Britt Yamamoto | Rebuilding and Reimagining what is possible in Japan

Britt Yamamoto • August 31st, 2011 • Engagement, General, Management

This week we welcome a column from Dr. Britt Yamamoto, Executive Director and Founder of iLEAP, highlighting a new series of trainings for Japanese social innovators helping to rebuild after March’s devastating earthquake. While less destructive, last week’s hurricane on the East Coast of the U.S. reminded us of  the important role the social sector plays in rebuilding communities after disaster. As Britt writes, “The challenges of the 21st century cannot be resolved by government alone.” In addition to his leadership with iLEAP, Britt is also Core Faculty in the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle and Clinical Faculty in the University of Washington Department of Global Health. He will be in Washington, DC in October speaking about iLEAP’s Social Innovation Forum at the US-Japan Council Annual Conference. Dr. Yamamoto can be reached at

From July 20, 2011 to July 29, 2011 the organization I lead, iLEAP: The Center for Critical Service welcomed our 1st Delegation of Japanese social leaders to Seattle for an intensive 10 day training program in leadership and global partnership. We call this program the Social Innovation Forum: Japan.

The Forum is directed at rebuilding Japan through energizing civil society, empowering emerging leaders, and forging global partnerships of mutual support between American and Japanese civil society and social business. We pursue this purpose through an integrated curriculum that balances the conceptual and experiential, and creates a community of learning where Delegates can both retreat and engage around their various fields of leadership in rebuilding and advancing the citizen sector in Japan.

Over the next 14 months we will welcome 3 to 4 more delegations of Japanese social leaders on the Social Innovation Forum, with the culminating event being our International Summit, to be held at the Seattle Center in October 2012 and in association with the City of Seattle’s Next Fifty celebration.  The next Forum Delegation arrives in Seattle on November 30, 2011.

July 2011 Delegation

Our July 2011 Forum Delegation consisted of some of the most prominent and influential leaders in Japanese social enterprise and civil society.  Members of the Delegation are very active in the Tohoku region and have been leading change in Japan for many years, well before March 11th, 2011.  For these Delegates, the July Social Innovation Forum was a transformative experience that connected them to global resources and gave them an opportunity to tell their stories to a much larger, international audience. Because the program is not limited to those fluent in English, the Forum makes visible a greater diversity of Japanese social leadership.

For more information on our July Delegates, please visit this link.

[And watch this creative short film directed by Eric Becker of We Are Shouting.]

Why the Social Innovation Forum?

The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami left an unfathomable wake of destruction in Japan on the physical, cultural, and socio-political landscape.  Even now, some six months later, the full extent of the damage–particularly around the Fukushima nuclear plant–is still coming into focus. Japan now sits at this unique moment in time where the sense of “normal” has been destabilized and the future uncertain.

The events and aftermath of March 11th have shined a light on some of the great strengths within the Japanese social fabric–particularly around resilience and collectivism– and these have been widely recognized and admired around the world. At the same, some of the lingering challenges have also been brought to light; particularly around the formal civil society/citizen sector and its limited capacity to mobilize resources, act strategically, and connect with global partners.

Stories abound of energized American and other foreign supporters wanting to donate significant resources to small to midsized Japanese civil society organizations, but finding that their options are limited to large international agencies such as the Red Cross.  Yet, even now we hear many stories about Japanese working on the relief and rebuilding effort and struggling with limited or no resources.  We see a significant “blockage” preventing overseas supporters from connecting to the many civil society organizations doing important work throughout Japan.

If Japan is to successfully emerge from this tragedy, a strong and vibrant civil society led by empowered, creative, and entrepreneurial leaders is essential.  It is from this sector where social innovation can flourish, incubating and leading change around critical issues in Japan such as renewable energy, aging and the elderly, and rebuilding the Tohoku region. We believe that civil society is a key leverage point for high-impact and sustainable change in post-March 11th Japan.

For these reasons, iLEAP and it’s partners in Japan created the Social Innovation Forum: Japan to explore and develop these key leverage points.  The Forum receives key support from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the US-Japan Council (USJC).

Forum Focus

The focus of the Forum is “to advance practical applications and policy measures for a strong civil society in which people live in vibrant communities of mutual support.” It was created with the belief that in both the United States and Japan, we need new ways of working across sectors that balance social, economic, and ecological returns.  The challenges of the 21st century cannot be resolved by government alone or by simply injecting money and goods into the economy. Equally important, we need a new generation of effective, adaptive leaders who have the practical skills, necessary resources, and global partnerships to build the networks and coalitions necessary to catalyze and sustain these efforts.  The aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have underscored these points in an unmistakable manner.

The key identified outcomes of the Forum are:

  1. More formal civil society and social business sector in Japan.
  2. Strong cohorts of trained civil society and social business leaders in Japan.
  3. Global network of mid to senior level organizational executives who participate in on-going organizational development discussions, training and coaching in both the United States and Japan.
  4. Greater awareness on the part of Japanese civil society in how to access greater monetary and resource donations from global philanthropy.
  5. Greater awareness and connection on the part of American civil society to what social innovations are finding success in Japan and the people leading these efforts.
  6. Stronger emergency preparedness and key sector leadership in Japan.

The next Forum Delegation will be in Seattle from November 30, 2011.  For more information, please visit the iLEAP website.

Photo on home page: (c) Eric Becker / We Are Shouting

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