Interview with Tom Wilkinson - by CBC

P.E.I. rotary club quietly doing good in North Korea

Charlottetown service club involved in more than a dozen projects in North Korea over past 15 years

By Sara Fraser, CBC News Posted: Dec 19, 2017 4:00 PM AT
Last Updated: Dec 19, 2017 4:00 PM AT

Orphans in North Korea are benefiting from a solar hot water heating project with help from the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty. 

Orphans in North Korea are benefiting from a solar hot water heating project with help from the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty. 

A service club in Charlottetown has been quietly working on more than a dozen projects in North Korea over the last 15 years.

The relationship with the dictator-led republic began in 2002 when the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty hosted a two-week mission from North Korean scientists researching potato storage and transportation. 

"In Korea at the time, they grew potatoes well because their climate is similar to ours, but they were losing 75 per cent of the crop because they didn't know anything about storage or processing," said rotarian Tom Wilkinson.

Two agricultural scientists and a trade official came from North Korea and stayed with P.E.I. rotarians who helped co-ordinate farm visits and trips to research and processing facilities, as well as the Atlantic Veterinary College and the then-Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro. 

"That was the beginning of the forging of a partnership and friendship that's existed right up till today," Wilkinson said. 

Since then, the club has provided food and vitamins to North Korean orphans, wheelchairs for children with disabilities, renovated an operating room in a children's hospital and helped deliver 2,300 shelters after a typhoon.

'Building trust'

The latest project, led by the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty together with other rotary clubs in the Maritimes, installed a solar water heater for an orphanage of 523 children. Previously, they'd only had hot water two months of the year. 

'It's a question of building trust, all of it relating to peace and building understanding,' says rotarian Tom Wilkinson of the club's philanthropic work in North Korea including this solar water heater. (Submitted by Tom Wilkinson)

'It's a question of building trust, all of it relating to peace and building understanding,' says rotarian Tom Wilkinson of the club's philanthropic work in North Korea including this solar water heater. (Submitted by Tom Wilkinson)

It "became a great success and is now a model the government is using within the country," Wilkinson noted. 

The solar heater was the first project the North Korean government partnered with the clubs, Wilkinson said, providing 27 per cent of the funds.

"It's a question of building trust, all of it relating to peace and building understanding and a relationship," he said. "It's tough work, but we worked through friends and rotarians in China who help us a great deal with the logistics of everything." 

'You teach by example'

Some have questioned the ethics and wisdom of providing charity to North Korea, which has been testing weapons and threatening nuclear war against the U.S. — but Wilkinson said concerns for the needy there override all.  

"You can't have peace unless you have dialogue," he said. 

Some Canadian rotarians — none of them from P.E.I. — have travelled to North Korea to co-ordinate projects, he said, which he believes provided important opportunities for discussion. 

"A lot of it is by example, right?" Wilkinson said. "It's an educational process." 

Wilkinson vividly remembers one way his rotary club led by example — when the North Korean contingent visited in 2002, they were invited to a meeting with the club's board of directors, half of whom were women.

"When they came into this meeting and saw women, they were quite shocked!" Wilkinson said. "It was an opportunity to explain to them the role of women in society in Canada ... That's how you teach, you teach by example and exposing people to new ideas."  

Wilkinson estimates the club has provided about $30,000 over the 15 years for the projects.

'You have to be very cautious'

There have only been a few cases that caused conflict, Wilkinson recalls. One involved a project in which the government refused to allow rotarians to travel to monitor progress — in that case, North Korea moved the project to another location where visitors were allowed. 

The other was a major fishing project for a village devastated by a typhoon. 

"When we went to do it, they wanted to move the project to another locale," Wilkinson said. He believes the area was close to a nuclear development in North Korea — that project was called off. 

The just-completed solar water heating project was almost co-opted by the government as a propaganda tool, Wilkinson said.


"When we saw that we backed off and said no, we can't participate — find us a another orphanage in a rural area," Wilkinson said, and officials agreed. 

"You have to be very cautious when you're dealing in North Korea not to be drawn in."

Download press clipping.

First North Korean Rotarian

On 8 December, Past RI President Bhichai Rattakul from Thailand joined forces with the members of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown-Royalty in Canada to formally welcome into the Rotary family its first Honorary Member from the DPRK (North Korea), Dr. Jong Sang Hun, PhD, PHF.

Past RI Director Noraseth Pathmanand organized a formal ceremony that was held during a joint Council of Past Governors meeting of all 4 Rotary districts in Thailand at the Rotary Centre in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting was attended by senior Thai Rotary leaders including PRIP Bhichai, PRID Noraseth, PRID Dr. Saowalak Rattanavich, PDG Chan Chanlongsawetakul, PDG Muk Vongchavalitkul, DG Marasee Skunliew as well as two of Dr. Jong’s colleagues from the DPRK Embassy in Bangkok, Mr. Hwang Min Chol and Mr. Ri Nam Song.

PRIP Bhichai presented to Dr. Jong on behalf of Tom Campbell, Past President of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown, an Honorary Membership Certificate that was signed personally by RI President Ian Risely when he paid a visit earlier this summer to Charlottetown and where he met PDG Tom Wilkinson, the key man leading his club’s 15 year track record of supporting 10 Rotary projects in the DPRK. 

North Korea is a “non-Rotary” country that borders on China and Russia in the North (two un-districted Rotary regions but each with fully chartered Rotary clubs) and South Korea to the South. Because the DPRK has a historically close relationship with the Peoples Republic of China and shares regular air, sea and rail links, Rotary and Rotaract clubs in China are in a unique position to facilitate Rotary service projects in the DPRK - if there is a strong project partner at the receiving end. For more than 15 years Dr. Jong Sang Hun, an economist long serving within the Committee for the Promotion of International Trade in Pyongyang and now based in Bangkok as Counselor in the DPRK Embassy in Thailand, has played this key role.

