Venture and Social Capital: A Vision for Japan (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from last week, my essay on “Venture and Social Capital”:

2. Encourage a culture of empathy through volunteering
At my high school in California, every student had to perform 100 hours of community service in order to advance to the next grade level. The focus was not on impersonal activities like cleaning up a park, but on providing meaningful service to the less privileged people in our community. Volunteering to help people instills the idea in young minds that “giving back” to society is a natural part of life. Young people discover that volunteering pays rich dividends in community appreciation, self-esteem, compassion, humility, and gratitude. Equally important, they learn that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.

Japan would benefit from such a program for a number of reasons. First, it would help young people learn empathy for others, and thus grow into compassionate adults. Second, it would lead people of all ages to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses. And third, it would teach people to ask for help when they need it and both give and receive assistance from others as a matter of course.

A broader, deeper culture of empathy could also help to energize the business environment. One of the main reasons that so few venture businesses appear in Japan and far fewer succeed is that people in established companies, in banks, and so on, feel no sense of responsibility toward or even kinship with individuals who build their own businesses. Reaching out to help others is essential to helping a venture business succeed, just as employees being willing to help each other inside a start-up company is essential to its success. Many Japanese are too concerned with their own department, their own company, their own clients. The empathy response to help others, especially those who are somehow disadvantaged, is just not there. This characteristic is evident not only in the lack of support for venture business but also in the abysmally low level of philanthropy in Japan.

This is important because it applies directly to a nation’s ability to germinate and cultivate new businesses: start-up companies are all disadvantaged. Venture businesses are handicapped by a lack of experienced management, lack of access to capital, and lack of appeal to attract talented employees. Ventures succeed when people in the business community see their potential and offer them different kinds of assistance to help them grow.

While the effects of a wide-scale volunteer program are impossible to estimate, one result would certainly be an increase in personal empathy, a greater feeling of kinship with and responsibility to help others who need help. And that would include businesspeople feeling more inclined to help rather than hinder others, both within their companies and in the business community at large. In this sense, the growth of venture business—which I see as essential to invigorating this economy—will rely at least as much on individual and corporate assistance as on government support. So, as volunteerism promotes empathy, it not only “humanizes” society but indirectly helps to energize the economy.

(End of part 2 of 3 – Your comments are always welcome)

Note: This article originally appeared in Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works, McKinsey & Company, Shogakukan (Japan), Simon & Schuster (USA), July 2011. Used with permission.

William Saito
Special Advisor at Cabinet Office (Govt. of Japan)
Named by Nikkei as one of the “100 Most Influential People for Japan,” Saito began software programming at an early age and started his own company in high school. By the time he was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today), he was recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on encryption, biometric authentication and cyber security.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm and consultancy that identifies innovative technologies, develops global talent and helps entrepreneurs become successful. In 2013, Saito was appointed a Special Advisor to the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

Similarly, in 2012 he served as a council member on national strategy for the Cabinet-level National Policy Unit, and prior to that, was named as the Chief Technology Officer for the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). He is a Foundation Board Member at the World Economic Forum (WEF), and has been named by the WEF as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has also served as an advisor to METI, MIC, MEXT, MLIT, AIST, IPA and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), among others.

He teaches at multiple universities, serves on several corporate boards, appears as a commentator on national TV and is the author of numerous publications in addition to writing a weekly column for a prominent Japanese business newspaper. His best-selling management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP in 2012, his follow-on book, Is Your Thinking up to Global Standards?, was published by Daiwa Shobo in late 2013 and his autobiography, An Unprogrammed Life: Adventures of an Incurable Entrepreneur, was published in 2011 by John Wiley & Sons.

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