The world convenes in The Hague

For just a few days, my city The Hague was the center of the world. That’s what it felt like at least, with over 50 heads of state in town for the Nuclear Security Summit.

The city was in a security lock-down for the past few days with the ominous noise of helicopters hovering above everywhere you went. However, these heads of state were not just here to talk about safeguarding nuclear material. Included also were museum visits, business conventions, and many many bilateral & multilateral discussions about all those other things happening in the world today. Most notably: Ukraine.

But for East Asia-watchers, this past week has been interesting as well.

President Xi Jinping of China combined the NSS with an official state visit to the Netherlands, which included time with the King & Queen but also a major business conference on Sunday for the 200 business delegates that followed him here. I probably missed a unique opportunity by not attending this event, despite it being an afternoon mostly filled with ceremony from what I’ve heard.

The other major leader of an East Asian state was here as well: Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Having followed his career for much longer, and being much more familiar with Japanese politics, this visit seemed a lot more exciting – but it wasn’t combined with a business delegation. Abe’s schedule did include business: he visited a horticultural region in the country famous for its greenhouse technology. Several companies in this Dutch industry are working on building a presence on the Japanese market, including supporting the rebuilding of the agricultural sector in the Tohoku region.

And then there were the bilateral talks.

One reason why I find East Asia so fascinating is the diversity of politics, economy, history, culture in each of the countries that make up the region. No country is the same. And none of them get along.

President Obama put in some effort to get some of these countries at the table, and last night he met with President Park of South Korea and PM Abe. There were also talks with China.

As the New York Times writes:

The diplomacy of northeast Asia is a little like junior prom: Cathy won’t sit with Jamie, but maybe she would if Sally comes over and sits with them.

It’s quite amazing to realize the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’. And events like these are rare opportunities where the leaders of the world get to do those quick face to face talks that are sometimes necessary to smooth things out – just like regular people might do in a work situation with colleagues who you talk to quickly at the end of a meeting to discuss something. But in this case, it concerns high-level diplomacy.

Pretty unique to ‘see’ that happening in your home town.

Het ideale werkritme

In de trein heb ik mijn laptop open geklapt met de intentie om de komende 2,5 uur onderweg naar Groningen flink wat werk te verzetten: ik wil in elk geval een aantal klusjes wegwerken waar ik deze week niet aan toe ben gekomen omdat ik plotseling bij een nieuwe opdrachtgever voor een project moest inspringen.

Maar starend uit het raam merk ik al snel dat dit niet het moment wordt waarop ik even 2,5 uur kan knallen. Jaloers kijk ik naar het meisje schuin voor me die pagina na pagina vol tikt op haar laptop.

Wat heb ik wel nodig om in een goede workflow te komen? Om aan het einde van de dag het gevoel te hebben dat ik veel heb gedaan? En dat is eigenlijk het lastigste als ik gewoon moet schrijven: een onderzoeksverslag of een uitgewerkt projectvoorstel bijvoorbeeld.

  • Daglicht, bij voorkeur met uitzicht
  • Koffie (of ’s middags het liefst een grote pot thee)
  • Geluid, niet al te luid maar wel geroezemoes op de achtergrond: geluid van een kantoor met mensen, of een koffietentje om de hoek, of thuis van de radio.
  • Duidelijk overzicht van wat er moet gebeuren

Deze vier dingen zijn belangrijk, hoewel het helaas niet zo is dat ik dan automatisch in die workflow kom. Het liefst ga ik mijn huis uit: het maakt niet zo veel uit waar maar dan heb ik tenminste het gevoel dat ik ergens naar toe ga om te werken. Favoriete plekken zijn tegenwoordig S2M Haagse Toren of koffieplekken als De Overkant.

Maar mijn werk brengt me vooral ook vaak op kantoren van opdrachtgevers, waar ik dus in een meer reguliere kantooromgeving aan de slag kan – en tegelijkertijd weer wat tijdelijke collega’s erbij heb om een praatje mee te maken of te gaan lunchen. Want ook dat soort breaks zijn nodig om vervolgens weer goed verder te kunnen.

De dagen waarop die flow lukt zijn heerlijk.

