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Yohei Sasakawa
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Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi [2011年12月27日(Tue)]

Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi
Visit to Myanmar (2)

The schedule for my trip to Myanmar at the end of last year (December 12 to 20) was an extremely hectic one, but it turned out to be a very fruitful and satisfying experience. I’m very grateful for the efforts of all who were involved.

On December 19, my last day in Myanmar, I had the opportunity to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD). She has had a great many visitors since being released from house arrest, but I was one of her first visitors from Japan.

Aung San Suu Kyi lives in an elegant two-story house with a wide lawn, located on the shore of Kandawgyi Lake in the fashionable district of Yangon, close to the city’s downtown area. When I had visited two years before, the street was blocked off and heavily guarded by soldiers, and it had been all I could do to catch sight of the house from a considerable distance. This time, however, there were no guards or soldiers in front of the gate, only the NLD party flag, fluttering in silence, and the surrounding unoccupied buildings.

The NLD party headquarters in the heart of the city, where our meeting took place, is a long, narrow room, bustling with activity. It reminds me of the office of a candidate for public office in Japan. The walls are crowded with sepia-tone photographs of General Aung San and photos of Aung San Suu Kyi. Near the narrow entrance, NLD calendars and other goods were on sale. The place was jammed with people eating at tables along both sides of the room; people meeting in groups; people lost in thought, doing nothing; people staring repeatedly at Aung San Suu Kyi calendars; and people hustling up and down the narrow aisles winding through the place.

Overwhelmed by all this feverish activity, we elbowed our way to the very back of the room, where we had a short wait. I was told that a meeting of high-level staff was being held to discuss important issues, including that of registering the NLD with the government, as well as the strategy for the election expected to be held next March or April. About fifteen minutes after the appointed time, we were ushered up a stairway near the entrance.

We were told that Aung San Suu Kyi was waiting on the other side of a shabby-looking door. When the media people had assembled, the door opened and there was Aung San Suu Kyi, wearing a tranquil smile familiar to anyone who has seen her image on TV or in magazines. She invited me into a modest room of about ten or twelve square meters, entirely occupied by a large desk and seating for six or seven people.

I told her briefly about the Nippon Foundation’s efforts, dating back to the 1970s, to eliminate leprosy, build elementary schools in outlying areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, and disseminate traditional medical practices, as well as its various programs for developing human resources, which include organizing disabled people. Aung San Suu Kyi showed great interest and reacted enthusiastically, interrupting me to ask how she could contact the Nippon Foundation.

She told me of the gratitude of people in Myanmar for the support we have provided. She also said that the Japanese have demonstrated a wonderful sense of responsibility, and that she has been deeply moved by the way people in Japan have endured the terrible earthquake.

In response, I said that Japanese people are not so good when it comes to short distances, and that―judging from the state of relations between our countries―Japan may seem to have fallen behind in providing support to and making progress in Myanmar; but I underscored my hope that the situation can be viewed from a long-term perspective.”

Taking a lighter tone, she said that, when it comes to marathons, Ethiopia is way ahead of Japan; and we both shared a laugh at her comment.

I also had a chance to find out San Suu Kyi’s views on topics that are of particular interest to the Japanese media these days. I was curious, first of all, to learn more about what expectations she had from the Japanese government. She told me that she hopes that the official development assistance provided by Japan will be useful to the people of Myanmar and will help make her fellow citizens more self-reliant in the future.

Another topic that interested me, along with many people in Japan, was her reaction to the recent death of Kim Jong-il. She noted her concerns about the youth and lack of experience of his successor, while noting that the official transfer of power was not expected to happen so soon.

Finally, I queried about Myanmar’s relations with China and with the United States. In relation to this, she expressed her satisfaction at the decision made by President Sein to suspend construction on the Myitsone dam hydroelectric project, which was financed with Chinese capital.

When it was time to leave I handed her a gift and told her it was just a small present that could not come close to conveying my feelings of affection for Myanmar. She replied, with a smile, that my outfit that day―dressed as I was in the traditional ethnic clothing of Myanmar―already conveyed to her those feelings.

As I left this very enjoyable meeting, I told her that I hoped we could meet again after the election for a longer talk.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
President Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi [2011年12月26日(Mon)]

Aung San Suu Kyi holding a personal letter from former President Václav Havel.

President Václav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi
Visit to Myanmar (1)

On December 18, I was about to go to sleep in Yangon when I was informed by my travelling companion Natsuko Tominaga that former President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic had died. Stunned and speechless, I saw my 16-year friendship with Havel flash before my eyes. Sleep never came, a rare occurrence for me.

