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Pro bono around the world - Ikuma, Japan

Pro Bono Lab launched in 2020 the study "International Panorama of pro bono". Its objective : analyse the diversity of pro bono practices around the world. Discover the testimony of Ikuma, from Service Grant Japan.

Service Grant Japan is an intermediary organization that coordinates pro bono projects, created 15 years ago. They’re connecting business professional and social purpose organization thanks to pro bono.

Ikuma Saga is its founder and CEO.

1. Can you tell us more about the national context in which your organisation operates?

Japan has a relatively short history in the social sector because the law to justify non-profit organization was enacted in 1998. It’s quite new I would say, it’s only been 22 years since the law was passed. So, the social sector or non-profit sector is relatively small and quite young, if I compare it to France or the United-States, for example.

The number of non-profit organizations is relatively small that is about 50K organizations as incorporated bodies. I heard that in France there are more than a million, so it’s smaller here, but we also have another kind of organizations, there are so many informal small groups, citizen groups or neighbourhood associations. These informal social or public sector mean that our beneficiaries can be strong non-profit organizations, small neighbourhood organizations or informal local organizations, etc. This is the basic background.

Also, in terms of pro bono, again the history of volunteering tends to be a bit short. In Japan, in 1995, during the earthquake, it was supposed to be the first year of volunteering. Of course, there used to be a lot of volunteering before that but 1995 was a time when a lot of people understood the power of volunteering, so this is the beginning. But I think that progress has been made and younger generations understand more and are particularly interested in volunteering. The concept of pro bono is also taking hold. The majority of pro bono workers in Japan are individuals free from corporate volunteering or philanthropy programs. Corporations are quite slow to start pro bono. Some corporations started early but majority of them are very slow to start or they don’t very start or think about it.

2. If you had one legislative measure put in place by your government to facilitate the work you do…what would it be?  

I wrote some article before, which said that if the government gave a tax deduction if you do some pro bono work, that may be super. But of course, there is no organization to manage with pro bono time and this pro bono can be authorized as a time to get some tax deduction. But if that works it could be very interesting. Also, if some pro bono can be authorized and tax deductible and some are not, it can lead to some kind of bureaucracy and too much authority for certain organizations, it can be harmful so I’m still not 100% sure about this idea but it can bring some impact.

I was also interested in the idea of Billion+ Change  like the United-States did. The government promotes corporate pro bono activities as a kind of campaign, which never happens in Japan. The government can encourage corporations to do pro bono and I think that can be a good campaign.

3. What are the different activities that you put into place within your organisation?

First of all, we have differentiated the pro bono programs. Our first program is like 6 months with five or six people, so it is the very root Services Grant program by Taproot, which was our original program. Then we started one day so, a Marathon program, and also one day workshop so it’s a kind of Scopathon and then we have mid-term like 2-3 months projects. So that's the different duration: 1 day, 2-3 months and 6 months.

The second one related to our geography, our environment. We usually support the local non-profit organizations, local beneficiaries but also, we do a kind of pro bono field work. People living and working in Tokyo go to the countryside and support forest or fishing villages, etc. They go there and they make treks sometimes.

Another thing, we have a program called Mama Bono, which a pro bono program for mothers in maternity leave from the company. Usually, in Japan the maternity leave is one year. On the one hand, it is a good thing, you can take care of the  babies but on the other hand, it can be hard for the mother to return to work afterwards. They have a lot of anxiety about being able to recover and return to their recent work. It may be good to remind them of what they can do. This is an original program from us.

We have quite variety of programs inside pro bono program. We are also starting an online platform, it’s still developing but it’s basically one by one matching. So, only one-person support one organization. We’ve set up the online platform to show this organization have this kind of need and anybody can offer help and get into the organization, and that’s we are developing.

Basically, many pro bono projects are to support the non-profit organizations, it’s the main purpose. But sometimes corporations can make pro bono projects as human resources developing opportunities. It can be turned into an educational process, so, we provide some educational pro bono projects to the corporations.

4. An inspiring example of a pro bono program you put in place recently?

We do events or workshops about social issues or social actions, especially this year. We just started the Social Action Academy to think about a program with children in hard circumstances. We collaborate with other organizations that deal specifically with orphans to try to build bridges with them. We are encouraging volunteers not just to support but behave like activists for 6 months, to do some social campaign to publicize the issues and try to be more influential for the society.

I’m looking for opportunities not just to support organizations, but to do more than our missions and have an impact or influence on society in general, which is what we are exploring right now.

Bridge for Smile is specialized in supported children, youth generation. Our program is not directly educate children. The participants are pro bono workers or other people, but the issue is about children under hard circumstances. The program is in three phases, the first phase is several open conferences and workshops (now it’s online). Some organization are guests and they give some lectures of what the situation is, the problems and the challenges. Then participants learn about the situation and think about what can be done to change it. We had like three different conferences this month.

After these conferences, some people came up with an idea or a social actions. Then we have a planning phase to think about the social action and how we can start it, how we can develop it. Finally, it’s a kind of implementation phase. We communicate about the campaign, the idea or the action that we have put in place.

