An innovative six-day study tour saw representatives from China visit Japan recently.
The visit to Japanese Social Enterprises, entitled The Role of Social Enterprise in Community Reconstruction, took place in January. The visit was co-organised by Japanese social enterprise supporting organisations ETIC, Social Venture Partner Japan and GLI, with GLI Executive DirectorFan Li, who sends us this report, and her team heavily involved.
These three organisations had previously successfully co-organised the first Chinese social enterprise supporting organisation study tour to Japan in December 2007.
Nine representatives of NGOs, social enterprises plus the media from Beijing, Shanghai and Sichuan also participated. Some of the expenses of this event were covered by the Japan Foundation.
The activities of the event included discussions on the role of social enterprises in post-disaster reconstruction and visits to organisations working in the field of social inclusion education, natural resources and agriculture, elderly nursing, providing job opportunities for the disabled, etc.
The tour started in Osaka, where a two-hour discussion with nearly sixty representatives from NGOs, enterprises, government agencies and media in Japan’s Kansai region took place. During the meeting, Lihua Xie, Chairman of Beijing Rural Women Cultural Development Center, introduced the establishment and development of her organisation and Song Qinghua, Executive Director of Beijing Community Action, talked of their reconstruction projects in the Sichuan earthquake-stricken area.
Japanese participants all remarked that compared to Tokyo, organisations in Kansai region have fewer opportunities to exchange with NPOs from other countries. It was quite inspiring for them to be able to meet Chinese social entrepreneurs who were doing remarkable jobs in the fields of public welfare and social innovation.
Some of them hoped Japan’s reconstruction experience after the Hanshin Earthquake would be helpful to China’s reconstruction effort in Sichuan’s earthquake-stricken area and also said they would be happy to be co-ordinators.
Next stop was the Takaratsuka NPO Center located in Takaratsuka City. The founder, Mrs. Mori, explained that the center originated from the Hanshin Earthquake Volunteer Co-ordination Center and that over a ten-year period it had developed into a key organisation committed to local community reconstruction.
In the afternoon, the tour arrived in Kobe, which suffered most in the Hanshin Earthquake. The Disaster Prevention Future Center, a world disaster reduction base, was particularly interesting. The center was co-funded by Japan’s central government and Hyogo prefecture’s local government and has learnt many valuable lessons from the Hanshin Earthquake.
The centre’s research institute gathers information about large-scale disasters and disaster prevention, systematising it and setting up databases. It is also the biggest base world-wide in training disaster prevention experts.
The visit coincided with the fourteenth anniversary of the Hanshin Earthquake, so there were many visitors gathering in central exhibition area. The detailed data and various vivid disaster prevention education information made a deep and lasting impression.
After the visit, a workshop – The Role of Social Enterprises in Community Reconstruction-Sharing Post-disaster Reconstruction Experience in the Hanshin Earthquake – was held in the centre’s conference room.
First, Mr. Taro Tamura, the Trustee of Osaka NPO Pluralism Research Institute introduced us the development of social enterprises in Japan’s Kansai region after the Hanshin Earthquake.
The earthquake raised both government and public awareness of civil society and encouraged their participation in civil society. He also stressed that a lesson learned from the development of Japanese civil society over the past decades was that we should not only pay attention to the quantity of NPOs but also the quality. NPOs have to be innovative.
Mrs. Mashiho Suga, the Researcher of People and Disaster Prevention Future Center, then shared her research on the role of social enterprise in reconstruction after the Hanshin earthquake and the Chuetsu Earthquake.
At the request of the Japanese side, Chinese delegates, Xuping Ren, Vice Director of Sichuan Xuping Research Center of Poverty Alleviation, and Yao Yue, Project Manager of MercyCorp China, introduced their work on reconstruction after the Sichuan Earthquake. The participants from the People and Disaster Prevention Future Center showed high admiration for Ren’s great efforts on poverty alleviation by rabbit raising after the disaster and hoped to have an on-site visit to Xuping Rabbit Industrial Corporation.
The following day the delegates visited the Japan Education Development Association, a NPO located in Yodogawa district of Osaka city. This is a energetic and vital organisation, made up of young people. It launches youth education projects in collaboration with companies, schools and communities and aims to educate Japanese young generation to ambitious and independent.
The association was founded in 2001 and its revenue depends on the project operation rather than government support or donation.
Miss Ikeda, introduced the Dream School Project which she was in charge of. During 2007-2008, with the co-operation of one high school, five primary schools, the project built trust and relationship among children, parents and communities by encouraging children to experience the work in supermarkets and then describe the ideal supermarket in their minds. Many of the details deeply inspired the Chinese delegates.
Leaving Osaka, the party headed to the ancient capital city, Kyoto. The AMITA Sustainable Development Research Institute aims to promote the establishment of sustainable economic systems through innovations in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fishing.
