Today, society is in a period of great change. Due to the spread of the Internet, our sense of distance to the world has changed, and technological innovations such as AI and IoT are shifting the way people live. In many developed countries, stagnation of economic growth has become a constant in recent years, and in Japan, we are experiencing unprecedented conditions such as population decline, increase in regional disparities, and natural disasters occurring one after another. As the economic gap widens and self-help is emphasized, insecurity in daily life is driving the division. Although expectations for NPOs are rising, their reputation as service providers is still emphasized. At a time like this when it is difficult to see how society will further change in the future, there is no greater need for the civil sector’s presence because its activities are based on each individual citizen’s consciousness and assessment of social problems. When the NPOs implement activities, they are required to play a role not only as service providers who identify social issues and promote efforts to solve them, but also as main players in the realization of a symbiotic society that revitalizes solidarity among people and jointly creates communities and society. Once again, we would like to take this opportunity to organize how we recognize the current social conditions and work together with our stakeholders in tackling problems.
3. Social Conditions Today as We See Them
In the mid-term vision formulated in 2018, we identified six issues and five new developments as the contemporary challenges we faced at the time. These remain to be addressed to this day, but in addition to these issues and new developments, we would like to highlight some of the major changes in society since then as context to our activities, as we believe we must be especially cognizant of them.
① Online communication tools gaining a foothold and changing the way people connect with each other
The various measures taken to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus have changed lifestyles dramatically. Online conferencing systems have taken root, allowing people to connect with diverse perspectives and ideas beyond geographical limitations.
② Increasing borderlessness of social problems and how we try to solve them
The line between international and domestic issues has become blurred. Problems happening somewhere else in the world are disseminated instantly, and problem-solving efforts that have been established elsewhere can also be spread from elsewhere in the world.
③ Growing concern over the safety net
Due to the financial difficulties among local governments and the emphasis on self-reliance, there is widespread concern about the government safety net. The new coronavirus poses a problem that neither the government nor citizens alone can overcome. While NPOs often serve as safety nets, the roles of government and NPOs fundamentally differ, and NPOs alone cannot provide everything. Likewise, government and corporations cannot create a society where no one is left behind on their own, either. Therefore, it is important for diverse entities to work in partnership to create a community that is inclusive of those who are left behind.
④ Rift arising with the clash of inconsiderate expression of opinions
Internet services have become more enhanced, and as a result, any individual can now put out information on their own. There are lower barriers to demonstrating one’s abilities online if somebody had the opportunity to do so. At the same time, however, there is greater need for the ability to discern and select information that is not professionally edited, and there is an opportunity gap for learning and education. Additionally, emotional responses may create conflict among people, foster hate, close up communities, and create fragmentations.
⑤ Greater concerns over community sustainability and enhancing efforts to create it
Many communities are no longer able to maintain the same level of social services as before, and some are sustaining severe damaged from disasters that occur almost every year. While there is a growing awareness of this community sustainability crisis, there is also an increasing number of initiatives that address these issues. As circumstances differ from community to community, it is becoming more and more important for residents to think of responses that suit their own community and to act on them out of their own volition, no matter how small a scale they may be.
4. What Is Expected of the Civil Sector
To respond to the changes in society that we identified in the preceding section, we believe that the following actions are expected of the civil sector.
① Promote participation by communicating the vision of the community and the problems we want to solve
We believe that when diverse NPOs propose a variety of values through their activities, there will be more options available to citizens and it will lead to the creation of a richer community. When we widely communicate and pose questions based on what we see in our activities – such as the problems and challenges or the visions of community and society that we want to realize – and when we create opportunities for more people to participate, we can expand the circle of our activities. When doing this, it is important to encourage those who may be left out of social services to participate in the problem-solving efforts as well.
② Expanding the network of those involved in addressing social issues and creating partnerships
In promoting sustainable regional development, it is difficult for any single entity to solve various social problems alone. Therefore, we need to reach out to a variety of people who are working with an awareness of the issues in the community, regardless of what the organization’s incorporation status is or to which sector they belong. We must create connections with them, share various initiatives in other communities as case studies, however large or small those initiatives may be, and promote mutual learning across geographic regions and thematic areas.
③ Transforming the way business is created and conducted
The spread of the Internet has created an environment where significantly more people have the ability to receive as well as put out information, while not feeling that there is physical distance between us at the same time. Consequently, we can connect with people across geographic regions and thematic areas and have access to a wider range of options, and there is a need to take full advantage of these advantages and create a new style of business.
④ Responding to changes in the flow of funds
The market is becoming more and more globalized and the world economy more integrated. Investments focusing on social issues have also begun to spread. In the civil sector, crowdfunding has taken root, lowering the bar for individual donations to show support for causes. In local communities, community funds have gained a foothold, attention to local currencies is increasing again, and a mechanism for local money to flow locally is being put in place. We need to capture these changes in the flow of funds and utilize them in our efforts to solve problems.
5. Japan NPO Center’s Vision for the Civil Sector
To realize a fair, transparent, and open civil society with diversity and individual autonomy, our aim is to have achieved the following for individual NPOs and the civil sector in five years.
