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March 25, 2009


Dealing with Regional Problems Using Youth Power

shiomisan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Takuji Hiroishi, the president of empublic Ltd. and senior fellow of NPO, ETIC.

I like everyone here today to think about how people who are called 'social entrepreneurs' see local areas and businesses. While working at Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities (ETIC), an organization that supports social entrepreneurs and cultivates coordinators for internship in local cities, I have seen young people who are trying to spread their wings. I would like to share stories about what they have chosen local areas and what they think is important, and this might help you to launch new projects by yourselves or to participate in new activities.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

When I heard about Andrew Mawson, I realized what a social entrepreneur was. Mr. Mawson is a priest in Bromley-by-Bow, London, UK, and when he was assigned to the area around 1980, the area was an extremely poor slum.

A 35-year-old woman named Jean Biles died of cancer in the area in 1993. She and everyone around her knew that she was in poor health; however, she could not quit her job because she was a single parent who had two young children. She eventually collapsed, and was taken to hospital, where the seriousness of her condition was not realized, and she died.

A journalist from Britain's Guardian newspaper covered this story, and he wrote a column discussing how Britain was supposed to offer a good welfare system, using the phrase "from the cradle to the grave"; however, in many places, such desperate situations were common. The column later became a topic of conversation.

The regional government and people involved in charity organizations then gathered and discussed how such situations develop. Each of these people had wanted to help Jean and had done something for her. They said that even though they had done what they should have, other people did nothing, saying that they recommended she apply for social and medical welfare or that she had not fully completed the necessary paperwork.

Mr. Mawson followed this discussion, and noticed that no one there might be a friend of Jean. If these people had a relative who had applied for social welfare and who had heard nothing after a week, they would have made inquiries. If there were incomplete forms, they would have made a personal visit with the necessary papers. No one present went further to support Jean beyond the scope of their own jobs.

It is not true that there is no welfare system or charitable organizations in the UK. However, it is necessary to encourage people to get involved in what they feel are the affairs of others. To create places for residents in the area, he started to ask residents about their problems and what they could do.

For example, a woman may need a nursery to take care her children during the evening and night because she works at a pub, as most nurseries only care for children from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the other hand, there may be a woman who is looking for a night job because she has to care for her sick mother during the daytime. In this case, the latter may be able to baby-sit the former's children.

In this way, Mr. Mawson found that when he connected the needs and desires of local people, he could build a money-flow system in the area. After 10 years, it has developed into an organization that has 125 employees now.

Digging Up Sleeping Resources

Here is a case in Japan.
Seikatsu Basu Yokkaichi, which literally means "life-bus in Yokkaichi", is a nonprofit organization that manages a community bus in Mie Prefecture in central Japan. While most community buses are run with the full support of the government, this NPO runs a bus alone. Although a private company Mie Kotsu Co., Ltd. originally ran busses, they stopped providing the service because it was unprofitable. So how were people inexperienced in bus management able to revitalize it?

When people in the NPO heard that residents said "nobody uses buses", they thought something was wrong, and started to conduct an in-depth questionnaire. They found that there were people who wanted to ride on buses. Elderly people who live alone and do not drive need buses, particularly in such a suburban city. To link the places where residents wanted to catch buses and where the residents wanted to go, they mapped the places where elderly people lived alone, and then connected their living places and supermarkets, hospitals, bakeries or social insurance hospitals where the elderly people often went, resulting in a completely new route map.

One of the reasons why elderly people go to hospitals is to socialize in the waiting room. Of course, they are able to talk only with people who visit the same hospital. However, if one gets on the bus, one can also converse with people who go to different hospitals, and the trip becomes more fun. The bus now has a karaoke machine, and has become a place where people living alone can enjoy time with each other, rather than simply a means of transportation.

On the other hand, as the fare is 100 yen per person, the bus makes a low profit. Therefore, they need sponsors. They initially asked hospitals and bakeries to become sponsors, but were rejected because no one apparently used the bus to travel to hospitals or bakeries. However, the new route map led to bus stops in front of shops, and elderly people got off the bus to enter the shops. Thus, the NPO showed that there were people who needed a bus to go shopping.