Dr. Jong made first contact with Rotary in 2001 when he visited Beijing and was introduced to Past RI Special Representative to China, Randal Eastman, a Canadian who was leading an informal fellowship of Rotarians in Shanghai. It took 2 years to plan and implement their first joint project in 2003 during PRIP Bhichai’s presidency. Thereafter Dr. Jong has enabled Rotarians, Rotaracters and Rotary project partners from around the world to successfully conduct 15 service projects in North Korea. To date most projects have focused on disease prevention and treatment, food security, and disaster relief.

In total 25 Rotary clubs, 4 Rotaract clubs, 1 Interact club, 2 districts, 2 Rotarian Action Groups, 1 Rotarian Fellowship, 2 Rotary Project Partners and 27 tenacious Rotarians have joined forces with Dr. Jong and his team to implement more than $1.8 million USD in service projects over the years.

Ten of these projects have been supported by the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty and to show their thanks to Dr. Jong for his own determined support, they resolved to make him an Honorary Member of their club – the first North Korean to formally join the Rotary family.

Past President Tom Campbell wrote, “We understand and appreciate the work you have done over the years in promotion Rotary’s goals of peace and understanding, demystifying Rotary International aims and objectives, and helping in our projects to assist the people in North Korea, in particular the orphans and disabled.” 

He concluded, “Welcome to the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty and the family of Rotary International.”

In expressing his heartfelt thanks, Dr. Jong said, “I will work for Rotary service projects continuously here in Bangkok in cooperation with more Rotary clubs and members of the Rotary family in both our country and Thailand.”

Rotarians and Rotaracters who wish to explore the possibility of conducting further service projects in the DPRK may contact PSR Randal who maintains ongoing contact with Dr. Jong Sang Hun and his colleagues, through an informal fellowship of Rotarians called the “Korean Friendship Network of Rotarians”.

Download the accompanying press release here.

Mirim Solar WASH Mission

A brief note to let everyone know that 3 Rotarians will be heading in on 11 February 2017 to kickoff with first tranche of funding for the Mirim Solar WASH project.

  • Rtn. Randal Eastman, Past Special Representative to China 2013-16, Member of Fresh Start Shanghai Rotary Club
  • Rtn. Dr. Nikola Urosevic, PP, Member of Rotary Club of Shanghai
  • Rtn. Gordon Card, President of the Rotary Club of Sydney, Nova Scotia




Article in the Rotarian - RIBI

Rotary in China

We first learned of Rotarians helping ShelterBox in North Korea but found a trail across the world. We tell you how it works. 

Rotary is a worldwide network with connections in many places from the slums of the underdeveloped countries to the wealth and extravagance of the highly developed western nations. Its connections reach into countries that are thought of as unreachable and one such country is North Korea. 
Through connections with China and reaching right across the world to Canada Rotarians have been able to work with North Koreans to make an impact and improve people’s lives. We were intrigued about DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) so we spoke with the person who has developed Rotary in China and made the connection into North Korea over quite a number of years, Randal Eastman. Randal was the Rotary International Representative in China until this year and we spoke with him from Shanghai. Randal explained, “Rotary in China has had a long, colourful and turbulent history. In October 1919 the first Chinese Rotary club was chartered and several followed taking the number to 43 in 39 cities. However in 1952 Rotary ceased to operate in China of its own volition - a decision taken by Rotary International. In 1996 Rotarians began meeting in Beijing regularly, and from 2006 the membership grew and clubs began to charter and in 2014 the Rotary International Board recognised new clubs in China.” 
I wanted to clear up with Randal the present situation in China in terms of people being allowed to join Rotary. He explained, “We have guidelines that the Rotary International Board has set for us and the latest version is very clear in that only ex-patriots and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau passport holders can be members of clubs and the reason for that is not that the Chinese government have passed any specific legislation against us but our organisations are not legally registered therefore for local people to join is a bit of a danger for them. To get round this we have invited locals to be Honorary Members for about three years now and we have no problem with that.” 
To get a feel of how Rotary is working in China we had to ask how many members and clubs there are. “We have a total of 18 clubs in China with around 450 members - four of the clubs are in Beijing and three are in Shanghai,” Randal told me before then reeling o a list of other towns covering mostly the eastern part of China. There are also other clubs in various stages of formation. 
Randal had got involved with Rotary back in his native country Canada and after completing an MBA he joined the Rotary Club of London, Canada and was a member for two years before he moved to Shanghai. He told us, “Rotary was not strong in China but I was quite hooked and when I moved there were no clubs and I tried to change that.” And he has done that since his performance and the outcome speaks for itself. 
It is great that Rotary is prospering in China but we were also interested in North Korea and how people there were being helped so we ventured to find out by talking with Tom Wilkinson a member of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty on Prince Edward Island, Canada and mentioned by Randal several times. Tom explained, “It all came about when we were asked to host an agricultural delegation from DPRK. Just three delegates, and at that time they were the Director of International Trade and Economic Cooperation and Education, the Vice President of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a specialist involved with potato production and oilseed crops. They were all senior officers within the DPRK regime and were hosted primarily by Rotarians across clubs on Prince Edward Island. 
“The relationship and connections were developed and a request to Randal Eastman in China to supply a large solar oven for an orphanage in the Pyongyang area as well as 500 children’s wheelchairs for victims of a major explosion in Rongchang was made and met. Soon after a network was established called ‘The Korean Friendship Network’ with the help and support extending even further.” 
Tom went on to tell us about more projects, “An operating theatre in South Pyongan Province was renovated when we worked with The Rotary Club of Shanghai alongside their Rotaract club. We have a long list of giving help over a period of time working with Chinese Rotarians and the Korean Friendship Network. We packed and shipped 273,000 MannaPack Rice meals for 800 orphans in five centres. Many doubted that this aid would reach the beneficiaries however with the connection in North Korea we know the aid is getting to the right people. In 2012 after devastating typhoons and massive flooding we arranged for ShelterBox Response Teams to visit and deploy over 100 ShelterBoxes. We also worked with the Rotary International Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group and a colleague Dr Winston Johnson produced a report on the production of food crops in North Korea.” Tom mentioned many other projects and pointed out that not only his club but Rotary clubs across Canada were instrumental in helping Randal and his colleagues in China reach out to North Korea. 
As we were going to publication we learned about the recent flooding in North Korea and wondered what help was being made available. We were told that ShelterBox is trying to make contact to assess what is required and is working with Rotarian colleagues in the region. 
In talking with Randal Eastman and Tom Wilkinson we were encouraged by the humanitarian aid getting through to North Korea through the development of Rotary in China. It demonstrates the resolve of Rotarians who want to help and the way we can use the Rotary network and fellowship to achieve this. 