6. You said you have the public sector as provider of volunteers: can you tell me more about it?  

It’s diverse. There are so many kinds of public organizations or activities and counterparts in your country but something quite unique in Japan it’s called neighbourhood organizations. It’s not municipalities, it’s a kind of local associations but not like in your culture. It’s very historical, traditional and it's pretty particular, you can like or dislike it. If I’m living here, I’m supposed to belong to this neighbourhood and it’s basically settled. It’s supposed to be a kind of loose network of people and sometimes they organise festivals. It’s not something young people really like. It’s seems to be completely diminishing. But there are still some good sides to it and some very nice local neighbourhood associations that are doing very well.

For example, if you’re new in town, you can go to exchange meetings and some neighbourhood associations organise local sports events, running and other things. It’s very interesting to create a community, so when I look at it, some organizations are doing well and if we can support those, good ideas can spread, that’s what I meant.

Today, Japan has the oldest population in Asia, one of the biggest in the world I think which means that it can put a lot of pressure on our insurance system. The government and the people know that our insurance system cannot sustain as far as we continue to apply the same standards. Local associations, local activities are supposed to be very important to support and help the assistance professionals. For example, if the elderly wants to move some big drawers or laundry machine inside the house and they cannot do it, the young people can provide help for them. This type of assistance network is increasing in Japan and the government promoted this to happen. In addition, there are also preventive care, if you don’t have physical activity your body will be in bad shape, so people can meet and do exercise together.

Assistance network is increasing in Japan and the government promoted this to happen.

7. You have a platform, how does it work?

Basically, it’s like TaprootPlus (it’s online platform of the Taproot Foundation). It’s like an online advertisement for human resources. So, the non-profit can post the needs of pro bono support and if some pro bono worker can help them, they can press a contact button and introduce themselves to the organization. If the organization finds that the applicant is very good and wants to start a meeting they can. If it goes well, the match is successful, and the project starts. When they start, they decide on a schedule that could fit and enter it on the platform. Then the system will follow you so they can collaborate until the end.

It was released last March so it’s quite new and we still have a small number of projects. It is a connector between the social sector and pro bono workers.

In this platform the idea is to follow until the end and not just match them. Managing a volunteer is a big task, so part of it is done by the system: the volunteer has to enter what he or she will do, until this day I will do this, until this month I will do that, and then the project starts. The system will sort of chase you,- today this event should take place, so have you finished, otherwise what’s the next thing to do?.

In this platform the idea is to follow until the end and not just match them. Managing a volunteer is a big task, so part of it is done by the system.

8. You are conducting research activities, can you tell us what they consist of?

We do a part of it and other actors also support us on certain subjects. What we do is an annual survey for the beneficiary non-profits, although we have difficulties with the low response rate, but anyway. Every year we ask beneficiaries to answer the same questions: for example, the number of beneficiaries, the size of the budget or things like that. We give them kind of a report for each year so they can see changes in each indicator. I think it’s good for them but maybe it’s too much for some.

Another thing we call the Pro Bono Census, we do a post-project evaluation, which is a questionnaire sent to the pro bono workers to find out if they are satisfied, what they find important, the differences between before and after, and so on. We collect the numbers, make analysis and make them public.

In some research with academics, most of them are interested in pro bono workers and how they are changing, especially corporates, what will happen if they take an interest. They describe, study in-depth and use some notions and concepts to illustrate what pro bono is, what is significant about pro bono. We help them write their study, their paper. I encourage them to do translations into English, but that is not yet the case.

But unfortunately, these academics are not very much interested in the social impact or the impact of pro bono support on the beneficiary side, there’s a total lack of it. We’re doing some studies on this side, but we do it on our own.

9. Have you adapted your activity to the coronavirus situation? If yes, how?

It’s necessary for us to adapt to the situation, but there is still a kind of limitation I would say. But of course, most orientation, kick-off or team meetings can be done online. We’re trying to do many parts of our activity online, but I’m not sure what the consequences will be. We don’t know how this situation can influence the quality of the outcome, the quality of the pro bono project, or how we can tell if the different parts are satisfied. The projects are still ongoing, so we don’t know that yet.

But of course, people are doing quite well. Many people are trying to overcome this situation, but to see certain things or to visit the beneficiaries it is not possible, and a lot of information or feelings go through that. Without this kind of real contact, I’m a bit sceptical about the quality, but we still have to manage.

I’m not sure what the consequences will be. We don’t know how this situation can influence the quality of the outcome, the quality of the pro bono project, or how we can tell if the different parts are satisfied

10. Why is pro bono important according to you, and why it will be even more relevant in the future?

I had no idea I would still be working as a pro bono coordinator when I started in 2005. I didn’t imagine that I would do this for so long, but the reason I continue to do it is that there is always something new and challenging for me. Pro bono can be very interesting because it can be seen from many different angles. To the corporation, to workers, to personal development as well and to non-profit organizations, there are so many differences: difference of area, region or community. That’s why I’m continuing this process of discovery. The pro bono brings me stimulation and fulfilment, a lot of information, that’s why I do this.

And for society, there are also many opportunities to kind of educate adults, educate people and also to feel useful, a saviour, to support people in need.

Pro bono is one thing, but it can do so many things. It’s very effective and efficient. It is like a strategy to make people happy.

🌏🧐 Intéressé.e par le Panorama International du pro bono, et par l'engagement citoyen à l'international ? + d'infos par ici

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