Naoki Kusanagi (Officer of Public Relations and Fundraising, NPO Kamonohashi Project)
Yoshinori Kurita (Awareness Raising and Capabilities Promotion team, Manager, NPO Terra Renaissance)
Mari Hamada (President, Nadeshiko Voice/Overseas Project Division, Neo Career Co., Ltd./Chief Editor, ABROADERS)
The reality of working overseas is that even people who aspire to a common goal--to develop their potential in the global field--are driven by different reasons to choose this goal and adopt different approaches to attain it. Some want to gain overseas work experience, others want to find a job that links Japan with the world, and still others want to get involved in international cooperation activities. To explore these issues, the Japan Foundation organized a talk event titled "Global Careers to Change the World," inviting as speakers two representatives of past winners of the Japan Foundation Prize for Global Citizenship: Naoki Kusanagi of the non-profit organization (NPO) Kamonohashi Project, the 2011 recipient of the prize, and Yoshinori Kurita of NPO Terra Renaissance, the 2012 recipient of the prize, as well as Mari Hamada, a representative of Nadeshiko Voice and chief editor of ABROADERS, who also doubled as moderator of the talk event. The three participants, who are actively engaged in global projects, spoke frankly about their own experiences, motivation and vision in front of an audience composed of young people who soon will be facing the task of considering career options and future development.
Talking about the Starting Point of Our Activities
Hamada: Today, I would like us to engage in a frank discussion with "global careers" as the key phrase. First, each speaker will briefly introduce their background and current activities.
My activities are based on three major pillars. Through the website Nadeshiko Voice, I give an outlet for Japanese women working abroad to share their true stories and experiences, and through the web-magazine ABROADERS I broadcast the voice of Japanese people who pursue various activities in Asia. The third pillar of my activities is writing articles on the topic of working abroad.
Mari Hamada explains the reasons to launch Nadeshiko Voice.
I launched Nadeshiko Voice in 2011, inspired by a book I came across in the autumn of my second year at university. It was written by John Wood, a former Microsoft executive who walked away from his lucrative career and established the NGO Room to Read. The title of the book is Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. This book opened my eyes to my own ignorance, and made me realize that this lack of knowledge about the current state of the world will have a negative impact on my future life. Inspired by it, I made the bold decision to see the world with my own eyes. As a result, I took a leave of absence from school and embarked on a solo journey around the world.
I visited 22 countries, and in six of them I engaged in volunteer activities for educational support, sewerage system construction, etc. This experience made me realize that there are various ways of living, and appreciate the options to work abroad. Armed with this realization and appreciation, I returned to Japan. Later, upon embarking on my job search activities, I looked for information on women working overseas, but could not find what I was looking for. This gave me the idea to create a website that would provide such information. This is how I launched Nadeshiko Voice.
Since then, I have been constantly flying around, visiting various countries and engaging in field reporting, but I finally decided to move abroad in April of this year. I intend to base my activities in Malaysia, and report on the life of people working there, create a community, and strengthen my presence and voice as a person who works abroad.
Kusanagi: The organization to which I belong, Kamonohashi Project, is engaged in activities to protect children in India and Cambodia from human trafficking. In Cambodia, we operate a factory for handmade household goods, which provides women from the poorest segment of the population with opportunities to work and earn income, thus alleviating the risk for them of being deceived and trafficked. We launched activities in India in 2012. In cooperation with local non-governmental organizations, we are engaged in efforts to improve the conviction rate of human traffickers who deceive young girls and sell them to brothels.
I am mainly in charge of delivering lectures to acquaint the Japanese public with the current state of a world where children are victims of human trafficking. Only two years have passed since I joined the Kamonohashi Project. After graduating from university, I got a job at a corporation, but after working there for several years, one day I suddenly felt doubtful as to whether that was the job I really wanted to do. Just then, I remembered a trip to Vietnam that I took as a student.
Naoki Kusanagi talks about the experiences he gathered during his trip abroad in his second year at university.
A Vietnamese friend of mine who was studying on an exchange program in Japan invited me to accompany him as he traveled home. The first thing that surprised me upon arriving in Vietnam was the fact that my friend's home was a handsome five-story building. It turned out that his father was a very rich man. Right across the street from his home, however, there was a row of roughly-built houses. A mother and her baby I saw there were so thin and haggard that it was immediately clear they did not have enough to eat.