Download press clipping.

Article from Rotary Magazin (Germany)


Warmes Wasser für Waisen- kinder in Nordkorea

Noch 6250 US-Dollar fehlen 550 Kindern eines Waisenheims in Pjöngjang für die Versorgung ihres Badehauses mit warmen Wasser zum Händewaschen und Duschen

Randal Eastman (RC Shanghai) und seine rotarischen Freunde vom Korean Friend- ship Network – einer Art (inoffiziellen) Rotary Fellowship – konnten als Projektverantwortliche bislang rund 70 Prozent der nötigen Investitionssumme von 26.750 US-Dollar auf- treiben, mit denen Solar-Warmwasserbereiter auf einem der Schuldächer installiert werden sollen. Nun hofft er für den Rest auf Hilfe aus dem Ausland: „Es wäre wunderbar, wenn Rotary Clubs aus Deutschland und Österreich bereit wären, unsere Finanzierungslücke zu verkleinern und dazu beitragen, den Hygienestandard des Waisenheims zu verbesern“. In den letzten 14 Jahren haben vor allem Rotarier und Rotaracter aus der Volksrepublik China Gemeindienstprojekte in der Demokratischen Volksrepublik Korea (DVRK) durchgeführt, aber auch kanadische Clubs engagierten sich, zum Beispiel mit der Kostenübernahme für medizinische Geräte und Behandlungen sowie Hilfsmaßnahmen nach Naturkatastrophen. „Sowie wir das Geld zusammen haben, geht‘s los, wir brauchen nur acht Wochen“ verspricht Randal, der seit 2013 „RI Special Representative to China“ ist und dank vielseitigem Engagement für zahlreiche Club- Neugründungen in der Volksrepublik sorgte.

Download this Press Clipping

Project Completed - Football Play it Forward

Successful Mission to follow up our Footballs.

Rotarians Randal and NIkola along with Dr. Chen Qun and Shen Keqiao say farewell to the students and football players at Mirim School.

Rotarians Randal and NIkola along with Dr. Chen Qun and Shen Keqiao say farewell to the students and football players at Mirim School.

From 11 to 18 August we led a successful mission to Pyongyang with the number one purpose of following up our 200 footballs and uniforms donated on behalf of Mac Millar ( for his Football Play it Forward project.

Mirim School for Orphans

First stop for this project was to visit the Mirim School for Orphans in Pyongyang where we watched a match between the two teams, accompanied by live music by the school band and enthusiastic cheers by students at both ends of the soccer pitch.

We took the opportunity while onsite to scout the school for additional project opportunities including placement of an improved cookstove in the school kitchen, placement of a library, installation of solar water heaters, and collaboration with their greenhouses for the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group.

In the afternoon after visiting a ShelterBox distribution site in Rakrang district of Pyongyang we visited the Rakrang Juvenile Sports School where we watched the first half of a match and had a nice photo session where he handed out Rotary club banners of our project sponsors.

There were many other elements that we combined into this mission - which we will write about separately. You can see a full set of photos on our flickr site here:

Footballs now on their way to Pyongyang

Finally we can announce that our donation of 200 footballs, uniforms and pumps are packed up and ready to depart Beijing for Pyongyang.

This is probably proof that it requires as much effort to implement a small project as it does a large one, but the nature of this project is about testing the waters and relationship building, so if all proceeds according to plan I expect that we will emerge from our August follow up visit with a strong desire to build on it.

Now on the planning of the site visit.



North Korea hit by the worst drought in a century

Country expected to face famine if unusually dry weather continues as 30 percent of its rice paddies dry up.

17 Jun 2015 19:26 GMT | Environment, Asia Pacific, North Korea

North Korea has said it has been hit by its worst drought in a century, resulting in extensive damage to agriculture during its main planting season.

The official Korean Central News Agency said on Wednesday that the drought has caused about 30 percent of its rice paddies to dry up. Young rice plants normally need to be partially submerged in water during the early summer.

"Recently in our country, there has been a severe drought with sudden extremely high temperatures and nearly no rain," Ri Yong Nam, a senior North Korean weather official, told the AP news agency on Wednesday. "Now the drought is causing a water shortage and great damage to agriculture, and we foresee this drought will continue for a while."

He said temperatures in May were 5-7C higher than normal.

Both North and South Koreas have had unusually dry weather this year.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said precipitation in North Korea was abnormally low in May, and food production could decline significantly if the shortage continues. However, a ministry official said he could not confirm North Korea's claim that it was experiencing its worst drought in a century.

Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Rome, said North Korea has been experiencing water shortages since late last year because of low rain and snowfall. "The lack of water now could seriously affect the main crop season later this year," she said.

The main crop season is planted in June-July and normally accounts for 90 percent of total food production, she said in an email.

