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Leaning In

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On the plane on the way to Seoul right now … last session in Tokyo was 3-1/2 hours at Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities.

Take a few minutes and look around their web site, it’s pretty amazing.  Their founder, Haruo Miyagi embodies the classic entrepreneurial story. He launched his endeavor when he was in college and it’s grown into the most important entrepreneurship organization in all of Japan. They have a strong working relationship with SVP Tokyo,  in part because Takuya Okamoto, our SVP Tokyo President and Mr. Miyagi are on a national government group advising on the direction off social change and policy.

Mr. Miyagi is a deeply humble, unassuming man, trying about as little as anyone could to impress. But it was beyond impossible not to be impressed. In a country that, by his words, has structures that can often make entrepreneurship challenging, ETIC has launched hundreds of entrepreneurs over the last 20 years, increasingly social, or sometimes hybrid, entrepreneurs.

We got to listen to seven of them … from Maco Yoshioka who founded www.MadreBonita.com … to http://susanoo.strikingly.com/, a startup accelerator  …. to Toshiyuki Nakamura at https://lostin.co/  … I could go on.


Three things stood out for me –

First, someone asked what we thought was the difference between a social entrepreneur in Japan vs. the US (with ALL my worldly experience, of course). From what I could hear and FEEL from those 7 we listened to, they had every bit as much passion, determination, chutzpah, creativity and integrity as any I’d met before.

The next thing that stays with me is how hard it is for a social entrepreneur / nonprofit leader to succeed in a country whose ecosystem for social change is still early, developing, fragmented. The “engines” that the seven we listened to are designing for social change programs are as good as you’ll hear in the States or elsewhere, but the “fuel” to drive their engines is just not nearly sufficient yet. This isn’t a put-down of Japan, I’m relating what was said many times by Japanese people over the course of 4 days.

Last, but certainly not least, after each of them had presented to the four of us from SVP International (Ruth Jones CEO of SVP Network, Fraser Black from Seattle, Dan Catlin from Boulder), Mr. Miyagi gently invited 30 minutes for exchange of “advice and expertise.”

They had seated the 4 of us on one side of a table and the entrepreneurs on the other. At his invitation, when he’d finished his words, the seven of them leaned forward, leaned in to the table, physically and visibly, with attention, energy, eagerness like … well, I can’t think of the right analogy.

Let’s say I haven’t felt 1) that inadequate and not up to the task in a long time and 2) that level of intensity and anticipation from a group of people for an even longer time.

The next 30 minutes was a valuable exchange but I closed by remarking that it’s been quite a while since I wanted that badly to have answers that I often didn’t have. But wow, those people and dozens of them at ETIC left us feeling real hope, combined with anxiety, about the future of Japanese civil society.

WP_20140623_004Annual average per capita giving in Japan is less than 10,000 Yen annually. I pondered several times whether an SVP in a country like Japan makes our work even more important (or not?). I certainly know that our potential to have a meaningful impact on how the social sector ecosystem and philanthropy evolves in the decade ahead is greater.

Before I wrap up, I just wanted to share a few more observations from the visit –

First, we spent some time one morning with Mr. Fuji, the President of a division of Mitsubishi, who with the help of SVP Tokyo, is bringing a “social business support programme” to his entire research and consulting division of nearly a thousand people. His efforts are leading edge in corporate Japan and when we asked him why he was undertaking such a strategy he remarked that “we have to work across sectors” and that it will “help his people learn and grow.” He was a forward-thinking person; I hope he has a lot of friends and peers that he talks to.

(I took a few notes below — excuse my chicken scratch on the page, including totaling World Cup points!)


Second observation — check out Care Pro, an SVP Tokyo investee.  Just take a quick look at what a powerful, simple idea that he now wants to take to India and parts of the developing world as well. And yes, I got my blood analyzed and everything checked out.

And one last thought — at another get-together with a small group of SVP Partners, I was just jotting down notes of different things I heard them say – one spoke about how they can “raise our voices” through SVP, another (who reminded me of the Partner I walked along the street with the day before) talked about his passion for and commitment to SVP as “the being of SVP” and one more suggested that SVP is a “seed that each Partner takes out into the world with her / himself.”

Great stuff to reflect on as I continue my journey.

THANK YOU Takashi, Takuya, Miki, and everyone else at SVP Tokyo and in Tokyo who opened their arms and hearts to us. It’s always a great experience to be pushed out of your comfort zone, to visit places you’ve never been before, to be far away from home (literally or figuratively) … especially when you have people by your side that make you feel like you are right around the corner from home every minute you are with them.

Paul Shoemaker is SVP Seattle’s Executive Connector.  In the Shoemaker Spiel he writes about philanthropy, nonprofits and the connections that make SVP.


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