Met voldoening kijk ik dan naar de doorgestreepte taken op mijn planningsbord van die week en naar de resultaten van zo’n dag: nieuwe afspraken in mijn agenda, een gehaalde deadline voor een set aanbevelingen, of een nieuw netwerkevent wat op poten staat.

Dit is geschreven voor #blogawayNL.

Weekend reading: on Tohoku, Myanmar, education and the loneliness of work

At the edge of the weekend, a quick round-up of some online articles I spotted this week.

Three years on

Of course, this selection wouldn’t be complete without a few articles looking back at the past three years since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11 March, 2011.

The Japan Times looks at what happened to the children, and reports rising instances of trauma and stress for children living in Fukushima prefecture dealing with what happened and their uprooted life: Tohoku kids stressed by trauma

Dutch Tokyo-based correspondent Daniel Leussink visited the region and spoke to several people on reconstruction in Tohoku, which you can read about (in Dutch) here: Three years on, an empty coast

Work is lonely

An article that struck a chord this week is from Gianpiero Petriglieri, who I have been following on Twitter for some time for interesting insights on leadership and organisational development. He published a blog for the Harvard Business Review titled Why Work Is Lonely in which he talks about speaking up in organisations and sharing your opinion and about why people don’t. But also, why it is so important to do exactly this: have the courage to speak up.

We keep forgetting that our closest relationships are not those where tension is glossed over but those where it can be aired and worked through safely enough.

This is not only true of professional workplaces of course, but you can apply this – I think – to other organizations as well where people work together and where there is some type of hierarchy, whether intended or not. The challenge is to make everyone feel comfortable enough to actually say what they want to say.

Measuring business & human rights

The past two weeks for me were mostly about learning about how business can respect human rights. I attended a conference on due diligence and spent a few days in a course on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.

Michael Addo writes on the LSE-blog about the importance for businesses to work with indicators to be able to measure their progress on respecting human rights: Business and human rights indicators: Opportunities and challenges in measuring corporate respect for human rights

Notwithstanding the great potential of indicators, measuring and comparing respect for human rights by corporations is not an easy task.

He rightly also says this is very difficult to do: how do you measure discrimination? How do you measure whether or not a company-based grievance mechanism is accessible enough for the intended users? Luckily, there are various organisations working on this, including GRI and Shift.

Education in Myanmar

The NY Times highlights the lack of education in Myanmar and what organizations – NGOs but also businesses – are doing to address this. Raising the level of education will be vital for the further development of the country, so it’s good to read about these initiatives which are happening: Education Programs Try to Close Gaps in Myanmar

Wanneer gooi jij iets naar je tv?

 

Soms maakt één vraag alle verschil.

 

Nadat ik afstudeerde ging ik vol vertrouwen en zin op zoek naar een baan: werk wat er toe deed, me uitdaagde en met een internationale oriëntatie. Wat ik vooral niet wilde was iets met Japan(s): datgene waar ik vlak daarvoor in was afgestudeerd. Gaandeweg bleek natuurlijk dat dit bij lange na niet voldoende was om die gedroomde baan mee te kunnen vinden. Veel te breed, abstract, en ik kon eigenlijk aan niemand uitleggen wat ik dan precies wilde. Maar ja, dacht ik lang, als ze me een kans geven zien ze vanzelf dat ik heel slim en goed ben. Nogal naïef natuurlijk.

De omslag in die zoektocht kwam toen ik eindelijk ‘naar buiten’ durfde te gaan en met mensen ging praten. Natuurlijk praatte ik met vrienden en familie maar nooit eerder had ik het aangedurfd om dat netwerk van vrienden, familie en oud-collega’s van eerdere bijbaantjes in te zetten om in contact te komen met mensen die me misschien wel een stapje verder konden helpen.

Van de gesprekken die ik vervolgens heb gevoerd – waarbij het me telkens verbaasde dat veel mensen júist graag een keer koffie met me wilden drinken hiervoor – blijft me altijd nog iets specfieks uit elk individueel gesprek bij. Advies, een perspectief, een vraag.

Eén gesprek had vooral impact.

Ik was bij een alumni bijeenkomst in contact gekomen met een collega-Japanoloog die al een stuk verder in zijn carrière was. Toen ik vertelde dat ik al lang op zoek was naar een interessante baan, bood hij direct aan om daar een keer verder over te praten.