I could not stop thinking about the mother and her baby even after returning to Japan. Born in the poorest segment of Vietnamese society, they were doomed to a life of never having enough to eat. On the other hand, I was born in Tokyo, Japan, and never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. A difference in the environment where one is born and raised can lead to a substantial disparity in the way of life. Back then I felt a desire to change this unfair reality.
It is true that as I found a job in a corporation and embarked on a career of a salaryman, I forgot the ambitions and dreams of my student days. After a long and thorough reflection on my choices, however, I managed to reconsider the career I really wanted to pursue. Then I came across the Kamonohashi Project, for which I have been working to the present day.
Kurita: Terra Renaissance is an organization born in 2001 in Kyoto. Its activities tackle the three issues of landmines, child soldiers, and small arms. Terra Renaissance is engaged in initiatives in six countries: the Congo, Uganda, and Burundi in Africa, Cambodia, Laos, and Japan in Asia. The specific issues that our organization tackles differ depending on the country. For instance, in Cambodia we support landmine removal efforts, and in Laos the removal of cluster bombs. Furthermore, we provide development assistance to people from the poorest segments of society in those countries. In Africa, we are actively involved in the issue of child soldiers - children who are abducted and forced into becoming soldiers. Such children could escape from their captors on their own, or be saved by government forces and returned to their homes, but it is infinitely more difficult for them to restore their life back to normal without help. Terra Renaissance provides support to such former child soldiers.
Yoshinori Kurita talks about the interest he developed during his student days in the issue of poverty in developing countries.
I was born in Shizuoka, but went to university in Kyoto. There, I studied the welfare policies of Scandinavian countries. As I was studying various global issues, however, the topic that interested me the most was poverty-related problems in developing countries that lack welfare systems. The most shocking of these problems was the issue of child soldiers, in which Terra Renaissance is engaged today.
The civil war in Uganda began in the 1980s. People tend to think of such conflicts as a thing of the past, but they were happening when I was a student and are still going on even today. People of my generation are actually experiencing such conflicts. When I first learned this, I felt an urge to find out more and convey the facts to as many people as possible. This desire inspired me to engage in the activities implemented by Terra Renaissance as an intern. After graduating university, I formally joined Terra Renaissance as an employee, and today I am in charge of running the office in Japan, and conducting educational activities, such as delivering lectures at educational institutions.
Responding to questions from the audience
Q1. What were your student years like?
Mari Hamada throws questions back at the audience.
Hamada: Prior to holding this talk event, we collected questions from the audience. Next, we will proceed with the talk by responding to these questions. As there are many students in the audience, we received a large number of questions regarding the speakers' student years.
Kusanagi: At university, I wanted to study various things, so after classes I used to retreat to the library and read books. That's what my student years were like. I read some 150 books per year, which makes an average of one book every two days.
Kurita: The main theme of my student years was meeting and talking with various people. I think that in those four years I managed to get acquainted with a broad range of views on life.
Hamada: I spent five years at university, and for the first two years I enrolled in six clubs simultaneously, devoting all my time to club activities. In the second half of my stay at university, which includes the year that I took off to travel around the world, I made frequent trips overseas. I launched Nadeshiko Voice in my fifth year, so the last year of my life in university was dedicated to establishing the foundation for my current activities. Incidentally, Mr. Kurita, is the work you aspired to do in your student years connected to your current job?
Kurita: Yes, it is. Upon learning about the various issues faced by countries around the world, I was consumed by the aspiration to find a job that would enable me to convey my knowledge. Conveying and spreading such knowledge was one of the things I studied in the International Welfare Course in which I majored at the Human Welfare Department of the College of Social Sciences at my university. Film director Hirokazu Koreeda was a visiting professor at our college, and I enrolled in his class and studied various creative methods for presentation of information. Today, I have the opportunity to speak about peace to Japanese children, so I believe that my job is to sow the seeds of peace. It is a worthwhile and rewarding job.
