This is the first in a series of occasional blogs exploring the work of Fellows across the world, and is an interview with the team of Fellows leading activity in Japan.
With the Fellowship present in nearly 100 countries, and new ideas regularly springing up, we are in exciting times for the international impact of the RSA. If you would like to find out more or have ideas of your own, please contact Laura Southerland of the International team who will be happy to assist you.
We are always very proud of the global reach of the RSA, so it is great to hear that there is activity being developed in Japan. What is the history of RSA Japan Fellows’ Network (RSA JFN) so far, and how did you get to where you are?
The seeds of RSA JFN were sown four years ago, when a small group of Fellows had the idea to build an off-shoot of RSA in Japan. Gradually, a core group emerged with a serious commitment to making something happen. From 2011, this group began meeting regularly, to explore areas of joint interest and to map out possible futures. In April 2012, the RSA Japan Fellows’ Network (JFN) was officially launched under the banner: “Reignite Japan”. The launch event took place at the British Council in Tokyo. Our guests were drawn mainly from a British Council database of people who had studied in the UK. Since then, we have been holding smaller events every 2-3 months – both themed events featuring a guest speaker, and social events aimed at networking. We have now built up a committed core team of 11 members who meet every few weeks, and a wider network of 60 people who have attended at least one of our events.
The group is 60% Japanese, 100% cosmopolitan. Ages range from thirty-something to sixty-something. What unites us is the pleasure we all take in generating ideas and actions that will make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.
We’ve found in a number of contexts (and have documented it in this recent publication) that having that core group of Fellows with energy and ideas is essential to getting activity started. Can you tell us a bit more about your group?
True to the spirit of RSA, our core team represents a glorious mix of occupations and expertise. The current convener, Kimy Okubo, is a branding expert (Senior Corporate Advisor at Havas Worldwide) and also chairs the Japan Committee of One Young World. The previous convener and founding member, Masaru Yamada, is a pioneer of international education exchange in Japan. Our man on the ground in London, Dr. Roger Prentis, is a business consultant, publisher and works with Parliament. Other professions represented by the core team include architecture, corporate education, music producing, theatre and conflict management. The group is 60% Japanese, 100% cosmopolitan. Ages range from thirty-something to sixty-something. What unites us is the pleasure we all take in generating ideas and actions that will make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.
As I mentioned, we have documented some of the key elements of successful Fellowship activity, but what are the challenges and opportunities of building a network in Japan?
A key challenge for us has been to do with branding. The name RSA is as yet unheard of here. Add “JFN” to the end of that and you have a distinctly un-catchy six-letter acronym. Secondly, the working hours of the average “salary man” (full-time employee) often prohibit outside commitments. Thirdly, cross-disciplinary thinking is relatively rare in Japan, given the prevailing tendency towards a silo mentality. And perhaps most frustratingly, the idea of a network of self-motivated individuals can be difficult for the Japanese to grasp. Members of Japanese organisations are used to being told what to do, not proposing and implementing their own ideas.
But for every challenge there is an opportunity. To counter the branding challenges, we have chosen to convey our mission through a strapline which speaks for itself: “Reignite Japan”. We are also pursuing every opportunity to partner with well-established organisations, which we believe will bring mutual benefit and help us with the challenging process of getting RSA JFN "off the ground". This was certainly the case when we partnered with the British Council for the launch event.
Regarding the other cultural challenges described above, looked at differently these are in fact our biggest opportunity. It is precisely because of these cultural traits that we feel RSA JFN has so much to offer in Japan. Obviously there are people in Japan who are entrepreneurial and multi-disciplinary, and these are the very ones we are seeking to engage and support. And equally obviously, the Japanese have so much to teach the west, for example through their gifts of specialism, attention to detail, customer service, refined aesthetics, discipline and loyalty, to mention but a few.
Our strategy for reigniting Japan is to act as a bridge between Japan and the world
It sounds like there is a lot of activity in development. Obviously there are chances for Fellows and interested others who either live in Japan or travel there to take part in the work you develop, but are there any ways that Fellows from across the rest of the world can contribute?
Part of our strategy for reigniting Japan is to act as a bridge between Japan and the world. We are eagerly looking for Fellows with an interest in Japan to support us in this aim. There are at least two ways you can support us:
- If you would like to interact with Japanese change-makers, to exchange ideas and expertise, please get in touch. So far we have attracted Japanese change-makers from the fields of art education, traditional Japanese sweet-making, music publishing, corporate training, theatre and tourism to mention but a few. You can contact us by joining the JFN network on the RSA Ning network: JFN Ning network or by emailing us.
- If you are ever visiting Japan, we would love to hear from you. We may be able to point you towards some useful contacts (as was the case with visiting Fellow Melaneia Warwick, who blogged about her experiences here). If your schedule allows, we will organise an event bringing together people in your field. Failing that, even a quick cup of coffee can help to reinforce the global bridge!
Jamie Cooke is Deputy Head of Fellowship, with responsibility for the Specialist Programme team. You can follow him @JamieACooke or connect with him on LinkedIn.