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Yohei Sasakawa
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Pleased to Join First Forum on “Disabilities and Business” for an Inclusive World [2021/09/14]
Speaking at the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies, in Tokyo on August 20, 2021.

I was pleased to participate in the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies committed to including persons with disabilities in business through access to jobs, products and services.

The Valuable 500 was launched by Ms. Caroline Casey, an Irish social entrepreneur who is visually impaired, at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2019 to promote reforms that will enable persons with disabilities to demonstrate their potential social, business and economic value.

In a video message for the August 20 forum, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he “strongly supports” the initiative to promote employment of persons with disabilities and development of products and services tailored to their needs. He then welcomed The Nippon Foundation’s decision to join the business network as a Global Impact Partner by providing support totaling $5 million over the next three years. He is hopeful that the “highly significant” network will expand further beyond the 500 companies, he added.

Speaking online from Dublin, Ms. Casey noted it took two and a half years to bring together 500 CEOs from global firms committed to disability business inclusion. She hopes that more than 50 companies from Japan, the second largest number after the United Kingdom, will lead the way toward major innovation.

In my remarks, I welcomed the prime minister’s comments on business disability inclusion at this first forum, expressing my resolve to work with the 500 global business leaders to create employment for the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities and create products and services for them. The purchasing power of persons with disabilities in the world, their families and friends are said to total $13 trillion, a market bigger than China.

For more than 50 years, I noted, The Nippon Foundation has supported social participation by persons with disabilities across the globe. Our focus has been on creating an inclusive society in which people with disabilities can actively participate without discrimination.

In preparation for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, held from August 24 to September 5, 2021, The Nippon Foundation offered 29 Japanese Paralympic sports associations offices on the fourth floor of our building, providing them with organizational and logistical support, including translation into Japanese of documents regarding changes in competition rules.

Speaking just days before the start of the Paralympics, I told the forum I hoped the games would fill children the world over with hopes and dreams and serve as a catalyst for changing the world into a more inclusive society, thus providing a further impetus to the Valuable 500 initiative.

The network is chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and is being supported by noted global business leaders including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

The Valuable 500 membership includes such well-known names as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, BBC, BP, Daimler, Intel, Mastercard, and P&G as well as 53 Japanese companies such as ANA, Japan Airlines, Fast Retailing, NEC, Sega Sammy Holdings, Softbank, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Sompo Group, Sony, Dentsu, Hitachi, the Asahi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Seiko.

Later in the forum, we listened to presentations by business leaders including Mr. Kazuo Hirai, senior adviser to Sony Group, and Mr. Toshiya Kakiuchi, CEO of Mirairo Inc., who has used a wheelchair since childhood, on the value expected to be added to companies in the eyes of investors by inclusion of persons with disabilities in business and development of products and services for them.

The three-hour forum finished off with a talk session on challenges and possibilities Japanese firms face in disability business inclusion.

Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, The Nippon Foundation’s managing director, said in his closing remarks that years of efforts by governments, NGOs and others have failed to produce visible results, so the time is ripe for global CEOs to get directly involved in disability business inclusion. He said he was looking forward to seeing Japanese companies come up with unique ways of doing so and explaining them to the world.

Once the novel coronavirus pandemic becomes more manageable, I look forward to traveling around Japan and further afield to boost this initiative by private companies and individuals in business and get governments on board.