Thinking of Asia's Future through Dialogue

Wonjae Lee(Vice President, The Hope Institute, and Social Designer)

 Every year since 1996, the Japan Foundation and the International House of Japan jointly set up the Asia Leadership Fellow Program (ALFP). The ALFP seeks to create a close, personal and professional network of public intellectuals in Asia, deeply rooted in and committed to civil society beyond their own cultural, disciplinary and geopolitical backgrounds.
 One of the seven ALFP 2014 fellows, Mr. Wonjae Lee (Korea) talks about his two months of ALFP in Japan, such as his views on Japan or the Japanese through ALFP, interactions with other fellows and his expectations towards this program and the younger generation. Please enjoy the video of his interview.

What did you learn from the ALFP in Japan for two months with other public intellectuals of Asia?

What I found from my fellow colleagues was that mostly how much I was ignorant about other parts of Asia. We say "Asia." But we're so diverse. To understand these countries, we need to meet people and make friends with those people. This program provides me an opportunity to make friends with them.

What is your most impressive episode of the ALFP in Japan, including the workshops and the field trip? 

I wanted to see what was going on after 3.11 in Tohoku, so I went to Ishinomaki, Sendai and Koriyama and met the younger generation working there. They didn't say they were going to save Tohoku and revive the Japanese economy. They just said "It's better to live here. It's nicer." Less competitive, but more socially responsible life. So, that was really impressive to me. That was my best impression of Japan this time while I was doing the ALFP.
Probably, internationalists, futurists and innovators, of the younger generation in these countries should meet, talk and exchange ideas more. These people of the younger generation, like futurists and innovators, will lead the scene. That's my idea I got from these two months.

Please tell us your thoughts about creating a network of public intellectuals in Asia through the ALFP.

There are a lot of problems Korea will have, and they are what Japan is actually experiencing now or experienced before. So I wanted to see what was actually happening in Japan and what kind of challenges Japan has. Especially after 3.11, I wanted to see how this country was reacting and recovering.
What I really like about the Japan Foundation on the ALFP was it's really cross-sectoral. You don't confine this program to one discipline. It's interdisciplinary.
We had a linguist from Bangladesh, an economic anthropologist from Nepal, and a mainstream economist from Vietnam who was trained in the U.S.
It is actually essential to solve new types of social problems now. Because all the problems are cross-sectoral and we have these interdisciplinary fellows, I think we are better off finding a cross-sectoral/intersectoral approach to solve the social problems.
That way I find commonalities between my approach and the Japan Foundation/ALFP approach.

Wonjae Lee (Korea)
Vice President, The Hope Institute, and Social Designer.
Mr. Lee is a writer and educator for social innovation. He is the Vice President of the Hope Institute, a civic think tank based in Korea. Prior to his current position, he was CEO of the Social Fiction Lab, a social venture to provide workshop programs to help social entrepreneurs develop their imagination and to make a difference in society. He was a policy director to Dr. Cheol-Soo Ahn, a prominent candidate in the 2012 Korean presidential election. Mr. Lee founded and led HERI (Hankyoreh Economic Research Institute), and worked as a researcher at Samsung Economic Research Institute and as an economic journalist at Hankyoreh Newspaper earlier in his career. His interests are corporate social responsibility (CSR), social entrepreneurship and public policies for social innovation. He has been involved in various CSR projects including "East Asia 30," a research project to establish a CSR evaluation model for leading Chinese, Japanese and Korean corporations. He also designed "MBA for Social Entrepreneurs," a management educational program for social entrepreneurs in Korea. He earned a B.A. in Economics at Yonsei University and an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management.

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