Time for a Civic Venture

MURAO Nobutaka
Consulting Fellow, RIETI

In January this year, a massive earthquake struck western India, prompting a response from the "Japan Platform". Launched in August 2000, the "Japan Platform" is a system of government-private sector cooperation designed to provide a quick and efficient response to international emergency assistance on the basis of equal partnership among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), companies and the government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). For the first time, civilians, companies and the government are working together from their respective positions. I believe that I would not be alone in perceiving in this new collaboration the shape of the society of tomorrow.

Government limitations and expectations toward the private sector

With social needs becoming more heterogeneous and market economy making further inroads, the limitations of government have long since been highlighted. The direction of governmental reforms was indicated in the "Outline of Basic Policies for Macroeconomic Management and Structural Reform of the Japanese Economy", produced by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP) on 21 June. As the public sector aims for a small, efficient government, what is the private sector doing? I have been looking at the emergence of the various non-profit organizations (NPOs) and companies conducting philanthropic activities.

In terms of philanthropic activities by companies, Keidanren's (Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations) FY1999 survey on corporate philanthropic activities in this area revealed that 44 percent of companies evaluated their efforts as "proactive or reasonably proactive", a marked increase on the 38 percent who checked this category in the previous survey in FY1996. The reason most commonly given for such efforts (84 percent of respondents) was "responsibility as a member of society". NPOs were regarded by 60 percent of respondents as "one of the promoters of a civil society" and by 45 percent as "partners in philanthropic activities", indicating high expectations of these organizations.

Next, according to a National Survey on Lifestyle Preferences undertaken by the Economic Planning Agency in 2000, three out of four members of the public wanted to make a social contribution as a member of society. When the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck in January 1995, around 1.17 million people took part in volunteer activities over the following three months. Interest in volunteer and NPO activities has subsequently continued to grow. Since the NPO Law was passed in March 1998, the cumulative total of groups recognized under that law has risen to 4,205 (as at 15 June 2001). At the same time, examining the current status of NPO activity in Japan based on the share of NPOs in total employment in 1995, where the Netherlands recorded 12.6 percent, the United States 7.8 percent and the United Kingdom 6.2 percent, Japan came in at 3.5 percent (Economic and Industrial Policy in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects, Industrial Structure Council, March 2000), suggesting that compared to Western nations, the potential of NPOs in Japan has yet to be explored. NPOs will have a key role to play in responding to diversifying social needs in place of the government, and the government needs to establish mechanisms for actively advancing philanthropic activities by civilians.

A flexible approach to NPO assistance measures

A crucial issue will be linking the motivation of individual volunteers to actual philanthropic activities. NPO coordinators need to be fostered who can organize volunteers and add momentum to local activities while liaising and collaborating with other groups. Civic Trust, a UK NPO, has established a training program to develop "civic champions" as leaders of local philanthropic activities. In Japan, an immediate measure could be to have local public entities spearhead the creation of NPO human resource development centers. For example, local residents signing up within extensive municipality units could be assigned to actual volunteer activities over a six-month period, using evenings and holidays. Training could also be provided in areas such as the following: (1) how to procure funds; (2) how to energize local activities; (3) how to plan projects; (4) how to approach public relations; and (5) how to divide roles within an organization.

Employees also need to be obligated to take time off for volunteer activities. Civil servants are granted five days a year for volunteer work. Companies should become more proactive about introducing similar systems. Other possibilities include: + Civic corporations (establishment of companies to handle all the profit work of individual NPOs) + Civic credit (consideration of mechanisms for financial assistance for NPOs) + Civic awards (establishment of an award system for persons engaged in social service) + Civic spots (relaxation of regulations on use of existing under-utilized public facilities to open these for NPO meetings) + Senior civic clubs (creation of NPO support groups comprising senior citizens) Any measures in this regard should be developed as part of a systematic and comprehensive framework of volunteer and NPO support measures.

The think-tank Demos has revealed the presence of "social entrepreneurs" in the United Kingdom-entrepreneurs whose business comprises philanthropic activities. Such organizations are run as Non-Loss Organizations rather than NPOs. In Japan too, civilian volunteers with flexible approaches and business skills promise to lead the way into a new society. While IT and biotechnology ventures certainly have their place, "civic ventures" are now coming into their own. It is community platforms that provide the infrastructure for civilians to collaborate on local welfare and environmental issues, etc., with local governments and local companies engaged in civic activities. The small government we are aiming for will be underpinned by companies wanting to assume their social responsibility and civilians asking what they can do for society.

June 26, 2001

June 26, 2001

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