Zo geschiedde een paar weken later met koffie in een café aan het Rapenburg in Leiden. En wat hij deed in dat gesprek was eigenlijk heel simpel: hij stelde vragen. De belangrijkste:

Waar maak je je druk over wanneer je naar het journaal kijkt, en waarom is dat?

Het zorgde ervoor dat ik op een andere manier ging kijken naar wat ik wilde doen én waarom. Dit veranderde mijn zoektocht: ik wist langzaam maar zeker manieren te vinden om preciezer te ontdekken wat ik wilde doen, en om dat vervolgens beter uit te leggen in bijvoorbeeld sollicitatiegesprekken.

De zo vurig gewenste baan volgde niet al te lang daarna – hoewel het nog heel wat meer gesprekken en soul searching vereiste om daar te komen. Maar, dat proces van nadenken over wat ik wil en hoe ik daar kan komen is sindsdien ook niet opgehouden.

Deze periode was ook op een andere manier belangrijk. Niet alleen hielp het me om mijn professionele weg verder te vinden, het liet me ook inzien dat praten, durven vragen en het bouwen van een betrouwbaar netwerk essentieel is om verder te komen – waarmee dan ook. Misschien dus ook niet helemaal toevallig dat juist dat netwerk en het inzetten ervan één van mijn sterke punten is geworden.

Dit is geschreven voor #blogawayNL 2, waarvoor ik de opdracht kreeg om de volgende vraag te beantwoorden:

Wie of wat in je persoonlijke leven heeft je beïnvloed zodat je jouw werk/studie/passie hebt gekozen? Schrijf een ode aan die persoon en wat jij tot op heden daarmee doet en het in leven houdt.

Sanriku Coast Tohoku

3/11: three years later in Japan

Three years ago this day I was woken up by a text message from a friend.

“Is everyone you know okay?”

Huh?

Still sleepy, at first I didn’t realize what he was talking about, though the first thing that came into my mind was that maybe it could have something to do with Japan. But what?

Unfortunately, I turned out to be right.

The rest of the day I was glued to my TV and computer watching the destruction of the earthquake, tsunami and then the nuclear disaster, the extent of which only became apparent in the course of the following days.

Having lived in Japan for over 2,5 years, it is a place that’s very close to my heart. And seeing the destruction that occurred that day was devastating. Of course, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for people who lived there and had to run from their houses or office to get away from the rushing water and lost everything.

Just over a year after the tsunami, in May 2012, I briefly visited the area: I wanted to support the local economy by being there as a tourist, because part of this coastline is also a natural park so worth a visit for that alone. Nevertheless, I also wanted to see what was happening locally in terms of reconstruction. What I hadn’t expected at all, was that people were so open about their experiences.

Out of nowhere, a restaurant owner or a boatsman would start talking to me about what it was like that March 11th in 2011. These are stories I won’t forget.

This is also why it is so good to be able to see a little bit of the work that continues in this part of Tohoku, Japan. Many grass roots organisations and local governments in the region have embraced, mostly, Facebook as a way to let people see what they are working on.

It is also a way of showing potential tourists that yes, there is a lot to see and do in this part of the Japan, and it it so much worth the visit. I wish travel websites, guidebooks, travel shows – anyone – would share the amazing travel potential of Tohoku more (unlike Lonely Planet, which scrapped this whole part of the country out of its guide published after the tsunami).

Many of these Facebook-pages are in Japanese, though some are in English as well (or German, even!). Have a look at these pages to get an idea of what initiatives are working locally:

  • Tohoku Planning Forum: a platform facilitating collaboration among Japanese and international designers, architects and planners contributing to the long-term revitalisation of Japan’s tsunami-affected Tohoku region.
  • Rikuzen Takata town: a page run by the city of Rikuzen Takata, one of the most heavily hit towns along the coast, sharing events, news, pictures and other interesting bits of information about the city (in Japanese & English)
  • It’s Not Just Mud: INJM is a grass-roots organization which moved into Ishinomaki quickly after the tsunami happened to help locals with clearing debri and slowly start building again. Run by volunteers, they’ve expanded operations to other towns – and even recently to the Philippines after the destructive Typhoon late 2013.
  • DJSF Sanriku Fukkou: a German-Japanese collaboration to support the reconstruction of the Sanriku-region along the coast.

