July 10, 2012


Planning JFS's Next Steps for Another 10 Years

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.118 (June 2012)

Japan for Sustainability (JFS) will celebrate its tenth anniversary at the end of August 2012.

JFS was established in August 2002 as a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the aim of delivering information to the world in English, regarding developments and activities in Japan that lead toward sustainability.

Through my work experience as a simultaneous interpreter at international conferences, I found that while Japan was eagerly collecting information from overseas, it was rarely conveying information on its positive initiatives to other countries. I thought that if this tendency was due to language barriers, and naturally felt that I wanted to help Japan overcome them. Based on this thought, I established JFS in cooperation with one of my associates.

The slogan at the launch of JFS was "Little is known about Japanese efforts in the world." In reality, Japan has many outstanding environmental technologies, and the national and local governments, companies, and the citizen sector are making a variety of great environmental efforts. However, language barriers hamper the nation's ability to impart this information to the world. I thought that this situation was unfortunate for both Japan and people abroad. That was the reason why I established JFS under this slogan.

I thought that if we distributed information on advanced Japanese initiatives and technologies to the world, it would stimulate both developed and developing countries to promote their own activities toward sustainability. At the same time, I thought that feedback from readers around the world about the information we deliver, such as "That's great!" or "We want to use the technology in our country" would encourage Japanese people to move forward. There are many people in Japan who are working hard to make things better without much, if any, support from the organizations or communities they belong to. In this situation, such feedback would convince them that there are people in other parts of the world who understand and appreciate their efforts even though people in their own organizations have yet to understand them.

During the past ten years of work, JFS posted 30 articles on its website every month, amounting to 3,500 in total. JFS has also sent a monthly newsletter via email to people who registered for subscription. At the end of May 2012, our 117th newsletter was sent to nearly 8,000 subscribers in 188 countries, including the general public, opinion leaders, and people who belong to national and local governments, companies, educational institutions, media, NGOs, etc.

JFS's ten years of work has been supported by more than 700 volunteers, corporate and individual supporters, and its office staff, and has also been encouraged by positive feedback from around the world. One comment was: "We used to have little information about Japan and had no clue as to what Japan was thinking and doing. I learned about advanced initiatives and efforts in Japan for the first time when JFS began to send me such information in English." Another said, "Information from JFS will be useful for our country to build a sustainable society."

Recently, when traveling abroad for international conferences or other purposes, I almost always meet people who say something like, "I know JFS," "I am a reader of the JFS newsletters," or "I get information on Japanese efforts from JFS's newsletters." From this perspective, JFS may be better known to people overseas than people in Japan. And JFS has been interviewed by overseas media more frequently than before regarding developments in the environment and sustainability fields in Japan. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, which hit Japan in March 2011, in particular, JFS received an increasing number of requests for interviews regarding disasters related to the earthquake, nuclear accidents, and energy issues.

In principle, government-level organizations should be engaged in overseas public relations and handling of interview requests from overseas media. However, this sort of work is not always handled well by such organizations; that is maybe why JFS is viewed as a one-stop shop in the field of sustainability. However, like other NGOs in Japan, JFS also finds it difficult to pursue its operation in a financially sustainable way, because the culture of donations and the tax system for donations have not been sufficiently established in Japan. JFS is a small organization with only two full-time staff members, which manages to continue its operation under severe economic conditions. This situation has sometimes made it hard for JFS to deal with interview requests from people overseas. I am deeply sorry for that.

In Japan, as in other countries, there are both positive efforts to achieve a sustainable future and negative developments that may impair sustainability. In this situation, JFS, in principle, continues to disseminate information on only positive efforts to the world, with the hope that the information will energize and encourage people all over the world to move forward.

In the several years after starting our activity, the feedback from our readers all over the world made us realize that providing one article of positive information from Japan a day is perhaps more valuable than the content of the information itself. Currently, the global environment is worsening and an increasing number of people are losing hope and giving up on it. However, we still receive feedback from our readers, telling us that they feel supported or encouraged by articles with positive information delivered from Japan one-by-one, day-by-day, even in the midst of this ever-worsening situation. That feedback got us started hoping that JFS will be a "fountain of hope" for the world. It is our hope to keep encouraging people in the world who are making efforts for the better by continuously providing positive information. We also hope that we can maintain ourselves as a fountain of hope, gushing out hope in a steady flow.

While we intend to keep to these basic principles and objectives of our activities, the situations surrounding environmental issues, sustainability, and information have changed over the last ten years both inside and outside Japan. JFS is currently working on figuring out which direction it should move toward and what it should do in the next ten years, building on the activities it has done over the last decade. I will introduce some possible directions in this article. We will be happy if you could give us your input as to what kind of information will help with the activities you are involved in, what kind of initiatives would be helpful for global sustainability, and so on.

