NPOs need to be speedy and deliberate InsightsEssays: Civil Society in JapanVoices from JNPOCOther Topics

Posted on July 05, 2021

In 2018, Japan NPO Center (JNPOC) started a news & commentary site called NPO CROSS to discuss the role of NPOs/NGOs and civil society as well as social issues in Japan and abroad. We post articles contributed by various stakeholders, including NPOs, foundations, corporations, and volunteer writers.
For this JNPOC’s English site, we select some translated articles from NPO CROSS to introduce to our English-speaking readers.

NPOs need to be speedy and deliberate

Kenji Yoshida, Managing Director, Japan NPO Center

Japan NPO Center (JNPOC) celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021. To coincide with this, discussions have been underway since last year to review our current mid-term vision.

JNPOC’s current mid-term vision (2018-2022) was formulated with the title being “Becoming a driver of value creation.” At that time, the Dormant Deposit Utilization System had started, and many large corporations were beginning to promote their commitment to the SDGs. Keywords such as “solving social issues” and “results-oriented,” which focus on the outcomes of such efforts, were spreading rapidly, and, as a result, the introduction of evaluations for these purposes was being promoted. In response to these developments, the intention of JNPOC’s mid-term vision was to re-emphasize the perspective that NPOs create social value, not just solve social issues.

Solving social issues and creating value are not inherently opposed to each other. New value will be created in the process of solving social issues, and when new value is created, some issues will naturally be solved or vice versa. However, I think that when the term “solving social issues” is used, there is a tendency to focus on short-term perspectives and to seek direct and tangible results. This is why JNPOC cited the term “value creation” and tried to emphasize the importance of NPOs “valuing deep insight into social structures” in addition to solving the issues at hand.

As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, there were a number of news reports and symposiums related to reconstruction around March 11 (which is the date of the Earthquake). In one symposium, a speaker raised the issue of the consensus building process regarding the construction of the seawalls (which were to prevent tsunamis) in Japanese society. Although there had been discussions between the two sides regarding the height of the seawalls, he expressed his regret that in these discussions the possibility of a broader perspective, including protecting landscape, had not been well explored.

In times of disaster, society tends to focus on speedy recovery. Indeed, when we are to rebuild our homes, we cannot move forward unless we first determine where it is safe to build them. In the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, the prioritized social issue was to “build the seawall as quickly as possible” in order to “speed up the housing reconstruction process.”

It is not just limited to this case; we want to move forward “quickly” in solving social issues. When we take prompt action, we can quickly reduce the number of people in need. However, if we skip over the dialogue on people’s values such as the kind of life they want to live, we may be able to resolve an issue as quickly as possible, as that was what everyone wanted after all, but the end result may not reflect what anybody in the community truly longed for. This is where the need for “deliberate” dialogue comes in. There is always a balance to be struck between “speediness” and “deliberation” when dealing with social issues.

I’m a believer that NPOs can play a role in this “deliberation” part.

With diverse participation and dialogue among diverse perspectives, NPOs express alternative values through their activities. People who empathize with those values support the NPOs’ activities, and this circle will expand. It may take some time, but by supporting such NPOs, we hope to create a new culture that values diversity, participation, and dialogue.

This is what we mean when we say NPOs “create social value,” and this will be our focus for the next five years.

Original text (posted on April 22, 2021); translated by JNPOC