Social Enterprise English Language School, or ‘SEELS,’ one of our investees, was featured in a recent article in the Japan Times. The story profiles their microfranchising model that “helps Filipinas set up and run international kindergartens and eikaiwa” – English conversation – schools, and the project that Kathryn Doria Goto and Cesar V. Santoyo, founder and president of SEELS, teamed up to work on for making a film titled “Accept Us Maybe.” The Toyota Foundation provides funding for its film development and production.
The article also explained the backdrop of the Filipino community in Japan and how the public’s perception of them has been changed. Santoyo admits that it “has been gradually improving.” He is concerned, however, that “…some middle-aged women are married to older Japanese men who are working class. They are already retired. Living off their pension alone is not enough.” He stressed, “So, for these reasons, a number of women could use assistance. The government should permit them to apply for welfare benefits if they are needed. The release of this film is timely, because this is something we want to advocate for. This is what we mean by social acceptance.”
The full article can be found below.
Some of you who are starting to read this article may feel like scratching your head by seeing the title that is compounded by the words you are unfamiliar with: ‘hermeneutic’ next to one of the most alluring but a big-tent term, ‘social innovation.’ Suffice to say, such distraction is not what we intend, let alone to be worth the true meaning of education. As Socrates once said, “Education is the kindling of flame, not the filling of a vessel,” we would rather assist you in action-oriented learning for social innovation than provide relevant information merely for external rewards such as grades or scores. Again, before getting any ideas or thought divergent, you are asked what this title means to you and us, and why it should be understood in that way. First, let us begin with the contours of ‘social innovation.’
(This is the original, full manuscript of his article which has been published in the book, “Innovation: How Innovators Think, Act and Change Our World,” written by Kim Chandler McDonald in October 2013.) ‘Seedling of Innovation’:
On May 2, 2013, Mr. Hakubun Shimomura, Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT) was invited to a reception party that took place at Capitol Hill and reached an agreement with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to double the number of Japanese students studying in the U.S. and U.S. students studying in Japan. Indeed, this may not seem to stand out among any other catchy news such as “Abenomics,” or a series of comprehensive economic policies led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and “the 2020 Summer Olympics,” which Tokyo, Japan is bidding as one of the three candidate cities to host. However, it really does. In response, Akira Foundation (AFJ) is working on an upcoming Youth Exchange Program, dubbed “TOMODACHI U.S.-Japan Youth Exchange Program (TOMODACHI-UJYEP),” with American Councils for International Education (ACIE), in line with the ambitious new steps to follow through on their foregoing commitments to a transformative change in how the Japanese educational system relate to internationalization which makes it more accessible for foreign students and nurtures individuals equipped with ingenuity and expertise to solve shared problems across borders.
In recent years, the number of students who choose to study abroad has dropped, significantly, from an all-time high of 83,000 in 2004 to 58,000 in 2010, which indicates that the seemingly demonstrable progress is now languishing. Japan’s chronic deflation may have contributed to dampen such an ambitious sprit that must be essential in revitalizing its society, and make it for broader international engagement, or ‘global village,’ where Japan have yet to be truly and concretely committed by their own citizens. The lifetime employment system in Japan is no longer an unwavering norm, which has caused more uncertainty and anxiety among new graduates, while employers are unrelentingly cutting costs further through a war of attrition. For one, the unemployment rate for Japan’s youth aged 15 to 24 still remains high above 9%, compared to the overall rate which is just above 4%. Worse still, under such disturbing circumstances, a new social status or stigma labeled “Freeters,” “NEETs,” or “SNEPs” has emerged, most of whom are prone to drain their potential and miss the most meaningful learning opportunities to live and grow through public participation. In 2011, the number of Freeters, NEETs and SNEPs combined reached out to about 4 million people, and that phenomenon represents a brutal fact that social distortion and costs are looming across the society, especially among the youth.
Here is another “silent epidemic” that surrounds the youth: suicide. Strikingly, more than 30,000 people took their own lives in Japan every year until 2011, when it was marked for 14th straight year. Suicide is now the most common cause of death among people aged 20 through 39 for six consecutive years. This is an enormously idiosyncratic phenomenon and chronic social disease in Japan. Given that the Japanese are more introverted, or “inward-looking,” the Japanese youth would lose even a few glimmerings of hope, let alone his or her bright future that lies ahead, without taking any suicide prevention measures that must transgress traditional clinical approaches at an early stage.
Since its inception of AFJ in 2009, we have tenaciously addressed the foregoing socio-economic issues among the youth and, in channeling change and making collective impact around our specific initiatives, explored the ‘posse’, or “the mixed coalition,” among an extensive collaborative network of interested parties including governments, universities, NGOs/NPOs, corporations, advocates, researchers, volunteers, entrepreneurs, among other people and organizations. The newly developed TOMODACHI-UJYEP is an embodiment of our reciprocal approaches to and collaborative partnerships with a far greater diversity of stakeholders. The main purpose of the program is to empower the youth who are disrupting, and to nurture them to harness their capabilities to bring a much more creative, innovative and intuitive approach to solving problems on an international stage. We select 6 high school students and a few accompanying teachers from each region of Washington, D.C. and Tokyo, and design and develop the program that empowers Japanese and American students through cultural and educational exposures while providing them with a unique hands-on service perspective.
