On Wednesday, June 15, 2011 Mr. SATO Hiroaki, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Research Institute (JRI), delivered a Social Outreach Seminar at APU titled “The March 11 Earthquake and Social Enterprise.” The seminar offered participating students a chance to discuss the current recovery process underway in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Mr. SATO laid the framework for his discussion by explaining that Japan’s economy is structured around exporting automobiles and electronics and importing energy and food. Statistics have also shown that Japan is shifting away from the US as a trading partner and towards Asia, and in addition to this Japan continues to experience depopulation and an aging society. According to data that Mr. SATO presented, within the next 40 years the population of the Tohoku Region (6 prefectures and Niigata Prefecture) is expected to decrease by 38%, while the proportion of elderly citizens will reach 44.6%.
Based on these circumstances, Mr. SATO said that “how to go beyond the reconstruction of cities and create jobs that give young people a future” is the question of the times. He then raised several key points for thinking about recovery that have been advocated by JRI President TERASHIMA Jitsuro. They include “trade hubs on the Japan Sea Coast with a view towards expanding trade with Asia,” “dispersing the governmental, industrial and IT infrastructure currently concentrated in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area in order to improve Japan’s ability to sustain an earthquake predicted to strike directly beneath Tokyo,” and “rapid incorporation and redevelopment in the primary sector, including forestry and fisheries.”
Mr. SATO then talked about DC Central Kitchen in the USA as an example of a social enterprise that creates employment opportunities for unemployed young people and the homeless, and used this to introduce the idea of business models that aim to make a contribution to society. Social enterprises are gaining attention as a potential key to the recovery process that uses market mechanisms to find solutions to societal problems.
At the end of the lecture, students presented their business plans for the disaster recovery process. A range of ideas were proposed, including “attracting Asian companies to the Tohoku Region,” “designating the Tohoku Region as a special low corporate tax area to attract industry,” and “promoting bio-ethanol and new-energy to make the region self-sufficient with energy.” Mr. SATO then gave feedback on each of the students’ concepts. This lecture was a great opportunity for all participating students to think more about the recovery process and future of the Japanese economy with an expert researcher.