(1) From JFS to AFS, then to WFS

Right now, JFS serves as a communication platform to provide information on activities and developments in Japan to the world. As the next stage, we are thinking of providing environmental information from Asia to the world as "Asia for Sustainability" (AFS) by helping people in Asian countries use the channels and operation methods that we have developed to deliver information to a global audience. As the first step toward this end, we are now in the process of collaborating with an organization that provides information on activities and developments in China.

Asia for Sustainability

We hope that our current activity will eventually evolve into activities as "World for Sustainability" (WFS), where countries and regions around the world can share positive information that are useful for one another, learn from each other, and create the future together. This is one of our directions in the long run.

(2) "Quit Looking Inward, Japan!"

As mentioned earlier, we launched JFS because we thought that the amount of information provided from Japan to the global audience was too little, and that providing information at least about environmental activities and developments in Japan would be worth doing, even if the amount of information was small. However, it seems that as a whole, not much improvement was made over the last decade in terms of Japan's ability to communicate with a global audience.

Therefore, as one of our activities in the next ten years, in addition to providing information to a global audience on our own, we think that we have to help more varied players in Japan to be able to communicate with a global audience or be able to implement activities to create the future with people in other parts of the world. We hope to achieve this by sharing the know-how and channels that we have developed through our past activities.

Maybe this is just my personal observation, but I feel that Japan has been increasingly looking inward over the last ten years. Most of the issues discussed in politics, private companies and/or people's living rooms are, more or less, about domestic issues. The number of people who study abroad has decreased, and it seems to me that the Japanese media are mostly reporting only about what is happening in Japan. Partly because of this situation, there is an emerging awareness of the issue that the position of Japan in the international society is continuing to decline. Also, I am concerned that Japan is contributing to the world much less than it actually could, and that it is maybe becoming a country that is perhaps not so much needed in the world. Now, we are trying to figure out how we can bring about changing these perceptions.

(3) Evolving Objectives and Methods of Basic Activities

When JFS was established ten years ago, there were only a few organizations publicizing information in English and therefore I believe that JFS had scarcity value. Now, however, there is an increasing number of organizations publicizing information in various languages in addition to English through their websites and other media. Furthermore, although JFS has used tools like its website and mail magazines to publicize information, it has yet to utilize well the power of social media, including Facebook.

Despite these changing situations, JFS may still continue the activities that it might not necessarily have to carry out. Based on this notion, we are discussing what JFS should do, in other words, what only JFS can do under the current circumstances, in order to achieve our vision of helping Japan and the rest of the world move toward sustainability through publicized information from Japan. Questions that we are discussing at the moment are as follows:

  • What is the most effective way to enhance and accelerate sustainability in Japan and the rest of the world? Specifically, what kinds of information should we provide? To whom should we provide it? What media and methods should we use?
  • To approach sustainability, what value is needed from JFS as a medium? What does JFS need to do in order to achieve such value? Or what kinds of value can be added by taking advantage of JFS's strong points and resources?
  • Will JFS continue focusing on communication through information? Or will JFS expand its activities to communication fields to build a community where thoughts and sympathies can be shared and to provide a bridge to interested parties and provide venues for them?
  • How can JFS form a theory as to how communication transforms itself until it reaches the stage where it actually contributes to achieving a sustainable society?

We would like to know the opinions and ideas of people, like you, who are involved in activities in other parts of the world. Your feedback will help us answer these questions.

(4) Toward JFS's Own Sustainability

As mentioned above, it is rather difficult to run a financially sound NGO in Japan. Not only JFS but also many other NGOs somehow maintain their organizations despite shortfalls in funding and human resources. Although JFS is a small organization with only two full-time staff members, its financial condition has always been so severe that it is almost a miracle that JFS was able to continue its activities for the last ten years.

JFS has difficulty in obtaining support from foundations and other organizations in Japan and has never gotten any subsidy from the Japanese government. This is mainly because JFS almost exclusively focuses on information publication activities meant for overseas countries and therefore people who receive its benefits live outside Japan, and also it is difficult to measure the effects of this information publication. We are supported by the annual membership fee of 100,000 yen (about US$1,220) from corporate members; however, many members have withdrawn, in particular, since the Lehman Shock, the collapse of the U.S. financial giant, the Lehman Brothers, saying that they cannot support JFS any more. This has driven us into even tougher conditions. I would be very happy if you also give us hints and/or reference information in order for JFS to continue activities in a more financially sustainable manner.

I wonder by how many millimeters JFS was able to push Japan and the rest of the world in a more sustainable direction over the last ten years. I will think carefully about JFS's activities in order to make them more effective into the next decade. I look forward to receiving your input. Thank you very much for your continued support.

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Written by Junko Edahiro