Through these pages there are many many more FB-pages you can click through to from various towns and initiatives.

CSR in Japan: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita (part 2)

This post continues from part 1: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita, lecturer and researcher on CSR and business ethics in Japan. In this second part he shares his views on the development of CSR in Japan up to now and gives recommendations on what can be done to improve this development.

What role does Corporate Social Responsibility have for the Japanese business community?

At first, most Japanese companies were indifferent to CSR. However, when pollution and environmental problems became big social issues in the 1970s, companies were forced to do something. Originating from this background, until about the 1990s Japanese companies mostly saw CSR as a way to respond to environmental topics.

Nevertheless, Japanese companies were also confronted with other problems than just environmental.As globalization expanded, from the year 2000 onward the need for a more proactive way of CSR and business ethics became clear in Japan as well.

These days, I think that most Japanese businesses think of CSR as part of a strategy to improve a company’s image and of risk management. I don’t think that Japanese people really understand clearly the difference between CSR, business ethics and compliance.

At the same time, the number of Japanese companies that are cooperating with their stakeholders and striving to solve social problems is increasing.

Most companies in Japan are tackling the following three points when they talk about CSR:

1)      Risk management (as a way of company protection)
2)      Positively influencing the financial performance through improving corporate reputation
3)      Philanthropy as a way of resolving social issues

These points are very important for companies now. Yet, this doesn’t constitute an integrated approach of CSR. I think the concept of business ethics in these three points is very weak.

Contemporary CSR in Japan is mostly about dealing with solutions to social problems in Japanese society. However, it is not sufficiently concerned about the social issues in management of Japanese businesses.

Business ethics is about a business becoming a thoroughly ethical being as it is the only way to prevent fraud or scandals occurring in a company. Risk management in itself doesn’t require this type of fully integrated ethical awareness. But business ethics does require of companies to fully integrate this in realizing a better way of doing business. This is the difference with risk management.

I think that a deeper understanding of the concept of CSR will also lead to an increase of efforts in business ethics in the Japanese business world. Despite CSR becoming more included in the Japanese corporate world, there are still many occurrences of fraud and scandals. But I think that more and more Japanese people will want companies to make integrating business ethics a priority over their philanthropic activities.

 

In your view, what is the main CSR-issue that needs more attention in Japan (either from government, business or consumers)?

I think that there are very little government policies on CSR in place in Japan right now. On my own website, I have published a proposal for 17 policy issues on CSR.

To summarize, these points include a proposal to establish a “CSR Minister” to the government, to establish a CSR Agency, to establish an independent CSR consulting and whistle-blowing contact point and various additional points on stakeholders, tax incentives and transparency.

I will elaborate on a few points of these below.

In Japan there is a “Consumer Agency” (消費者庁) with a responsible minister but I believe we need a CSR Agency and a CSR minister.

Stakeholders are not only consumers and therefore it is necessary that the government has policy in place to also respond to other stakeholders in a suitable manner.

The government should also proactively present all relevant guidelines so that each company can make their individual practice of CSR and business ethics policy into the most appropriate to their business.

The government should support CSR initiatives of companies for example by reducing the tax burden.

However, the government shouldn’t only think about the corporate benefits, but has to be a neutral intermediary between business and stakeholders.

Finally, there is the issue of the National Contact Point of the OECD Guidelines. In Japan there are several ministries that are in charge of the NCP, but this makes it very difficult to understand which section has responsibility for the NCP. This responsibility should be centralized at one section.

 

Many thanks to Yamashita-san for participating in this blog interview and by sharing his ideas with me in so much detail. どうもありがとうございました!

This series was started by participation in Blog Away NL Maand #2, initiated by Karin Ramaker

CSR in Japan: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita (part 1)

Sustainability, responsible business practices and entrepreneurship: big issues in Asia.

On this blog I share what I know about these topics. But I also want to start sharing views from others: experts on sustainable urban development, academics on corporate social responsibility (CSR), Asia-entrepreneurs etc. This is why I’m starting with a series of short interviews with a wide variety of people about their work and personal ideas about the above question.