"We are very concerned that if there is poor crop production this year, there will be a significant increase in malnutrition especially among children," she said.

KCNA said South Hwanghae province was one of North Korea's worst-hit areas.

Farmers at Gangan Cooperative Farm in the province said they have been unable to grow rice seedlings.

"This is the first drought damage in my 20 years of farming experience," Sin Jong Choi, head of a work team at the farm, told AP. He said the seedlings dried out, so farmers plowed the fields again and planted corn instead.

But even the corn plants "are completely burned to death," said Bae Tae Il, the farm's chief engineer. "We are launching all-out efforts to overcome the drought damage."

In Pyongyang, the capital, the water level of the Taedong River was very low on Wednesday.

Mac Millar inspects the Balls

Mac Millar came to town in April to inspect the soccer balls purchased for the DPRK with funds advanced by Rotary Shanghai President Frank Yih's private foundation, Huaqiao Foundation.

Mac was happy with quality and had a few minutes free from his preparations for a TEDx talk at hte Western International School Shanghai.


Watch Mac's TEDx talk here:

Farewell Brian

We are very sad to learn of the passing of a good friend – who was a facilitator of some of our recent projects in the DPRK and himself was a friend to the DPR Koreans – after a decades long battle with cancer.

Brian Watling from Nova Scotia, Canada, was a "well seasoned" new energy pioneer who spent recent years shuttling between Canada and the PRC where he was assisting Green Power Labs to launch its solar energy technologies into the Chinese market.

Here are some images of Brian's visit to the Pyongsong Orphanage where he helped to fix some hiccups with the installation of a solar water heater donated by Rotaracters from Chicago, USA.

RIP Brian. We will all miss you.

Results of the 3 Asian Cup Games

As you will have read, Mac Millar met with the DPRK team when they visited Australia to participate in the Asian Cup.

Unfortunately their 3 matches did not turn out as well as they had hoped. Here are snap shots from each.

Match 1 - DPRK vs Uzbekistan (0-1)

Match 2 - DPRK vs. Saudi Arabia (1-4)

Match 3 - DPRK vs PR China (1-2)

Private Purchases of Solar PV in the DPRK

Private Purchases of Solar Photovoltaic Panels in the DPRK: Signs of Green Growth on the Way?

NAPSNet Policy Forum

By David Von Hippel and Peter Hayes

13 January, 2015

This paper was originally published with support from the Hanyang University’s Energy, Governance and Security (EGS)  Center, available in Global Energy Monitor Vol. 2, No.9.


In the following Policy Forum, David von Hippel and Peter Hayes examine the growth of solar panel purchases in North Korea. They write, “The DPRK’s growing markets for solar PV systems suggest two things. First, it suggests that that there is likely a high level of suppressed demand for electricity in the in both rural and urban areas. Second, the evident willingness on the part of DPRK citizens to pay high costs per unit of electricity delivered by use of PV/battery systems reflects the very high “opportunity cost” of foregoing the use of electricity when it is needed.”

David von Hippel is a Nautilus Institute Senior Associate working on energy and environmental issues in Asia, as well as on analysis of the DPRK energy sector.

Peter Hayes is Honorary Professor, Center for International Security Studies, Sydney University, Australia and Director, Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, California.


A combination of lack of investment due to international economic sanctions and limited foreign exchange earnings, coupled with multiple chronic and ongoing problems with energy supply infrastructure, have left per-capita electricity consumption in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) far below that of its Southern neighbor. On average, the DPRK consumes an estimated 420 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of grid electricity per capita annually, while the Republic of Korea (ROK) consumes 9300 kWh per capita/year, more than 20 times as much.[1]Faced with frequent electricity blackouts and brownouts, average DPRK residents, as well as members of a growing middle class, elite families, and wealthier traders, are turning to Chinese-made solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to power entertainment electronics, lights, and other devices, the Daily NK reports.[2] Although it is unclear how widespread the adoption of PVs by North Koreans is at this time, the interest in this technology in the DPRK underscores the value that North Koreans place on the services provided by electricity. In addition, however, the uptake of renewable energy systems by the DPRK together with the success of the aggressive program of renewable energy adoption in Germany, suggests that the DPRK officials and members of the international community who will be involved in the eventual rebuilding of the DPRK’s energy system might do well to plan to “leapfrog” the fossil-based energy system used in the ROK, and fully implement the concept of “low carbon green growth”—nominally adopted in the ROK in 2008—with a focus on renewable energy.

DPRK citizens in many cities are reportedly spending the equivalent of several months of household income to buy solar PV systems to power small electronics (the most common being combination DVD/CD/media players with 9 inch screens) as well as, probably, some light-emitting diode (LED) lighting and other small electric devices. The most common system purchased includes a PV panel with a rated capacity of 30 Watts (W), and a sealed lead-acid automotive-type battery with a capacity of 28 Amp-hours. Wealthier households purchase larger panels and batteries, and larger electronic devices. Households purchase the systems because electricity supplies from the DPRK central grid are in many places unreliable at best, and at worst, rarely available. Although these systems provide households with consistent access to entertainment and (probably) some lighting and other services, and do so without pollutant emissions, the cost of providing electricity via the solar PV systems is relatively high. The reason for this is not so much the cost of the PV panel in the DPRK—PV costs have been declining rapidly for years, and the in-DPRK retail cost quoted by Daily NK, about $1.30 on a per-Watt-capacity basis, is similar to the high end of current bulk pricing for 30 W PV panel kits as quoted in Alibaba (the dominant Chinese internet market). Taking just the cost of the panel into account, and assuming a lifetime of 20 years, the cost per kWh of delivered electricity in the system comes to about $0.22 per kWh.[3] The system cost becomes much more expensive, however, when the cost of batteries is included. The reason here is that the batteries used in the system, 12-volt lead-acid batteries of the type used in small vehicles (for example, electric scooters), have a finite lifetime (perhaps 5 or 6 years) even under the best of circumstances, but when continuously discharged to a low level, as they likely would be when used as North Korean households are likely to use them, the battery lifetime could be much shorter, even though some of the batteries sold with PV systems may be nominally designed for deep-cycle use. As a result, the batteries needed to accompany PV panels must be replaced many times over the life of the panels. Factoring in battery lifetimes of 5 years (a best case scenario), the cost of usable energy from the PV/battery systems rises to $0.49 per kWh. If the batteries last only an average of 2 years, the cost per unit of energy rises to $0.78 per kWh. By way of comparison, the residential retail price of electricity in the ROK was about $0.13 (130 ROK Won) per kWh as of July 2014.[4]