If it was just for local revitalization, no one would have become a sponsor. After people clearly realized that the bus was needed, they finally wanted to cooperate. Sponsors then started joining, and the bus launched operations.

In government-run services or general businesses, the goal is to offer convenient services to everyone, providing an average service. However, when one focuses on who needs the service, one can identify niche markets. In addition, concrete results allow the number of sponsors to increase.

Even though there are various levels of social supports and people who want to provide support, it can be difficult to connect them to people's needs without seeing those people's faces. By showing each person's face, unused resources can start to be utilized effectively. This is very important, and is exemplified by Mr. Mawson's story.

"Challenging Bond" Links Young Talent to Local Areas

There is currently an effort called "zero-waste" in Kamikatsu, Tokushima Prefecture located on Shikoku Island. Removal of garbage from a town surrounded by mountains has a substantial economic cost, as it is carried to an incinerator plant near the ocean. This is why the town announced its "zero-waste" plan, which aimed to end the production of garbage.

While the town was wondering who would lead this scheme, a young woman, Natsuko Matsuoka, came forward. She studied environmental issues in a graduate college in Northern Europe. She had thought that there was no place in Japan where she could put into practice what she had learned, but she heard about the town's efforts and jumped right in, aiming to realize its vision. She is now the executive director of an NPO, the Zero Waste Academy of Japan.

I often hear of agricultural villages or local cities saying that they want young manpower; however, young people do not go to such places unless they provide a stage for their dreams or goals. I call this a "challenging bond."

There are people who want to help because senior staff gave them a chance and they succeeded, and there are people who want to give chances to those who want a challenge. Unfortunately, these people do not always know where that "someone" is. Thus, ETIC launched the Challenge Community Project to create such connections.

When one carefully searches agricultural villages or local cities, one can find many people who want to do new things, or people who want to create new businesses. One might also find people who need youthful power or passion, or people who need the computer skills that many young people possess. We have focused on this project in order to create opportunities for such people to meet and work together, and we believe that it will provide opportunities for both local areas and young people.

Taking the First Step

Here, I would like to share with you information that I believe will help you work on various activities.

To move toward new things, I recommend that you form your own idea of what you want to be. There are many people who cannot move because they cannot find what they want to do; however, the right answer can sometimes be seen after moving. It is important to think of your own theme, even if it is temporary, and move toward it. If it does not work, you can always move in a new direction.

One of the roles of social entrepreneurs overseas is the "address the problem." A problem is sometimes realized as a "problem" only after someone says "this is a problem."

Florence is an NPO that operates a day care for sick children. When children are sick, they cannot typically stay in a day care; however, their mothers are often unable to miss work. In the past, they would have to give up opportunities to care for their sick children. Hiroki Komazaki, an executive board member of Florence identified the problem. He pointed out that a society that takes work opportunities away because employees' children are sick is wrong. After that, other people noticed there are problems related to day care for sick children.

There are many things in the world that you may think are wrong. Talk about it with your friends and you might find people who feel the same way, or a discussion about background issues might result. I would like you to remember that problems in the society do not become real problems unless someone speak them out.

Knowledge, ideas or experiences in people's minds cannot be used as they are. Even you have a good idea, you cannot use it unless you take it to outside. I would like you to tell people about your thoughts or experiences in different places. I think that although each of you has great knowledge or experiences, you tend to keep them inside. If everyone were to share their thoughts, I believe that the society can be changed.

In order to create a system that finds the good things in people's knowledge or experiences, and processes them for other people to use and spread, I established the company Empublic. I think that you all have many things you can do.

Takuji Hiroishi is the president of empublic Ltd. and senior fellow of NPO, ETIC.

After leaving the Sanwa Research Institute Corporation (currently, Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., Ltd.), he has participated in ETIC since 2001. He works on cultivating social entrepreneurs who can revitalize local areas, including the "Construction Project of Challenge Community." By establishing empublic Ltd., he has aimed to comprehensively support the discovery of resources that will enrich social activities, to cultivate human resources, to create systems and support management, and he has been working toward building value chains within society.