August 31, 2007


Fifth Anniversary of Japan for Sustainability -- A Unique, Innovative NGO for the 21st Century

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.60 (August 2007)

Japan for Sustainability (JFS) celebrated its fifth anniversary on August 26, 2007. JFS has three directors, four core members including two chief executives, four full-time and several part-time office staff, and a few of student interns. About 80 corporate and 200 individual supporters provide assistance.

Every month for the past five years, JFS has published 30 short articles in both English and Japanese that introduce information about the environment collected from all over Japan. It has also delivered a monthly newsletter to almost 9,000 subscribers in 189 countries (as of August 2007) including world opinion leaders in this field. It has relayed feedback from overseas readers to Japanese counterparts, fostering active international exchanges in pursuit of sustainability at the global level. It also held a variety of events every year. Consequently, JFS is now widely regarded around the world as the most valuable, comprehensive source of English information on sustainability topics in Japan.

How has JFS managed to continue pursuing a wide range of activities with its very limited human and financial resources? The secret lies in the roughly 400 volunteer members who support most of JFS's activities. JFS has unique, innovative features as an organization for the 21st century, and is designed to make the most of the commitment, skills, experience, and motivation of the many people who work together on JFS activities. In this article commemorating JFS's fifth anniversary, we introduce JFS from the perspective of an organization that gives the best possible return to those who get involved.

A New Style of Volunteering

The main thrust of JFS's activities is to deliver information about innovative sustainability initiatives ongoing in Japan. All the processes needed to deliver this information are managed by several teams organized completely by volunteer members. These teams collect information from throughout Japan, write Japanese articles summarizing the selected information, translate the articles into English, have the English translation checked by native speakers, and post both English and Japanese articles on the JFS website.

There are other teams involved in searching for people who can actually utilize the JFS information resources, translating feedback from overseas into Japanese to share it with counterparts, and researching and writing articles in response to readers' needs. Ten of these volunteer teams are currently active.

Team activities are managed mostly by team leaders. Team leaders and members work together and exchange ideas about the management and work processes best suited to the team's goals and tasks. Thus, each team's activities are determined by the actively participating members and are carried out under the autonomous management of the team. To avoid the concentration of workloads on certain members, the role of team leader is passed on to another member about every six months, which allows leadership sharing. Each team has developed its own introductory training program and working manual for newcomers.

When JFS receives an inquiry from someone who wants to volunteer, it offers list of teams and the volunteer chooses a team according to his or her interest, and is added to a volunteer mailing list that registers all JFS volunteers. JFS uses the mailing list as needed to inform volunteers when a new team is launched or when assistance is needed for an event. Registered volunteers number over 400 at present.

Team activities at JFS are generally carried out on an online basis using each team's own mailing list. Volunteers can join in at any time and work at their own pace. All they need is an Internet connection, and they can start volunteering no matter where they live, and work at their own pace, allowing them to take part even though they might be busy with work or child-care. Only the Indicator Project Team, which was featured in JFS Newsletters #54 - #57, holds regular study meetings in which members exchange information and talk face-to-face about the extent of Japan's progress toward a sustainable society before the team compiles its reports.

Motivation Management

To keep volunteers who support JFS's activities working happily, JFS places a great deal of value on "motivation management," which helps obtain and sustain commitment. As an organization with a small staff and a limited budget, JFS does not receive any financial support from the national government for disseminating information about Japan to the world. Most of the JFS's operations depend on the willingness of volunteers. Since the volunteers are under neither obligation nor contract to JFS, drawing the attention of people who may want to volunteer, finding their common concerns, and keeping their motivation up are absolutely essential for JFS to ensure the continuation of its activities. Thus, the following three points are of considerable importance in terms of "motivation management."

The first point is internalizing the mission. One of JFS's missions is to help Japan and the world move onto a sustainable path by disseminating information about outstanding environmental protection efforts going on in Japan. Another mission is to create a vision for a sustainable Japan and consider ways to approach sustainability by measuring actual progress. Everyone who volunteers at JFS agrees with these missions, but it is important to repeatedly communicate JFS's vision and missions and confirm each volunteer's commitment to them as a member of JFS.

The second point is to foster a feeling of accomplishment. Volunteers need to be shown in a visible, easily comprehensible manner how they contribute to JFS's activities by offering their time and skills. One way to do that is to share feedback from people who read the articles on the website with volunteers involved in the process by gathering information, writing or translating articles. To help them feel a sense of accomplishment resulting from their commitment, JFS makes it a rule to communicate to all JFS volunteer teams expressions of appreciation from people interviewed for articles and feedback from readers around the world.

The last point is fostering self-actualization. Volunteers tend to continue working for JFS when they consciously realize they are receiving some kind of personal return, for example, improved writing or translating skills, a broader point of view through information gathering or the chance to meet people who share the same values. JFS cares about providing volunteers with the opportunity to go for the next step, achieve personal development, and feel satisfaction.

By taking care to remember these three points, self-reliant volunteer teams can organically connect as they work on JFS activities. This system was designed by Junko Edahiro, one of the chief executives, based on her experience previous to establishing JFS. Now in JFS, each member and each team are learning and making efforts to contribute to the further growth of the whole organization. We believe that this system functions as a model of self-organization. Formed to make sure everyone involved experiences more than enough motivation and benefit, the system itself is the key that allows JFS and its volunteers to proceed together towards a sustainable society in a sustainable manner.

A New Style of Organization

To everyone involved, JFS functions as a tool or a communication platform that is focused on the keywords of environment and sustainable society; it is also a hub that helps link Japanese people dedicated to achieving a sustainable society with the rest of the world.

Staff, volunteers, supporters, corporate members, article interviewees and subscribers around the world all bring different ideas and approaches to JFS as a communication platform. Whoever they are, the platform can help them exchange information, deepen their knowledge and understanding, and work towards self-actualization.

In JFS, the people feel a sense of accomplishment that helps recharge their energy as they move forward to take on new tasks. In the long run, this will help Japan and other countries around the world move together toward a sustainable society. JFS provides the people involved with a context for concretely expressing their own ideas in reality.

JFS has no rules or binding requirements on its members. Instead, it has precise goals and missions as an organization. As it adopts measures and initiatives activities for achieving these goals and missions, JFS offers those who want to join in an opportunity to respond to their passions and apply their skills. If a new project starts to take shape, members who want to volunteer for the project get up a group. After accomplishing the task, they disperse like a finished jam session. In this sense, JFS can be seen as a "jazz-style" organization.

Also, JFS wants to always be a "learning organization." While working on necessary activities to the extent that they can, members develop and hone the required skills on their own initiative. Sometimes they exchange information about team management with people in different teams as they look to adopt useful ways. Thus, know-how, wisdom, and new practices spread through the teams and the whole organization. JFS learns and grows by sharing what each team has learned.

JFS will keep on working by making the most of people's passions, hopes and ideas, not by making contracts with them. At the start of its sixth year, JFS hopes to continue being a bridge between Japan and the world, promoting useful relationships and learning, all for the goal of "moving toward a sustainable society."

(Written by Junko Edahiro and Noriko Sakamoto)