The actual cost of electricity from PV systems underscores the high value that DPRK households place on access to even small amounts of electricity, and probably even significantly understates it. Based on UN Comtrade (customs trade statistics) data, the DPRK imported from China on the order of 6 million flashlights and 60 million small batteries (likely for electronics) in each of 2012 and 2013 alone. The effective cost of electricity from these small batteries is on the order of $20 per kWh. Although the categories used for Comtrade statistics make it difficult to determine for certain, recorded trades (as opposed to trades in goods that do not appear on the Customs ledgers) in PV systems could be on the order of several (perhaps 3 to 5) megawatts annually, meaning that perhaps 100,000 or more DPRK households have adopted them to date.

In a way, and perhaps not entirely intentionally, the DPRK seems to be approaching the same renewable energy path that German policies have been emphasizing for some years. A recent article in Foreign Policy describes the trend, under a policy called Energiewende, in which the orchestrated use of mostly local renewable energy sources has been replacing power from central stations: [5] “In just a dozen years, industrial-powerhouse Germany has replaced around 31 percent of its nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity with green power, produced overwhelmingly from moderately sized onshore wind, solar PV, hydro, and bio-energy installations – an achievement no one predicted when the Energiewende commenced in 2000.” One of the features of the German approach has been an emphasis on increasing the use of renewable energy starting at the local and regional levels, a “citizen-led energy boom” in which local projects increasingly use smart grids to manage local demand and supply and, increasingly, to trade power with other cities and regions.  Such an approach, if not necessarily consistent with how the DPRK government has typically managed its energy sector, is certainly consistent with both the North Korean philosophy of juche, or self-reliance, as well as with DPRK government exhortations, in recent years, to local areas to provide their own energy sources to augment central supplies. Consistent with this direction is the recent announcement of the organization of a “natural energy institute” in Pyongyang “with various rooms for researches into wind energy, geotherm, solar heat and other natural energies, e-library, laboratories, a pilot plant, etc.”[6]  Setting up such an institute was actually a topic that Nautilus Institute talked about with DPRK counterparts as early as 2000. The DPRK government’s longstanding interest in renewable energy, coupled with the widespread grassroots adoption of solar PV and other renewable technologies, mean that cooperation in renewable energy systems will likely serve as an attractive (to both sides) and helpful approach to engagement between the DPRK and the international community.

The DPRK’s growing markets for solar PV systems suggest two things. First, it suggests that that there is likely a high level of suppressed demand for electricity in the in both rural and urban areas. Second, the evident willingness on the part of DPRK citizens to pay high costs per unit of electricity delivered by use of PV/battery systems reflects the very high “opportunity cost” of foregoing the use of electricity when it is needed.

In South Korea, on the other hand, in contrast with German policies, and also in contrast, for example, to the strong growth in installation of solar power in Japan (driven in part by the post-Fukushima anxiety about reliance on nuclear power, as well as by the high prices of electricity in Japan and Japanese Feed-in Tariff policies), the ROK government’s commitment to promoting the domestic use of solar PV power appears to have waned.[7] In the DPRK, the need to rehabilitate virtually the entire power sector may, paradoxically, coupled with the demonstrated interest by individual DPRK citizens in harvesting the benefits of renewable energy (and thereby receiving at least some of the energy services they have been missing), make it easier, not harder, for the DPRK to follow the German model of growth of local and even household renewable energy systems into local, then regional, then national renewables-dominated smart grids.  Achieving such a future rapidly will of course require investment, as well as technical and other assistance, from outside the DPRK, assistance that can only come via cooperation and engagement with the international community. It is even possible that a DPRK focused on using renewables for green growth will help to spur the ROK to take more meaningful steps in the same direction, thus moving South Korea more rapidly toward the goals implied by its government’s stated, as of 2008, intent to undertake a green energy path.


[1] Both per-capita figures include electricity consumed in all sectors of the economies.  DPRK figure are derived from Nautilus DPRK energy analysis; see, for example, David von Hippel, and Peter Hayes (2012), Foundations of Energy Security for the DPRK: 1990-2009 Energy Balances, Engagement Options, and Future Paths for Energy and Economic Redevelopment, dated 18 December 2012, and  available as; and David F. von Hippel and Peter Hayes, An Updated Summary of Energy Supply and Demand in The Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK), published as Hanyang University Center for Energy Governance and Security Working Paper 2014-2, and available from  and as  ROK figure is for 2012, and is derived from data in Korea Energy Economics Institute (2013), Yearbook of Energy Statistics, 2013, available as

[2] Seol Song Ah (2014), “Solar Panels Shine New Light on NK”, Daily NK, dated 2014-10-24, and available as

[3] Calculated using a real (not including inflation) discount rate of 15%/year, which is probably appropriate, if not low, for household consumers, an assumed output of 1200 W-hours per W of PV capacity, and an average charge/discharge efficiency of 80 percent for the PV/battery system.

