sifjThe 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.


Why the Social Innovation Forum 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.

The Goals of the SIFJ

  • Energize a new generation of leadership in Japanese civil society and social entrepreneurship.
  • Introduce participants to innovative social business models that can offer new perspectives on the post-disaster relief and recovery efforts in Japan.
  • Establish and build an infrastructure for cross-cultural, global partnerships between the philanthropic sectors in Japan and the United States.
  • Share Japanese experiences with American audiences about resilience, wisdom, and hope emerging from the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

What is the Structure of the SIFJ?

  • Seminars: SIFJ Delegates begin their training with Foundations in Social Innovation and move quickly through workshops in cross-cultural communication, global philanthropy, resource and relationship development, partner identification, leadership, and sustainability. These courses are primarily facilitated by iLEAP staff, but also involve internationally recognized leaders in their respective fields.  Each workshop is highly interactive with close attention given to fostering a dynamic and inspired community of learning. All sessions are conducted in both English and Japanese.
  • Site Visits and Guest Speakers: These expose Delegates to new perspectives on change and to also hear about how other organizations in Seattle are deeply committed to supporting the relief and rebuilding efforts in Japan. The SIFJ involves a number of leaders from widely recognized philanthropies, social enterprises and nonprofits in Seattle. These include senior leadership from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jolkona Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Center for Courage and Renewal, Give2Asia, and Mercy Corps.
  • Partnership Building: As the result of March 11, 2011, a great deal of international giving has been collected in support of the Japanese rebuilding efforts. During the SIFJ Delegates meet with foundations and interested organizations and individuals who want to support their work in Japan. Each Delegate is eligible to become a part of i4 Japan, a funding partnership between iLEAP and the Jolkona Foundation, and a direct way for American supporters to give directly to Delegates.
  • Public Speaking: Sharing their story of hope, resilience and change is an important part of the SIFJ. For this reason, Delegates give a number of public talks during their time in Seattle. We believe that Delegates have as much to teach the world as they do to learn during their time in Seattle. Delegates appear on radio and television as well as give interviews to print and social media outlets. Some of the coverage can be found on our media page.

Profile of a SIFJ Delegate

In each Social Innovation Forum: Japan delegation there are 10-12 Delegates. These people are selected as “next generation leaders” (typically aged 21 to 35, but without a hard age cap) and recognized in their fields of endeavor. SIFJ Delegates have already established themselves and their work as central to the rebuilding efforts in Tohoku and are leading a change in Japanese civil society and social business.

Key SIFJ Partners

How to Apply to the SIFJ

We are not currently accepting applications for participation in the SIFJ.


To learn more about our SIFJ graduates, click here.