YusukeYamashita

Kicking off the series – I’m starting with a Japan-theme – is Yusuke Yamashita. He is a university lecturer and researcher on CSR and business ethics in Japan. We met last year when I was in Tokyo.

I was impressed at that time by his views on corporate social responsibility in Japan including his ideas on the influence of the development of civil society in Japan on CSR and business ethics.

So I am very happy to be able to share some of that with you here.

To try to do justice to the detailed and thoughtful response I received, this interview will be published in two parts. Here, he shares his personal motivation to work in this field. Part 2 will follow with a short history of CSR in Japan and what should be improved.

 

Why did you choose to work in the field of CSR and business ethics?

To make society a better place, what would be the most effective way? I believe that the way for that is to “transform” as many businesses as possible.

The single organization which is the most powerful in a country is the government. But, if you accumulate the power of all the companies in that country, the power of the companies will become more than that of the government. In other words, it will make much more difference to society to transform all businesses than what any governmental policy can do. Theoretically speaking.

This means that when more companies become more ethical in their activities, the better they can integrate CSR – and in turn society will become a little better. In order to achieve this, I would like to collaborate as an academic researcher.

Historically speaking, in Europe and North-America the people gained democracy through their own power. But this is not true for Japan. Democracy in modern Japan was bestowed on Japan by other countries after the defeat in the Second World War.

Accordingly, you might say that awareness of “citizenship” is low among many Japanese people. For most of us Japanese, the use of “public” often has the meaning of “government”. But, I think that originally “public” is “the space of citizens”: civil society is made up of individual citizens.

That there is a weak awareness of “citizenship” in turn means that there is a weak awareness of being a “stakeholder”. When the influence and presence of stakeholders is low, it is not possible to realize CSR and business ethics.

So for CSR and business ethics in Japan I believe it is not just the business world that has to change but it is also necessary for Japanese stakeholders to mature as citizens.

 

Part 2 will go more into the development of CSR and business ethics in Japan and what can be done to improve this.

This series was started by participation in Blog Away NL Maand #2, initiated by Karin Ramaker

Mijn ideale stad: dynamisch & creatief

‘machi’ – de naam van mijn bedrijf – is een Japans woord. Het betekent stad. Een van de redenen waarom ik voor dit woord heb gekozen is omdat ‘de stad’ voor mij symbool staat voor heel veel dingen die ik belangrijk vind in mijn werk (en daarbuiten): creativiteit, diversiteit, samenwerking, innovatie, dynamiek, onbegrensde mogelijkheden en zo verder.

En dan is het zo fijn om me af en toe te realiseren dat mijn werk op dit moment ook al die verschillende aspecten in zich heeft.

Na vorige week in redelijke afzondering onderzoeksresultaten analyseren en uitschrijven, is deze week volledig anders. Ik ga van het ene inspirerende gesprek naar de volgende boeiende afspraak. Soms gepland (tenminste, de gesprekken – niet de inhoud die vaak meer is dan ik had verwacht), maar soms ook niet. Serendipiteit,

Transitie & internationale ontwikkeling. Transitie in de textielsector. De textielsector in China en Pakistan. Inkooppraktijk & verantwoord ondernemerschap. Sociaal ondernemerschap. Strategie voor nieuwe markten.

Zo maar een paar onderwerpen die de afgelopen dagen over koffie voorbij kwamen.

En daarnaast vervolgplannen maken voor Absolute Asia, blogideeën die al maanden in mijn hoofd zitten nu echt in gang zetten (stay tuned voor gesprekken met experts uit mijn netwerk over de onderwerpen van dit blog), offertes op de post doen.

Morgen duik ik in de wereld van due diligence: hoe krijg je als internationaal ondernemend bedrijf inzicht op mogelijke risico’s die je loopt op mensenrechtenschendingen of milieuvervuiling en hoe ga je daarmee om? Een mooie opwarmer voor volgende week wanneer ik me twee dagen stort op hoe je binnen een bedrijf kunt omgaan met de UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights.

Precies het type ‘stad’ waar ik in wil leven.