[4] Korea Energy Economics Institute (2014), Monthly Energy Statistics, Volume 30-10 (October, 2014), available as

[5] Paul Hockenos (2014), Germany’s Revolution in Small Batch, Artisanal Energy”, Foreign, dated October 31, 2014, and available as

[6] Korean Central News Agency (KCNA, 2014), “Natural Energy Institute Established in DPRK”, dated November 4, 2014, and available as

[7] BusinessKorea (2014), “Dark Outlook: Domestic Solar Power Demand Expected to Plummet”, dated October 15, 2014, and available as

Mac Millar meets the DPR Korean football team in Melbourne


On Monday 12 January Mac Millar travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne in order to meet up with the visiting DPR Korean Football team - in support of our Football Play it Forward Project.

Rotarian Rob Ward and the Rotary Club of Brighton North made it all happen and were able to connect a number of interesting pieces of the puzzle here - and bring enormous smiles to everyone's face. Read Rob's press release here.

Our project is now about 20% funded - but we need more support if we are to reach our target of 1400 soccer balls and uniforms for orphanages in the DPRK.


30 families are breathing easier

30 families are breathing easier thanks to smokeless stoves

[Dean from Econofit just shared this with me - noticing the link to Rotary in Lynn's posting. This is a wee bit away from he DPRK - in Vanuatu]

After months of planning and arranging with the Rotary club, the Tina1 Cargo ship finally dropped off boxes of stove parts on my beach.


This project was started by the Rotary club in collaboration with Carlie Congdon, an amazing community health Peace Corps Volunteer who completed her service last year. My task: deliver the last shipment of stoves to their new homes in Moriu village on the East side of Epi.




After constructing it, I took one of the stoves for a test drive: I’ve been cooking on an open fire myself for the past several months, so I was amazed at how fast and clean the stove worked. It’s benefits:

  • It’s a wood stove which means that free fuel is in infinite supply on our somewhat remote island.
  • Uses small pieces of fire wood easily collected around the house (no gat axe? no problem!)
  • Reduces smoke/carbon dioxide by 80% (less crying and coughing and overall misery generally associated with cooking on fires)
  • Condenses the heat of the fire allowing food to cook faster (so that you can get back to doing what you love to do.)
  • Reduces soot on saucepans! (I spend 15 minutes a day scrubbing the black soot off of my saucepans, so this is a special treat.)



A week later my neighbors Kolika, Lorna, and baby Rosita, our friend Jonah, and I travelled to the other side of Epi to deliver the stoves. Here’s the official handing over with the Chief of Moriu on the left, and the church elder in the middle.



One of my Abu women had pulled me aside a few months ago and said that she wanted to be the first in her village to get a stove. Despite her age she insists on cooking for herself and knew that a stove like this would greatly improve her daily life and overall health. Here is Abua gleefully opening up her stove box :)



After passing out the 29 stoves, we demonstrated their construction… 



Here is Kolika piecing together the arms of a stove.



The group on my mat proudly built 6 stoves- and everyone from our chief to our Abuas to our children had a hand in constructing their stoves.


Overall, 29 stoves were delivered, built, and prayed over that day-enough for the entire village of Moriu to reduce the smoke in their kitchens and make life a bit easier day by day. The village of Moriu and myself wish to extend our thanks to Carlie “Maria” Congdon for organizing this project, Kolika, Lorna, Jonah, and Rosita for helping to facilitate this training, the Rotary club for providing the funding and arrangements, and President Obama for sending us crazy Americans to the other side of the planet to be a part of these simple, life-changing projects.



Update - Football Play it Forward

This week we have a flurry of positive activity around Mac Millar's project.

We have now secured commitments in excess of our original plan for 200 soccer balls and uniforms and so we investigating now how we could grow this for bigger impact, possibly with company sponsors.

Our partner Dr. Jong has designated two orphanages as initial targets and so we are looking into the possibility of expanding our reach into the other 10 institutions on his list. 

We are exploring football jerseys as well as football boots.

Meanwhile Rob just noted that the DPRK team will be heading to Australian in January to compete in the Asian Cup. One game will take place in Melbourne so perhaps a chance to connect with this project.

Reforming North Korea

Al Jazeera English

It seems that, at long last, North Korea has decided to begin Chinese-style reforms.

Andrei Lankov

There is big news coming from North Korea recently, though it has gone largely unnoticed. Indeed, when North Korea is mentioned in the international media, it is usually because of the unending saga of the nuclear crisis or because of some (unsubstantiated) rumours pertaining to the apex of power in Pyongyang. Such news may sell papers and/or increase page views, but it is usually forgotten quickly with little - if any - consequences.

At the same time, news about North Korean society and its economy seldom make headlines. It is simply not sexy enough to talk about some new decision by the cabinet of ministers. However, such decisions are likely to have more impact on the future of the country than all the bellicose remarks that are North Korean diplomats' stock and trade.

This time, the big news is indeed a decision, the so-called "May 30th Measures", jointly issued early this year by the North Korean cabinet of ministers and the Central Committee of the Korean Worker's Party. This decision was initially classified, but because it was supposed to be read by so many people, its contents have become public knowledge.

Chinese-style reforms

The contents are revolutionary. It seems that, at long last, North Korea has decided to begin Chinese-style reforms. Marshal Kim Jong-un is obviously inclined to do what his late father, Generalissimo Kim Jong Il, was too afraid to, that is, to attempt to transform his country into a developmental dictatorship, largely similar to present-day Vietnam or China.

This decision did not come out of the blue. Indeed, it agrees very well with what Kim Jong Un and his advisers have quietly been doing over the last three years - albeit the slow-motion transformation of the country has attracted little attention from outside world.

The first significant step was the introduction of the so-called "June 28th Measures". These measures were introduced in 2012, but only became fully into force in 2013. While on paper, they did not look that ground-breaking, they represent a sweeping reform of agricultural management in the North.