① Value of participation is conveyed to a wide range of people working to solve social problems
When NPOs promote participation among diverse people and provide them with opportunities to participate in the problem-solving process, people can take ownership of the problem-solving process as citizens. At the same time, for NPOs that value information disclosure, they will be able to operate more openly, which will help ensure their credibility.
As those involved in solving social problems further diversify, we hope that the value of participation will be conveyed to a wider range of people and organizations as a core value of the civil sector itself.
② Value of NPOs is more recognized in society across regions
Diverse NPOs are active in local communities. While the size of these organizations and the scale of their activities may vary, organizations engaged in community-based activities are essential for the future of society if we want to increase the variety of options. Therefore, we aim to create an environment in which it is widely recognized that a wide variety of NPOs exist in the civil sector and that such NPOs play an important role in the community.
③ An environment for sharing knowledge and learning, both domestically and internationally, is created
NPOs can further develop and deepen their activities by sharing knowledge and learning among each other across geographic regions and thematic areas. In addition, thanks to the spread of the Internet, the amount of knowledge and learning shared with NPOs in other countries has significantly increased.
By promoting this kind of collaboration both domestically and internationally, we aim to create an environment in which NPOs can exchange information regularly across geographic regions and thematic areas. This will also help further enhance the connections within the civil sector.
④Dialogue and collaboration between NPOs and the corporate and government sectors advance in many places
When we can communicate with a wide audience and raise awareness of issues that NPOs notice through their activities as well as the community and societal visions NPOs want to realize, we believe the value of NPOs will be more widely recognized by various entities. This will result in more dialogues and collaborations among various entities and potential new challenges to be taken on in the process of solving problems.
Our goal is to create these new relationships and to set up an environment where the civil sector can engage in dialogue with other sectors on an equal footing.
6. What We Expect of the Diverse Stakeholders
To realize a fair, transparent, and open civil society with diversity and individual autonomy, it is necessary not only for the members of the civil sector to make individual efforts but also for us to work together with stakeholders. Therefore, to promote participation among citizens and the movement to create society together, we will work in cooperation with our diverse stakeholders.
① Expectations for the business community
To realize a society where no one is left behind, it is necessary to pay attention to problems that cannot be solved by the market. As exemplified by the rise of ESG investing, economic activities are no longer possible without businesses being socially conscious. Efforts to solve social issues can be accelerated through collaboration beyond regular corporate activities, especially through partnerships with NPOs that know the field and are close to the people involved. It is our hope that the business community place social issues at the center and work together with diverse stakeholders on an equal footing that transcends interests.
② Expectations for municipal governments
While there are vast differences in geographic and economic circumstances between large cities and mountainous communities or remote islands, many communities nonetheless face the same challenge where there is an increase in issues that require community-based efforts such as for regional development or support for needy community members. It is difficult for government entities alone to tackle these issues, and collaboration and dialogue with NPOs whose activities involve citizen participation are essential to policy formulations that can help maintain prosperity for the community. We hope to see governments promote dialogue and collaboration with NPOs in their communities from a long-term perspective, and for departments in charge of NPOs, in particular, to play the liaison role between NPOs and other departments within their government entity.
③ Expectations for legislators, parliament, and politics
Collaboration is essential between NPOs working to solve problems across the country and legislators working in politics as representatives of citizens. Due to changes in the social structure, there are more and more people whose needs are not met through conventional policies. At the local level, we hope that local legislators will spend more time talking with NPOs and create policies that reflect the voices of the people on the ground. As for legislators at the national level, it is our hope that they take advantage of online tools to engage in dialogue with NPOs across party lines and help connect local issues to national politics.
④ Expectations for universities and other research institutions
We hope that academic and research institutions provide scientific evidence to support and encourage NPO efforts on the ground. To shed light on the social issues that NPOs face, accelerate NPOs’ activities, and to link them to policymaking, it is essential to have evidence-based support from academia in their respective fields as well as in the management of NPOs. To this end, we ourselves would also like to play a role in connecting NPOs and research institutions by engaging in joint research initiatives.
⑤ Expectations for the media
We would appreciate having cooperation from the media on spreading awareness of and illuminating social issues that NPOs come into contact through their activities. Understanding and support of NPO activities among the citizens is crucial to the enrichment of society. We hope that when media outlets report on social issues, they actively feature comments from NPOs.
⑥ Expectations for international organizations
As social problems become increasingly borderless (see Section II.-3.-②), successful cases from around the world and directions that have been set through international discussions can provide hints for solving issues domestically. Additionally, when we can relativize issues that exist in Japan by knowing how they look from a more globalized point of view, there will be more awareness of social issues in Japanese society. As we work towards the realization of the SDGs, it will be particularly useful for international organizations that set international norms for each of the 17 goals to provide advice and recommendations based on the actual situation in Japan. We hope that international organizations, including these actors in the field of international cooperation, will further build and strengthen relationships so that cases and information can be shared mutually.