Kusanagi: Unlike Mr. Kurita, it took me several years to get to my current job. In my student days I had a vague notion of wanting to work in the field of research. At one point, however, I realized that such a career path was not realistic, and joined an employment agency. After working at that agency for approximately four years, I launched a restaurant business with some friends of mine, but then retired from it in a year's time. After a process of reviewing and reconsidering my future possibilities, I encountered the Kamonohashi Project.
Hamada: I wanted to work in Cambodia, but since it was impossible to obtain information about the local conditions from Japan, I flew on my own to Cambodia, talked to Japanese people who worked there, and started looking for a job. What I learned from traveling to Cambodia was that there was nothing that I could contribute to the country at that time. Keenly aware of this reality, I decided to find what I was capable of by working for a Japanese company, and used my once-in-a-lifetime ticket as a new graduate to join the sales staff of an IT company.
However, I had no intention of working for that company forever, and continued my Nadeshiko Voice activities even after becoming a full-time employee. Eventually, I quit after a year and continued to provide information through the website on a freelance basis. Then I assumed the position of chief editor of ABROADERS. Spreading information while maintaining connections and activities on a global scale is the job I wanted to do ever since I was at university. Today, I am happy that I have been able to realize this dream in the way I have always aimed for.
Q2: What sparked your interest in international cooperation?
Hamada: We will move to the next question. Please tell us what sparked your interest in international cooperation.
Kurita: I was born with a heart disease, and underwent surgery in my second year at junior high school. The thought of a scalpel cutting into my heart terrified me, and for the first time in my life the thought of dying entered my mind. At that time, parallel to the strong feeling that life should not be taken for granted, I felt something else, too. Fortunately, I survived the surgery. For this, I was deeply grateful to all my friends who supported me. In my life up to the surgery, I had received the support of many people. Going forward, I felt the urge to spend my days helping and supporting other people. This urge that I experienced as a junior high school student formed the foundation of my present activities.
Kusanagi: The experience in Vietnam sparked my interest in international relations. Also, learning about the way of thinking and work of founders of non-profit organizations from the books of Hiroki Komazaki, the President and CEO of NPO Florence, and other authors had a great impact on me.
Hamada: As I mentioned earlier, the specific thing that sparked my interest in international cooperation was that book. I would read the book and feel an urge to learn more about the current situation, which would in turn lead me to specific actions. I would visit the local areas and make acquaintances there. This would spark in me a desire to do something for them. As a result, I participated in the international cooperation activities of various organizations.
Naoki Kusanagi explains the factors that sparked his interest in international cooperation.
Q3: What does it mean to work on a global scale?
Hamada: So let's move to the third question. Our topic today is "working on a global scale," but it is difficult to provide a precise definition of the term. Based on your own activities, how would you define "working on a global scale"?
Kurita: Working on a global scale is often associated with working overseas, but for international cooperation organizations, Japan, too, is an important field in which information needs to be shared. In the modern world, our life is inextricably linked with foreign countries through foods, clothing, etc. I believe that our lifestyle as residents of an advanced country is one of the factors behind the poverty issues faced by developing countries. If we change our lifestyle, we may be able to contribute to the solution of local issues in developing countries. I think that engaging in efforts to solve such poverty-related issues from Japan can also be defined as a global activity.
Kusanagi: When working overseas, it is essential to avoid the trap of preconceived ideas, but instead consider and try to understand the background of the country's culture. I believe that to work on a global scale means to engage in your tasks with a willingness to accept diversity and modify your concepts and values.
Hamada: Most people who work overseas do it not with the abstract purpose of being "abroad," but with specific objectives which they wish to pursue through their jobs and which have brought them to Cambodia, Singapore, or other countries. They have a job they want to do, and the place where they choose to do that job just happens to be overseas. That is all. In other words, to work on a global scale does not necessarily mean to work overseas.
Q4: How can we find the theme of our life?
Hamada: On finding the theme of one's life, I hope we can hear some insights from Mr. Kusanagi.
Kusanagi: To be honest, I still do not feel like I have found the theme of my life. I feel a great deal of satisfaction with my current job, and I believe that it represents an important step in my development, but there are still many skills I wish to master and things I want to do, so I intend to check them off my list one by one. This way, I will climb the ladder one step at a time, and in this process I hope to discover the theme of my professional life.