The "June 28th Measures" allowed North Korean farmers to create their own production teams of five or six people. It was not explicitly stated, but it was a signal that individual households should register as "production teams". Such teams were given a plot of land, the assumption being that they would toil the same area for several consecutive years. The land technically remained under the jurisdiction of the state-owned and state-managed "collective farm", but the produce would henceforth be split 70:30 between the state and the production team (ie the family). Up until then, North Korean production teams had been much larger, and all produce had to be submitted to the state in exchange for a fixed daily grain ration that was allocated to every farmer. 

In essence, this reform marked a seismic shift: It marked the first step towards the reprivatisation of agriculture.

Best harvest

June 28th Measures" have worked out even better than North Korea's leaders might have expected. The year 2013 (the first year that the reforms were fully in force) brought the best harvest that North Korea has seen in decades. The world media, predictably enough, missed the entire story, but in 2013, North Korea, for the first time since the late 1980s, produced almost enough food to feed itself. Even though there was a severe drought this year, the new system has seemingly proved its resilience, and initial reports about the harvest are also quite positive.

Given the precedent in agriculture, the "May 30th Measures" are not quite as surprising as they may first appear, though they are indeed truly radical by the standards of North Korea before 2013.

According to these measures, from 2015, North Korean farming households (for ideological purposes still branded "production teams") will be allocated not 30 percent but 60 percent of the total harvest.

Additionally, farming households will be given large plots of land - some 3,300sq m - to act as their kitchen gardens. Until now, North Korea, unlike nearly all other communist states, never tolerated private agriculture to any significant degree, and thus, for decades, kitchen gardens were limited to a meagre 100sq m.

The measures did not stop there, though. This time the North Korean leadership has set its sights on reforming the moribund and hollowed out state industrial sector. According to the reforms, directors of state factories will find themselves covered by a new "director responsibility system". This system makes a director, hitherto state-appointed and carefully supervised representative of the party and state, into the approximate equivalent of a private businessman (factory managers in North Korea are almost always men). Under the new system, factory directors will have the freedom to decide how, when and where they purchase technologies, raw materials and spare parts necessary for their enterprises. They will also be allowed to decide who to sell to. They are also given the right to hire and fire workers, as well as to decide how much to pay for a particular job.

Under the new system, there is a tacit assumption that directors will be able to reward themselves generously for their own work - a feature that makes them virtually indistinguishable from private entrepreneurs in market economies. As a matter of fact, a few foreign delegations that recently visited North Korea were privately briefed about coming changes.

Bad track record

Of course, these are just plans and they have not yet been implemented. Nevertheless, recent changes in agriculture seemingly demonstrate that Kim Jong Un means business. There are serious problems that the North Korean economy will have to overcome in the future, above all, the severe shortage of foreign investment. Due to the remarkably bad track record of North Korean companies in dealing with foreign investors, international sanctions, and the country's dubious reputation, foreign investors will be wary. Without foreign investment, we should not expect a dramatic take-off. Let us not forget that the North Korean economy has many bottlenecks, some of which can be fixed only with large investments from outside - the sorry state of North Korea's electricity network, railways and roads are just a few examples.

It would also be naive to expect a reforming North Korea to become either significantly more liberal or to jettison its nuclear programme. The North Korean government is only too aware that their people face a highly attractive alternative that is South Korea, right next door. The government is not enthusiastic about an East German-style revolution. Hence, they are likely to remain highly repressive in their domestic policy, and they are also likely to maintain their nuclear potential in order to ward off possibility of humanitarian intervention.

Nonetheless, there are good reasons to believe that the new system will deliver impressive results. North Korean agriculture, partially freed of statist irrationality, is already doing better than ever. One should expect that industry will start to catch up once capitalist (or if you prefer, "market") system is introduced formally into the state sector. At the end of the day, this is good news for everybody in and outside North Korea, though one should not expect an overnight transformation.

Andrei Lankov is professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University, Seoul. He is the author of "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia".

North Korea, Open for Business

Life in Rason, a special economic zone far from the police state in Pyongyang, is ... well ... almost normal.

RASON,North Korea — For the few who have ever been to North Korea, it might be a familiar feeling: that of being inside a country, while at the same time feeling outside of it.Visitors stroll through the streets as if they are stuck inside a huge transparent sphere. Foreigners manage to break through that barrier only rarely, and if so, only for brief moments. These breakthroughs are what visitors speak about with excitement: how they raised a shy smile from a child; how one of their assigned guides finally opened up after a long night of drinking and provided a glimpse into his personal desires and worries.

In the West, North Korea is mostly seen in surreal images of its young leader Kim Jong Un, goose-stepping soldiers on Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, or dangerous rockets and starving children. The country of 25 million people does not easily show its real face; xenophobia, nationalist pride, and the state's tightly controlled media stand in the way. In my 23 years of alternatively living in, visiting, and following North Korea, I can recall only a few moments when I did not feel isolated from the North Koreans around me.

So my September 2014 visit with a small group of Western tourists to the Special Economic Zone of Rason, in the northwest of the country near the Chinese border, was mind-boggling. Here is what North Korea could be, even without risky reforms: more open, more human, more approachable, more honest, and much more interested in business cooperation with foreigners. No insulated rubber sphere.

The visit started with the feeling of leaving the country. I passed a checkpoint into Rason that reminded me of a state border.  

