Since opening its doors in 2011, Ashoka Japan and its founder Nana Watanabe have been investing in the endless possibilities of six Changemakers and the younger generation, gradually transforming Japanese society.
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Ashoka’s solution to bring innovation to Japanese society.
I came to know of Ashoka around 2000. Finding solutions to social problems in Japan was always for the short term, and never got to the root cause of the problem. But Ashoka changes the system itself – it is much more effective. I wanted more people in Japan to know about Ashoka as we were facing many social issues at the time.
I first contacted Ashoka’s headquarters in Washington D.C. but it really didn’t get me anywhere. I realized I had to provide Ashoka with solid data on social issues in Japan, such as apathy among the youth and social withdrawal. They were quite surprised to know how Japanese society changed from its heyday in the 80’s. After continuing our talks with one another, Ashoka Japan opened its doors in 2011.
The six fellows and the Changemakers of the future.
Since its establishment in 2011, the impact to society from Ashoka Japan is still minimal. With the six fellows as their leaders, the seed of change is starting to sprout.
Our Ashoka Youth Venture Initiative has proven to be successful, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs. The initiative is an incubation lab for youths aged 12 to 20. They are aware of the contradictions within the society in which they live, and are driven to find solutions. We give them freedom to bring out their empathy, the perspective of self -reflection, the courage to take risks, and resilience in the face of failure.
In Japan, from our launch in 2012 through May of 2016, 69 teams have been formed, with three to five members per team, on track to reach 100 teams in 2017. Some of our alumni have translated their projects into startups after graduating from college. By nurturing young Changemakers, the groundwork is being paved for social transformation.
Our message: Ordinary people CAN change society.
To maximize the growth of the seeds of change, structural change within corporations is crucial. We have started collaborating with Boehringer Ingelheim, the 4th largest pharmaceutical company in Germany. Starting in July, we will launch a corporate outreach program, educating the private sector about making change, arranging meetings between corporate sponsors and the Changemakers.
Education is also a crucial element. We do not see results right away. Most people, and Japanese society itself, believe that ordinary people cannot change society. At the Changemaker School, we help elementary, middle and high school students gain skills such as empathy and the ability to change and adapt. In four years, Ashoka has certified over 100 schools in 28 countries around the world. We are very eager to do the same in Japan.
Being small and humble is a virtue in Japan. But I want the students to go out into the world and step outside of Japan from the start. You have to start by thinking you can be the change the world needs - the way to make a big impact in society.
Opened as Ashoka's first East Asia Office in 2011 by founder/chairperson Nana Watanabe. Since then, six amazing Changemakers have been elected as Ashoka Fellows. The fellows receive support from the Ashoka community to magnify the impact of their activities. Ashoka also identifies and cultivates young Changemakers via the Youth Venture Initiative. The idea of "Everyone a Changemaker" is the motivation behind every Ashoka activity.