Kurita: I think actual experience is important. Experience gained in the field using all five senses has unmistakably become my motivation. Once, when I was in Uganda to provide support to former child soldiers, I met a woman holding a baby. I asked her when the baby was born, and she replied that it was born the previous day. The fact that she, a former child soldier, had a baby made me extremely happy, giving me the powerful realization that the support activities in which I was involved resulted in the birth of new life. This kind of experience motivates me to continue working to solve the issue of child soldiers. Hands-on experience in the field is essential.
Hamada: I think that the encounter with one's soul mate is not something that can be achieved through logical action. The same is true for the theme of one's life. It is not a matter of intentional search as much as of encounter. In my case, at least, I feel that it was fate that brought me to the work of spreading information, which I have come to regard as the mission of my life.
In 2012, journalist Mika Yamamoto lost her life while covering the civil war in Syria. Seven months before her death, I interviewed Ms. Yamamoto for Nadeshiko Voice. After the end of the interview as we were about to part, I shook her hand and told her that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, spreading information. To fulfill this promise, I quit my job at the IT company after only one year. I believe that fateful encounters rather than logic determine the course of one's life, so it is important to keep the memories of such encounters in one's mind and use them as a source of inspiration going forward.
Kurita: My ultimate dream is to lose my job. I want to create a world where international cooperation will no longer be necessary. In a manner of speaking, I am working to make my job redundant.
Yoshinori Kurita talks about his ultimate dream.
Messages of support to all participants who think about their future career
Kusanagi: When you start looking for a job, you may find yourselves struggling to find your path forward. I think, however, that there is no need to feel pressed and frustrated. After graduating from university, you have 40 to 50 years of work life. During that period, it is perfectly normal and not at all frivolous to look for things you really want to do and attain your goals one step at a time. I believe this process of accumulating experience is important. I sincerely hope that you will be able to gradually achieve your true goals while engaging in work you like and enjoy.
Kurita: My pet theory on this matter is that there is no need to take the long way to your goals. Some job ads for non-profit organizations require at least three years of work experience, but I think this should not stop new graduates from applying. The important thing in such kind of jobs is not the social experience and skills, but the ability to empathize with the activities implemented by the respective organization. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors to reach higher stages of development while cherishing your ideas.
Hamada: People often ask me what kind of role models they should follow. To be honest, I think that today role models are no longer necessary. Do not aim to become like someone you have chosen as a role model, but rather imagine what kind of a person you want to become and focus on what you can do now to attain that image. I believe that becoming one's own role model is the road to happiness. People who work overseas go where there is no path and leave a trail. They live independent and purposeful lives. This is a very joyous way of living, so I recommend that you refer to their example. Thank you very much for your participation today.
(Editor: Sayuri Saito, Photos: Kenichi Aikawa)
After graduating from university, Naoki Kusanagi joined an employment agency where he was in charge of corporate sales. After a few years, he quit the company and participated in the launch of a restaurant business. Later, inspired by the idea to eliminate unfair global practices, which he conceived during a trip to Vietnam in his student years, he joined the NPO Kamonohashi Project, where he is currently an officer of Public Relations and Fundraising. He also delivers lectures in order to broadly share information that will effectively lead to the elimination of child trafficking.
Yoshinori Kurita studied welfare at Ritsumeikan University driven by the desire to engage in work that will help and support others. While at university, he developed a strong interest in global poverty issues and particularly in the problem of child soldiers, and joined Terra Renaissance as an intern in his third year. He traveled repeatedly to Uganda as the person in charge of domestic operations for provision of support for social reintegration of former child soldiers in that country. Parallel to these activities, he was in charge of editing of visual materials and creation of reports for supporters. After a year and a half-long internship, he formally joined Terra Renaissance immediately after graduation.
In her third year at Waseda University, Mari Hamada took a year off and traveled around the world, visiting 22 countries and working as a volunteer in six of them. While at university, she launched the website Nadeshiko Voice, which features interviews with Japanese women working around the world. So far she has interviewed more than 500 Japanese people working overseas. After graduation, Hamada worked for a telecommunications company and an editorial company, and today she is the president of Nadeshiko Voice. She also works for the Overseas Project Division of Neo Career Co., Ltd., and is the chief editor of ABROADERS, a website that provides support to Japanese people who want to work in Asia.