At first glance, there is not much to be seen -- which makes it fascinating. Although Rason has been a special zone since 1991, it's a part of North Korea that looks, smells, and feels like the original: on the drive into the city we saw bumpy roads, villages with low white buildings, kitchen gardens, surrounding walls, and long wooden chimneys. In the city, which has a population ofroughly 200,000, oxcarts passed by, children with red scarves marched to school, and everywhere could be seen slogans glorifying the "Great Sun of the 21st Century, Comrade Kim Jong Un" and the ruling Korean Workers' Party's "military first" policy. Two bronze statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung were under construction. Long chains of red pepper dried in the warm September sun -- in the winter, residents will use them to make kimchi, a staple dish of fermented cabbage.

That Rason appears much like other parts of North Korea stands in stark contrast to the Special Economic Zone at Kaesong, near the South Korean border. There, 50,000 selected North Korean women are brought in by buses in the morning to work at South Korean factories and then returned to their living quarters outside the zone in the evening. It felt like a zoo.

In the central town square of Rason stood a huge television screen. Like the one in front of the Pyongyang railway station, it showed the state TV news and occasionally a movie. In the evening, people sat on the ground and watched. Could we take photos, I asked? After five days in Pyongyang and other tourist destinations we had grown accustomed to the prohibition of taking photos from the bus. In Rason, however, our guide told us, "Take photos as you wish." (With official permission to take pictures, it was almost no fun anymore.)

Around the square little stalls sold food and drinks. Surprisingly, our guide allowed us to sit among ordinary people who have not been brought here for a "spontaneous party" with foreigners. Rather than run away,they gave me curious looks, and then broad smiles and excited conversation after I told the waitress in Korean that I spent a semester at Pyongyang's elite Kim Il Sung University in 1991. I sat among these North Koreans with a strange feeling of happiness -- and I think how sad it was that I felt so excited about something that would be normal in the rest of the world.

The next afternoon, we visited the local open market -- an experience the capital no longer offers for foreigners. Only in 2004 was I allowed to visit Pyongyang's Tongil street market, and my guides rushed me through. In Rason we got two hours, but no photos this time.

At the entrance to the market, a group of women who seemed to lack a proper permit quickly folded up their wooden boxes with cigarettesand fled as soon as they spotted a man in uniform. After we passed through the entranceway, a huge area opened up in front of us, roughly the size of a soccer field, most of it indoors. The lanes of the market were closely packed with women selling items ranging from fresh fish to refrigerators. The fruit corner offered pineapples, bananas, nectarines, grapes, and more -- a selection that would have made an East German's heart miss a beat. 

The prices are hefty; a pound of bananas costs just under a dollar. All goods seem to be imported from China, and all transactions are made in Chinese renminbi. They also accept the local currency, one of the traders told me, but only at what is known in the West as the "black-market rate." (But in contrast to Pyongyang, where tourists are stubbornly quoted an unrealistic 132 won to the euro, a Rason bank offered the far more reasonable 10,476 won to the euro.)

The openness continued. During my visit to a textile factory, the manager answered all of my questions frankly, including about the wages of his seamstresses. He pays them roughly $80 a month, depending on performance. Try asking that question in Pyongyang and you'll get nonsensical numbers in response. While I was still trying to get used to receiving real answers, the manager asked whether we noticed that the ski suits they were producing had a tag saying "Made in China" sewn into them. We nodded; he explained that this must be done so his client can sell them in South Korea. This is nothing new; I have seen "Made in Italy" suits produced in Pyongyang. What is different is that people in Rason were open about it.

I left Rason with a sense of excitement about what is possible in this isolated country. In November 2013, the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, a top government body, announced the establishment of 13 new special economic zones spread throughout North Korea.

But for Rason to become a model, it has to be successful, and overcome the concerns of skeptical cadres. Many observers agree that an economic opening of North Korea would help solve many problems -- including security, human rights, and humanitarian issues -- in a sustainable way by making the country a stakeholder in peace, with international recognition. Nonetheless, it seems that most of the world has decided to ignore Rason. North Korea has decided to open up, but nobody seems to care.

Foreign Policy: Rudiger Frank


Rotarian Action Group Helps Countries Grow Indigenous Crops

Australian Bruce French has been eating locally for 35 years– long before it became a culinary trend. Now he’s working with Rotary members to help countries struggling with food security do the same.

French founded the not-for-profit Food Plants International, which maintains a database of 25,000 edible plants that includes descriptions, lists of countries and climates where they grow, photos and drawings, and cooking methods.

“There are thousands of nutritious plants, but people don’t have any information about them,” says Buz Green, an agriculturalist and member of the Rotary Club of Devonport North in Australia. “We’re trying to bridge some of the gaps.” Green launched the Learn Grow project with French in 2007 to help people in developing countries grow local food that suits their nutritional needs.

The project receives support from the Devonport North club and Rotary District 9830. Early last year, the RI Board recognized the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group, whose 195 members are helping support Learn Grow efforts. Past RI Director John Thorne chairs the group.

“Rotarian teams in developing countries inevitably identify hunger, malnutrition, and food security as critical issues,” Green explains. “They tend to look to Western solutions to address food production issues.”

The problem, he says, is that Western crops don’t have the right nutritional profile for people in the developing world, whose diets often have little variety. Indigenous crops can allow them to eat more nutritiously and are already adapted to local pests, diseases, and climatic conditions.

“Virtually every woman in the tropical world is anemic,” French adds. “We go there with cabbages and make the situation 10 times worse.”

In 2010 Learn Grow launched a pilot project in the Solomon Islands, producing a compendium of local edible plants, field guides for growers, and a book on crops for schools and community groups. Local organizations provide support and distribute information while a qualified agriculturist serves as a technical support specialist. The project team has received inquiries from 20 developing countries; another effort is underway in North Korea where a Canadian Rotary member will serve as the specialist.

The principles of eating locally are gaining momentum in the Western world, French says. “My children and lots of other people thought I was eccentric for 35 years. Now I’ve become fairly trendy in my old age.”

By Diana Schoberg and Katie Hills

This story originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Rotarian.