Japan getting fond of social business

Masaharu okada

Rezaul Karim

The social business concept introduced by Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus continues to receive support in Japan. The Japanese believe the model can solve various social problems, including poverty and environmental issues.

Since the declaration of Fukuoka city in Japan to be a social business city, academic institutions have seen that the model not only helps developing countries, but also developed countries like Japan. The social business city promotes zero dividend businesses to solve social problems in the city and throughout Asia.

Inspired by Yunus, Kyushu University set up an academic centre — Yunus and Shiiki Social Business Research Centre — in October 2011 to study, research, and promote social business in Japan and all over the world.

The centre aims to produce skilled social architects, build partnerships with related organisations, create replicable social business models to combat global issues such as poverty, health, environment, energy, education and natural disaster crises. Prominent businessman Shiiki of the Fukuoka city funds this centre.

An agreement was signed between Kyushu University and Grameen Communications to promote relations and carry out collaborative research to solve global issues by using Grameen’s strength in serving the masses and the Japanese strength in technology.

Prof Masaharu Okada, executive director of the Yunus and Shiiki Social Business Research Centre, said he was impressed by Yunus’ personality and the wonderful social business innovation. Prof Okada engages himself with the university projects with the Grameen family and began working with Dr Yunus in 2008. He joined as executive director of Yunus Centre and Grameen Creative Lab at Kyushu University.

Students of Kyushu and many other universities in Japan are now encouraged to do research on social businesses, Prof Okada said in a recent interview.

He said about 100 students from different universities in Japan placed ideas for research on social business in July last year.

On the importance of social business in an advanced country like Japan, Prof Okada gave an example. He said Japan has become an aged society and the number of old people is increasing, which has created the serious social problem of committing suicide because people become so lonely in old age. He said about 30,000 people commit suicide in Japan every year. “We are doing research on removing the problem by engaging the older citizens in various activities under social business programmes.”

He also said it has been identified in Japan that a section of people, after release from spending years in jail, commit crimes to go back into jail as they do not find any job later. “Here, we decided to engage these people in social business after their release from jail, to discourage them from committing more crimes.”

Prof Okada said the Bangladeshi people should know more about his (Yunus’) work because he is doing vital work for the planet and his social business concept is smart.

Regretting the removal of the Nobel laureate from Grameen Bank, the Japanese professor said Yunus was innovative before receiving the award and also after.

It is now established that social business is an emerging phenomenon. Kyushu University in City of Fukuoka, Japan started a joint project in Bangladesh with the Grameen family in 2007, he said.

“In 2009, I joined the project, promoting social business in Japan with symposiums, workshops and public relations welcoming Prof Yunus in Japan.”

Kyushu University signed two deals with Prof Yunus in September 2009. The first one was on Grameen Technology Lab between Yunus Centre in Bangladesh, and Kyushu University and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation in Japan to advance social business in technology.

The second one was on Grameen Creative Lab between Yunus Centre and Kyushu University to advance in educational and promotional aspects.

In March 2010, Grameen Creative Lab was officially established, followed by establishment of Grameen Technology Lab, a consortium of Japanese companies working on the field of technology and technology research departments of Kyushu University.

The Creative Lab aims to proactively carry out education, research, and incubation of social business in collaboration with the Grameen family. The Technology Lab aims to solve the social problems defined in the United Nations’ millennium development goals by developing affordable and usable technologies and applying the concept of social business to serve the unreached communities in a sustainable manner.

When asked how they launched social business in Japan, Okada said social business is one of the tools to solve problems in the world. “Prof Yunus seems to be a leader of vision.”

These businesses were launched with symposiums, workshops and other public relations schemes to let the Japanese people understand what social business is. Small social businesses were created as pilot models with partners and funding was prepared for investment in social businesses. There was further development of infrastructure for deployment of social business such as tax policies and education programmes at universities.

Even in advanced countries, there are many social problems. As long as there are social problems, there is an opportunity for social businesses to work.

Human Harbor, a social business venture in Japan, targets to solve the problem of repeating offence and supports people just released from prison. The company provides such people an opportunity to work, earn and learn with a place to live. Each shareholder will make an investment in the company.

On his next plans for social business, Okada said they would support the second social business company to be established in or outside Japan, creating social business funds to invest in such companies and letting the Japanese people recognise that social business is the way that the Japanese had in the past and should have in the future.

Source: The Daiy Star

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