About Japanese NPOs


手渡し資料(英語; PDF 55KB)は同じく参加者の冷水創史氏(ワールドビジョンジャパン)によるものです。非常に参考になります。

The following is the presentation of Chairperson Akiko Ikeda explaining the condition of NGOs in Japan, on occasion of a panel discussion with British NGOs. (NGO Capacity Building Training in London; 2003.2.23-3.2)
Mr. Soshi Hiyamizu (World Vision Japan) contributed a handout describing the history and current condition of Japanese NGOs


I am Akiko Ikeda from the 21st Century Association, a small Japanese NGO. Today, allow me to speak about the challenges of Japanese NGOs, especially in the capacity building area.

Before I start, may I make it clear, that whatever I might say here is my opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of everyone here. I only hope my colleagues will not pick on me later.

Now, in Japan, the term "NGO" has been quite an unfamiliar word. It was known only among very few people, until recently, when an NGO bought itself into a dispute with a diet member, which ended up with the resignation of the foreign minister, which in turn, lead to the resignation of three diet members, and finally to the arrest of the diet man who caused the dispute. (This incidence gave us NGOs a powerful image, along with a very noisy one.)

Japan does not have the charity culture you have, though when viewed from another angle, we did not need such charity, as it was only natural for us to help our neighbors. In fact, it used to be considered a shame if our neighbors in need were left without help in the community. However, this only applies to community members in the narrow meaning, and not to the global community. Broadening the horizon of our people is an important challenge for us NGOs in Japan.

As you can see in the hand-out that Mr. Hiyamizu here was so kind to compose, voluntarism is something still new in Japan. It was only in 1999 that a piece of legislation was passed, to allow most of us NGOs to obtain a legal body. (Japanese members, how many of your organizations were legalized after '99? Would you kindly raise your hands?) As you can see, among the 12 NGOs here, 9 were able to be legalized only after '99, two are aggregate corporations, a form for more larger public corporations (with a total of some 30,000 in Japan), and 1 is still not legalized. When it comes to tax exemption for donations, it is still a far-flung dream. A mere 10 out of the 10,000 legal NPOs in Japan enjoy this tax exemption status. World Vision Japan and my 21st Century Association are among the exceptional 10. Please note that the figures in this hand-out are of NGOs working for international cooperation, while I am talking about NPOs in general, a major part of the voluntary sector. We are now irritated by news of reformation on public-service corporations going on, allegedly to collect tax from the non-profit sector.

For most Japanese NGOs (perhaps you too), the greatest headache is fundraising. Naturally, most of our capacity building efforts go to fundraising and accounting. Yet, I do not know of many NGOs that have fundraising specialists. Most young people would rather go into the field to do direct delivery work (which is considered more 'fun') than stay in the office and deal with money.

Accountability is also a problem. In Japan, when we say "accountability," it automatically means "good books complete with receipts," or "good management" at the most. The Japanese government as well as many funding agencies are more interested in our accountings, than the work we did. In another picture, they have people who can read figures but not sentences. (Don't tell me that this reflects the entire Japanese image.) So, naturally, the capacity building efforts center mainly on such management issues. This is also making us NGOs lazy to form concrete development strategies, not to say visions and values that make up the core of our activities.

And, so this leads to the most important question; do Japanese NGOs have solid visions and values? I will say that most NGOs have strong sense of mission. Without a mission, we will not be doing anything anyway. However, that is not enough.

Mission impossible; Eliminate poverty from Planet Earth.

Question; why struggle with such an incredible target?

Poverty is bad.

Well, yes. But why?

It's unfair.


Stuck. Now, you're in trouble. You haven't thought beyond that. Another example. PRA is great. It works better than any other methods we've ever used. However, PRA is not everything, and it does not work for all cases. So, how do we determine what we use?

I believe the only way is to get to the bottom of things. And, this is where core values as "vision" comes in.

If you don't have a core philosophy, you can easily get stuck along the way. As I mentioned, most NGO's central concern is fundraising. We have a general trend to pay little attention to forming the core of our activities. Practical people as we are, not many NGOs have yet gotten into trouble by not having a philosophy. In fact, they don't even notice that they lack one. But, that was sheer luck. As we are getting involved more and more in advocacy or empowerment, we will have to tackle with challenges in this line of work.

Perhaps this is one reason why most Japanese NGOs still stick to delivery, away from the European and American trend in the development arena. Personally, I don't think we have to follow the global trend. We have our own ways, and our history and background for international cooperation is different from those of yours. Even then, I see an absolute 'must' in us Japanese NGOs to empower and reinvent ourselves to face the ever-shifting needs of the 21st century.

Now, I will stop here, and hand over the panel to Ms. Fujikawa from SVA, who will give us an example of how her organization coped with the capacity building challenge. Thank you.