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Tea with Robin

Author: So Jung Rim
Published Date: 25 June 2017

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

- by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Heaven-Haven

I am honoured to have known Robin as my mentor and friend. 

Robin has been an educator, facilitator and mentor for the South Korean cooperative and social innovation movements.

When I first met Robin in 2011, South Korea was going through an interesting period in civic history. A civil activist, a great champion of co-operation and popular democracy, Wonsoon Park, became the mayor of Seoul City as an independent candidate. We started seeing exciting changes. The city opened up many channels for citizen participation and there was growing support and interest in the social economy.

When Robin returned from a visit to Korea that year, meeting with Park and other co-operators on the ground, he was very excited. “We must write about the changes that are happening in Korea” – he said. He emphasised the need for learning exchanges between different places. He was always interested in what people do and how they make it work in different contexts.

Inspired by Robin, my friend Jungwon, Kwansoo and I set up the SPREAD-I platform, a media platform designed to disseminate practices and case studies on social change. We were inspired by Robin’s thoughts on “spreading social innovation” – he thought the word “scaling” didn’t capture the organic and formative nature of social change.

Robin used to say, “Fair Trade... no one planned that. Suddenly the idea caught the imagination. Once you have a project that has magnetism, then others join, support and do it in their own way. You start linking together. I think it’s hard not to collaborate... Charisma of a project is more important than the charismatic leader.”

This was the start of many more inspirations and relationships that Robin would have with the South Korean movement. With the new “social innovation” mayor in Seoul City and with the enactment of Basic Law on Cooperatives, there was a huge interest in Korea to connect with the social economy practitioners in Europe.

Robin made sure that they visited and learnt from real practice. When a group of Korean policymakers and researchers came to visit, we went on a visit to the Midcounties Co-operative. Robin sat with each person during the 2-hour bus journey and spent time getting to know their work, thoughts and what they hoped to learn. When the bus driver asked where they are going, Robin excitedly told him about the co-operative movement in the UK and why this visit was so meaningful. The bus driver became part of the study visit group. 

Robin always encouraged us to write, create more content and share them with others. He mentored and encouraged us throughout our documentary project on co-operative education and housing called “The Mutual Future”. With Robin, we imagined the possible utopia that exists. He showed us the possibility for a cooperative future not only through our shared conversations but also through his actions. He was involved in setting up community cooperative in his hometown. His words and actions continue to live on.

His experience and wisdom seemed large and our efforts insignificant, but he always had time to listen to us over a pot of tea. He emphasised the shared, collective experience of drinking tea with other rather than having an individual teabag in a mug. He grieved with us when Sewol ferry disaster happened in Korea. He listened to our frustrations and dreams.

Robin continues to live in us all, in our ideas, dreams and what connects us as human beings. He will continue to be our teapot that holds our hope together.



Robin from SPREAD-i on Vimeo.