of the store you work in now. Bring your daughter who wants to attend Columbia, bring her transcripts and civics essay and have her bring her violin. Bring X rays of your mother who needs a new hip. I want to see the fleshed shape of the need, I want to know the blood you’ve lost, or that someone has stolen, or tricked from you, the blood you desperately want back from the world.    (LKQ)

Here, Park is describing a very large-scale ggeh, and he emphasizes the importance of seeing people face-to-face in order to establish the requisite trust.    (LKR)

I asked my parents about ggeh, and their understanding of the concept was very different from Lee’s. I think their opinions were strongly colored by their experiences with ggeh in Korea, whereas what Lee describes seems more pertinent to the immigrant experience. One thing I did learn from my parents was that ggeh were generally organized by women, which is remarkably reminiscent of how microfinance generally works.    (LKS)

I did some searching on the Internet, and found some interesting links and references to ggeh, but details were relatively scarce. If some of my Korean peeps can shed more light on how they work, please let me know.    (LKT)

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