A Trojan Horse to Spark Innovation and Globalization

What if one simple concept, such as implementing a wide-reaching scholarship fund for Japanese students to study overseas, actually became, in a sense, a sort of “Trojan horse” into the Japanese establishment, unearthing a whole slew of inefficiencies, barriers and problems to be solved in Japan’s government, education system and society?

There are at least three points to consider when establishing an effective scholarship fund. The first, I present this week.

1. Expand beyond existing programs
First of all, there is little point in simply recreating existing programs like the Mansfield fellowship (U.S. government employees only), Rhodes (Oxford University only), National Science Foundation (for researchers/scientists) and Fulbright (graduate students only) scholarships, in which elite students go overseas to do post-graduate research. Researchers are important, of course, but Japan also needs to nurture people who will become the next generation of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and international business leaders, as well as artists, writers, musicians and people who support such endeavors.

This point is very important. The program should catalyze cross-pollination and well-rounded experience in a global way. Existing programs send students to meet similar peers to reinforce their area of knowledge. With the Japanese the opposite is needed – their education is currently very focused, so giving them a chance to interact, to exchange ideas with people of different backgrounds, both culturally and educationally, so they can see things from different perspectives. If there was one main point to this new scholarship program, it is to provide opportunities for such cross-pollination. Therefore, the program should be open to students from all fields of study.

In addition, the institution to which the students were being sent would have to be carefully vetted. Sending large numbers of Japanese students to community colleges or ESL programs, where the temptation would be to get together with other Japanese students, would be counterproductive. The program’s organizers should check out the situation overseas and also “load balance” the target universities to avoid a situation in which the students all end up at one institution and spend all their time together.

Next week, I discuss scholarship organizations and what functions they should perform to be effective.

Your comments are always welcome.

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 in elementary school and started his own company while still in high school and was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today). As one of the world’s leading authorities on cybersecurity.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm. In 2011, he served as the Chief Technology Officer of the National Diet’s (Parliament) Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. Later that year, he was named as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member for World Economic Forum (WEF) and subsequently been named to its Foundation Board. In 2012, Saito was appointed to a council on national strategy and policy that reported directly to the Prime Minister of Japan.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has served as an advisor to Japanese ministries; the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST); the Information Technology Promotion Agency (IPAS); the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, among others. He is currently the Special Advisor to the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry (METI) and the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

He went to medical school at UCLA and Harvard Kennedy School; serves on various boards of Global 2000 companies; frequently appears as a commentator on TV and is the author of seven books in addition to writing several weekly newspaper columns. His management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP and became a best-seller in 2012. In 2016, Saito received the Medal of Honor from the Government of Japan for his work in the field of education.

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