We must acknowledge, however, that this is an experimental trial, but nonetheless, many private and public institutions and individuals have already shared our values and work together to support the program which is underlain by the following common causes: leverage youth’s innovative and creative characteristics; nurture them to find their own, authentic meaningful lives; and inspire them to become engaged global citizens who commit themselves to “sustaining creative, collective and cooperative (3Cs) development” in our global village. To date, the TOMODACHI INITIATIVE, the bilateral public-private partnership launched in 2011 by the U.S. Embassy and the U.S.-Japan Council, strongly supports the program, financially, through the “TOMODACHI Fund for Exchanges” funded by Toyota Motor Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, Hitachi, Ltd., and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. Meanwhile, ACIE and AFJ are working collaboratively to develop their own three-week programs in both Washington, D.C. (plus the New York trip) and Tokyo (plus the Tohoku trip).
The program will kick off with a media conference with Vincent C. Gray, Mayor of Washington, D.C. in late July 2013, when 6 Japanese students and 2 teachers from Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School fly to Washington, D.C. for participation in the program. For the U.S. program, a variety of institutional supporters including US-Japan Council, Grameen Foundation, United Way, Ashoka, and Architecture for Humanity, will help the Japanese students gain a sense of social responsibility and global awareness through unique service-based learning at firsthand. The students will also have a chance to meet and discuss topics of U.S.-Japan history and relations with U.S. congressmen at Capitol Hill, while engaging in the team-building workshop of ‘Sustainability Projects’ related to built environment, food/nature or water, through their video production.
For the Japan program, AFJ is carefully reviewing the balance of program partners and contents between cultural immersion and social entrepreneurship which is phenomenally emerging around the Tohoku region where the massive earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11, 2011. Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School and Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus will provide educational and cultural exchange programs to American students, and in parallel, the students will be asked to form a group to present their own ideas or thoughts to address social and cultural issues in Japan through the entire three weeks, supported by J-Seed Ventures, which will host the three sessions every Friday to teach the practical, creative way of crafting and improving a business model, ‘Business Model Generation’. In the final week, American students will move to the Tohoku region and visit volunteer organizations involved in relief and sustainable recovery work. The Japan program will start from early November, 2013.
Converging 50,000 delegates from 192 nations, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 took place from June 20-22nd. The participation in “Rio+20” at such a large-scale conference was a landmark event representing the enthusiasm, diversity, inclusiveness and passion of the stakeholders involved.
However, the conference filled with these positive vibes where participants live up to high expectations is yet to lead to tangible, actionable outcomes. Facing up to the challenges of putting agenda and action plans into practice, the global civil society carefully followed the negotiation processes of the leaders of the world and advocated for the desired change: “The Future We Want.” It gave me great hope to see young voices heard, the people of the world concerned and impatient for such a desired change and future, the global community taking active measures towards a better world rather than passive unresponsive approaches, and the private sector bridging with the global society in a more collaborative way.
Most notable was the unique Yasuni-ITT initiative led by Dr. Ivonne Baki from the Government of Ecuador which chose to forego oil extraction from the Yasuni rainforest in an attempt to preserve the biodiversity and ecosystem of that rich area, home to considerable diversity within species and ecological complexes of which they are part. Led by a growing developing country which puts values at the heart of its actions, the Yasuni initiative is a gift for mankind that Ecuador generously offers. The international community is encouraged to support this initiative and invest in it, in such rare outstanding endeavors where a long-term and human-centered vision triumphs over a short-term and narrow-minded view concerned only with lucrative options. It is also worth mentioning that Ecuador legally recognizes “the right to nature,” presenting an exemplary model for other nations to follow.
Having also visited the Athlete Park where different countries were exhibiting, I passed by the Japanese Pavilion which housed innovative organizations such as Fujitsu; Toshiba; IHI Corporation; Mitsubishi; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI); among others. The pavilion demonstrated the unique technologies, perspectives, and relationships and respect for others that the Japanese value and bring to the world.
It was truly an inspiring journey during which I have met people from many countries who reinforce the beliefs that:
-We are one.
-Earth is our common global village.
-Our similarities far outweigh our differences.
-Our shared values, planet, resources, and future must constructively bring us all together.
- We are individually responsible for shaping the world!
The key participation of indigenous people made me truly appreciate the beautiful diverse texture of the rich composition in this world.
Finally, the trip would not have been complete without visiting the most breathtaking sights in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro and its world-famous monument on the top of the Corcovado Mountain recently named one of the new 7 wonders of the world!
I am grateful to Akira Foundation and the World Economic Forum Global Shapers who encouraged me to pursue this opportunity and contribute to the youth participation at Rio+20.