The iLEAP Social Innovation Forum: Japan (SIFJ) was created to serve the post-March 11th rebuilding efforts in Japan and to amplify the local impact and global voice of those Japanese leading social change efforts in the wake of the triple disaster. The SIFJ is grounded in three anchor points: one, as a capacity building and global leadership training for Japanese social leaders and entrepreneurs, two, as a platform for Americans to learn from and build practical partnerships of mutual support with Japanese civil society institutions and social businesses and, three, to seed and cultivate new global collaborations within civil society in the Asia-Pacific region in order to best solve key global issues.
From 2011-2014 the SIFJ trained nearly forty key Japanese social leaders and entrepreneurs in the skills necessary to resource their initiatives, grow global partnerships with American collaborators, cultivate the next generation of young Japanese social entrepreneurs, and ultimately strengthen and transform the civil society sector in Japan.
The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami left an unfathomable wake of destruction in Japan on the physical, cultural, and socio-political landscape. The horrific events shined a light on some of the great strengths within the Japanese social fabric–particularly around resilience and collectivism– and were widely recognized and admired around the world. At the same, some of the lingering challenges were also brought to light; particularly around the formal civil society/citizen sector and its limited capacity to mobilize resources, act strategically, and connect with global partners.
Stories abounded of energized American and other foreign supporters wanting to donate significant resources to Japanese civil society organizations, but not knowing how, other than to “just” give to the Red Cross or Mercy Corps. Yet, many stories were heard about motivated Japanese working on the relief and rebuilding effort and struggling with limited or no resources. There was a “blockage” preventing overseas supporters from connecting to the many civil society organizations doing important work throughout Japan.
If Japan is to successfully emerge from this tragedy, a strong and vibrant civil society led by empowered and creative leaders is essential. It is from this sector where social innovation can flourish, incubating and leading change around critical issues in Japan such as renewable energy, aging and the elderly, and rebuilding the Tohoku region. We believe that civil society is a key leverage point for high-impact and sustainable change in post-March 11th Japan.
We also believe that strong US-Japan partnerships are a critical element in the rebuilding and recovery effort. While the two countries have a long history of collaboration, the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake has demonstrated that the partnerships between and among civil society institutions is poorly defined and weak. A strong international partnership between these two civil society sectors is another key leverage point for high-impact and sustainable change.
For these reasons, iLEAP and it’s partners in Japan created the SIFJ in Spring 2011 with the generous support of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnerships and the US-Japan Council.
To learn more about our SIFJ graduates, click here.