By Bereket Alemayehu
MONA is one of the very active and widely known community-driven social platforms in Korea that was created to address the environmental and social impact of excessive consumerism and waste generation with the slogan “Less Waste, More Impact.” The MONA community was established five years ago, with its name coming from “modu nanum haeyo” which means “we give away everything” in Korean.
As a social community, MONA drives initiatives, campaigns and events to connect people who have items they no longer need with those who can benefit from them, whether they are businesses, charities or individuals, promoting the idea of sharing and reusing rather than buying and discarding.
On Dec. 16, MONA hosted one of its social sharing events, called “Free Market,” in collaboration with Minerva University’s Seoul campus in central Seoul’s Yongsan District. For about three hours, the university’s international students brought out items to share before they were to leave the country, with MONA’s community, which has over 15,000 members, predominantly consisting of individuals aged 25-34, including both Koreans and expats.
“For students who are leaving and students who are coming in, even just being open to everyone, I think it’s a good effort because it’s a great thing to promote students helping students, people helping people,” Quynh Phan, MONA’s founder and CEO, told the Korea Times. “So that’s what we want to do. We plan to get more community partners, and we plan to partner with several universities in Korea.”
Phan is a Vietnamese American who has been a resident of Seoul for over nine years. She is the owner of Vegan & Beyond, a restaurant, bakery and event space found in western Seoul’s Yeonhui-dong.
While she was studying in Taiwan, she got the inspiration to serve the community by creating a similar but more community-driven platform. “In Taiwan, they have this free market just like MONA and they do it in person. They have stuff in the park and people put the items they don’t need out there and anyone can come and ask, ‘Can I take this?’ ‘Can I take that?’ And so, I just kind of stumbled upon this kind of free market and I thought, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ I even got some stuff myself. It was just like the same idea in my mind. Then when I came back to Korea, I realized people also, like a lot of people, have items that they need to give away. They don’t have time to sell. So, I created a community where people can have a place where they can just give away stuff they don’t need anymore.”
Moon Kim, experiential education manager at Minerva University, said that the U.S.-based institute currently has 120 international students from 50 different countries. “Every semester we’ll have students leaving stuff behind, which essentially becomes waste and there’s no way for just a small number of staff to take care of all these things,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to collaborate with MONA for the first time to be able to use it for a better cause. So instead of just trashing everything, giving to others is a better cause.”
For the students, the end of the semester is a time to move on, because they only stay in each country for one semester.
“We are looking to do more in the future whenever we have more students come,” Kim said. “I mean whatever people are grabbing here is like saving us time and money, as well as considering the environment in saving the Earth too. I’m seeing a lot more people coming and it’s a good way for our students and institution to also interact with locals.”
According to Phan, MONA also offers a unique B2B service that enables corporations to make a positive contribution to society. “Through our platform, businesses can seamlessly donate surplus items, including food and products, directly to charities,” she said. “What sets MONA apart is our commitment to not only facilitating donations but also providing businesses with comprehensive marketing materials for their ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) efforts. We understand the importance of corporate social responsibility, and we help companies showcase their philanthropic endeavors to a wide audience, especially targeting the younger generation.”
She cited the example of MONA’s recent collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s Korea to donate 4,500 pints of surplus ice cream to over 40 welfare centers. In the process, 2,250 tonnes of edible food was saved, 7,875 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions were prevented, and Ben & Jerry’s Korea saved over 30 million won in disposal costs, demonstrating the economic benefits of waste reduction.
“MONA connects businesses with charities to help them donate and receive surplus food or products. We can think of products close to the expiration dates, or maybe surplus products that take up too much space in storage, or some items, like furniture, sometimes that needs to be thrown out because they’re buying new ones,” Phan said.
“So where are these items going to go? Companies would have to pay for this and then they get dumped in the landfills. We can help them get tax deductions by donating these to different charities. We are a platform that connects this.”
She added that MONA also works with upcycling businesses to source raw materials, including ground coffee beans and pineapple leaves, which can be used to make new products, such as shampoo.
Currently, MONA is active in skill-sharing initiatives for this year, and has scheduled an official launching event in February with music, dance, rapping and a raffle to strengthen networking of its community and partners in southern Seoul’s Gangnam.
Visit monaofficial.co for more information.
Bereket Alemayehu is an Ethiopian photo artist, social activist and writer based in Seoul. He’s also co-founder of Hanokers, a refugee-led social initiative, and freelance contributor for Pressenza Press Agency.