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Some Thoughts on the Great East Japan Earthquake [2012年01月07日(Sat)]

Some Thoughts on the Great East Japan Earthquake

On October 4, 2011, I gave a talk titled “Some Thoughts on the Great East Japan Earthquake” to the Okayama Association of Corporate Executives. A portion of the speech was carried in the daily Sanyo Shimbun the following day. Though a few months have passed since then, I would like to reprint it here.

What Corporations Can Do To Bolster NPOs’ Relief Efforts
The Nippon Foundation has undertaken various initiatives using the proceeds of motorboat races held at 24 locations around Japan in a cycle, one could say, of “activities for and by the people.” The Great East Japan Earthquake was an unprecedented calamity that shattered a 500-kilometer-long swath of coastline running north to south. Many people escaped with just the clothes on their back.

As somebody who experienced the Tokyo air raids during World War II, I know what it is like to lose everything except your life and live each day not knowing what the future holds. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, I decided I would go to Tohoku and pass out 50,000 yen to individuals there. While I realized the security precautions such an act required, I knew speed was of the essence if we were to help as many people as possible.

One thing that struck me was the appalling lack of information, something that became apparent as we and cooperating organizations from all over Japan, engaged in relief work. People in the stricken areas did not know where hot meals were served or where they could go to get clothing and food supplies. In the evacuation centers, a number of people had visual or hearing disabilities. Yet we didn’t even have sign language interpreters for Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio’s press conferences and other announcements that were being broadcasted on national television. After making repeated requests to the prime minister’s residence, we were able to see sign language interpreters interpreting important announcements made by government on TV. But these were merely makeshift measures. No efforts are being made to learn from our mistakes and enhance our disaster preparedness. This, unfortunately, is the reality.

Many of you made donations to the Japanese Red Cross Society, Central Community Chest of Japan, and other organizations. A total of \320 billion was collected, but after 6 months, only a small portion had been distributed. In the city of Sendai, for example, just 35% was used. The central government, for its part, declared the matter “taken care of” after meeting less than two hours and deciding local governments would be given 8 or 9 billion yen each. Everybody knows \100,000 in hand is worth more than a million yen a year after the disaster, but even so, the clock ticks and no action is taken. The failure to distribute the aid so generously provided by all of you frustrates me.

Japan is saddled with almost \1 quadrillion yen in outstanding debt, and the central government and local governments are finding it difficult to cover the growing costs of social welfare programs. Corporate social responsibility programs and nonprofit organizations activities offer one solution. Donations to NPOs are one way of enabling people in the stricken areas to live healthy, productive lives; and this is a goal that can be achieved.

Each year the Nippon Foundation ranks firms listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section, based on their corporate social activities. Today, corporations are regarded as corporate citizens and expected to contribute to society as such, but Japan lags far behind many other countries in this regard.

A growing number of young people express a desire to find employment at a company with a full range of social initiatives, and the question of corporate social responsibility is becoming a consideration for global investors and an investment standard. A growing number of consumers are increasingly basing their purchasing decisions on a company’s environmental activities.

I would like as many needy or vulnerable people as possible to be helped through corporate initiatives and NPO activities. In this respect, the Nippon Foundation has a mission to play as an intermediary between NPOs and corporations.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:25 | URL | comment(0)