Founded in July 2007 by the solar power company AMITA Co., the institute has many experts in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fishery and mainly focuses on project designing, research and professional training.
It provides entire development planning for communities by selecting suitable projects which often started from environmental, agriculture, forestry and fishery development. The institute also provides the most suitable general development plans for the region and will provide support during the operation process.
Three senior researchers of the institute explained how AMITA projects helped farmers to plant organic rice and expand the market and how they developed forest resources while protecting the farmers’ profits by way of forest pasture. They also introduced international recycling fishery certification systems to Japan. AMITA successfully sells the certificated seafood by establishing partnerships with big supermarkets.
Next stop was Shinkansen in Tokyo. K2 International is located in Negishi district of Yokohama city. Founded by a couple 20 years ago, K2 International is an NPO committed to helping and supporting marginalised youth. It provides living accommodation and NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training) groups and has established a community restaurant providing training and job opportunities for the youth to rebuild their self-confidence.
Miss Iwamoto, Chairman and Executive Director of K2 explained the history of K2. In the evening, the delegates had a wonderful dinner in K2 tappasaki restaurant. All chefs and staff graduated from K2, some of whom have been working in this restaurant for ten years.
On the last day, a visit to Swan Bakery and Swan Restaurant in Ginza was arranged. This is the most flourishing shopping centre in Tokyo. These two food companies are often listed by fashion and food magazines but few people know that most of the staff have intellectual or physical disabilities.
Swan Bakery was founded by Mr. Ogura in his latter years of his life. He is also the Founder and former Chairman of the famous Yamato Black Cat Express Company, which set up a harmonious society where people with disabilities can have equal living and working opportunities.
There are approximately six million people with disabilities in Japan. Besides the monthly allowance provided by government, they can also get an average salary less than ten thousand JPY from welfare companies. Mr. Ogura established Yamato Welfare Foundation in 1996 to find a way to help people with disabilities to have a stable income and happy life by producing commodities catering to the needs of markets.
In 1998, Ogura set up the first Swan Bakery at GInza. Five years later, led by the new General Manager Mr. Ayumu Kaitsu, Swan started to make profit-and now have twenty-three branches. The bakery delivers delicious cakes and breads to rural areas every day with the co-operation of Yamato Express Company.
There are more than 270 people with disabilities working in the Swan Bakery, covering seventy per cent of the entire staff. Mr. Kaitsu explained that there was no difference between the disabled and the healthy in their company and they just had one standard to judge, that is, working performance.
Traditional welfare companies always produce dolls, ornaments etc, which are not essential to people’s life. Some people will buy it once out of sympathy but will not buy it twice. However, the production of Swan Bakery is food which customers need every day. Swan attracts market attention by its quality and service not the sympathy of the public. They hardly mention that most of their staff are disabled people. In the Swan Restaurant in Akasaka, almost 200 customers per hour can be catered for.
The last stop in the visit was Sunforet Elderly People’s Home located in beautiful Fujizawa City in Konan Area. Sunforet was founded in 1988 and the Founder and Chairman, Mr. Horii is a 70-plus native Fujizawa man. In the past homes for the elderly were often built in rural areas with good facilities and services, but they were lonely and lost touch with society.
Sunforet has formed close relationships with several communities linking care services and professional elderly nursing.
After the visit, the last workshop in this study tour was held in the activity room. The participants reviewed the whole tour and wrote down the organisations that were the most impressive to them, the most referable to their recent work and the one that inspired thems most.
Since the participants came from different fields, the answers are different but partly common. They appreciated the organisers for the excellent tour and raised some kind suggestions, Some of them suggested future visits could be focused on specific areas, especially agriculture and environmental protection. Some asked if it would be possible to extend the period of study tour. And if all participants come from the same organisation, is it quicker and easier to practice what they learned from the visits?
At the end of the workshop, Mr. Hiroishi from ETIC, the chief organiser of the visit, summarised the features of every organisation visited and the aim of the tour. He concluded that whether Sunforet Elderly People’s Home or the Dream School Project of Japan Education Development Association Osaka, embodied the core values of social entrepreneurship, that is, building up relationships among people. By its services and activities, social enterprises give people of different backgrounds a chance to build a common community together where they can live equally and happily. We believe this concept will play an important role in post-disaster reconstruction.
The organisations visited in this study tour will be introduced in detail on the GLI website in the near future.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all friends who dedicated great support to the success of the study tour. First, I would like to thank the nine representatives from China for their participation and their trust in us. Also, I should thank Mr. Kojima, Vice Chairman of Japan Foundation Beijing Culture Center for his generous support of this programme. And I should thank all the hard work of our Japanese partner organisations, Networkers and volunteers and all the organisations we visited in Japan, and the staff of GLI Shanghai and Tokyo offices.
Executive Director of GLI
Translators: Jeanne Zhu and Fangfang Liao