The topic of this year’s Forum 2000, an international conference in Prague that the Nippon Foundation established, was democracy and the rule of law. (I wrote about the conference in a blog entry for November 21, 2011.)

I recall that Havel became seriously ill just before the second year of the conference. We prepared for the worst, but he made a miraculous recovery. He remained in good health and attended every year thereafter until the 2011 conference, the fifteenth.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, international conferences all over the world were cancelled, but we were in agreement that it was all the more important to hold a conference at such a time.

That conference holds a place in my memories. I recall the faces of many of the leading figures who attended, including former US President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, the Dalai Lama, President Richard von Weizsacker of Germany, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President F. W. de Klerk of South Africa, and Henry Kissinger.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s name has appeared on the roster of attendees for every conference. In October I asked why her name was listed when it was impossible for her to attend. Havel replied that her name is deliberately included on the roster to ensure that she is not forgotten. I was ashamed to have asked such a foolish question.

The first day of the 2011 conference began with a surprise presentation―a videotaped message from Aung San Suu Kyi. It caused a sensation in the hall, and a huge wave of applause erupted at the conclusion of her remarks. Havel had told me about it the previous evening when we were having a shot of Becherovka, a Czech liqueur, prior to the opening ceremony held at the Prague Crossroads, formerly a church. Smiling merrily as he raised the glass to his lips, he told me to keep it secret until the next day. After the end of the conference I saw him chatting with some officials in front of Žofín Palace, about to get into a car. I gave him a little wave and said “See you next year.” That was the last time I ever saw him.

With former President Havel, watching a videotaped message from Aung San Suu Kyi.

Videotaped message from Aung San Suu Kyi, presented at the conference.

One of the reasons I requested a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi was to deliver to her a letter from Havel. During our meeting, I told her of my memories of him and said that his letter was probably among the last things he wrote. It will be needed when they prepare a posthumous collection of his works, so I asked her to keep it in a safe place. She said she certainly would, and quietly noted that President Havel had been a kindred spirit in world democracy. When I asked if she could send a letter of condolence, she readily agreed.

I hope that next October’s Forum 2000 will be dedicated to the memory of President Havel and focus on his legacy and aspirations. By then the national elections in Myanmar will have been held. Perhaps Aung San Suu Kyi, having at long last been elected to the national legislature, will be able to stand before a memorial portrait of President Havel, who was so faithfully committed to her, and give a speech. I truly hope so.

Havel-san, thank you. My one regret is that I couldn't attend your state funeral. I cherish the memory of our friendship; and I treasure the letters I received from you, which always included a little heart, drawn in red ink, below your signature.

I learned a lot from you. I'll never forget your indomitable will, your sense of humor, or the Becherovka we shared.

May you rest in peace.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Sasakawa Global 2000 [2011年12月21日(Wed)]

Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Sasakawa Global 2000

I was in the capital of Mali, Bamako, on November 3 of last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sasakawa Global 2000.

As some of you may know, that program was launched by the Sasakawa Africa Association to help overcome the problems of famine by assisting subsistent African farmers.

On its 25th anniversary, the program is stronger than ever, thanks to a number of new partners and donors. In particular we have been placing more emphasis on strengthening the value chain to connect small-scale farmers to the market.

If you would like to find out more about the past, present, and future of Sasakawa Global 2000 please head over to the Nippon Foundation website and read the transcript of my speech.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
ILA Regional Congress of the Americas [2011年12月14日(Wed)]

ILA Regional Congress of the Americas

At the end of November I attended the International Leprosy Association's Regional Congress held in Maceio, Brazil.

The event gathered together medical specialists engaged in the effort to conquer leprosy as well as physicians, nurses, and NGO personnel working on the frontlines of treatment and social rehabilitation.

I delivered a speech at the congress and a transcript of it is available on the Nippon Foundation website.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Last Trip of the Year: Myanmar [2011年12月12日(Mon)]
Last Trip of the Year: Myanmar

From today, December 12, through December 20, I’ll be taking a nine-day trip to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s rapid progress toward democracy has evoked action from the otherwise reluctant United States, which continues to maintain stringent economic sanctions against Myanmar, in the form of a recent visit by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

In Washington DC, in May 2010, I presented my candid views on the situation in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Clinton’s chief assistant. I later received a polite letter from him, although he had resigned from office by that time. There is a human rights faction at the White House that takes a harsh view toward the two countries, but I earnestly hope Secretary Clinton’s visit will pave the way for the lifting of economic sanctions.

During my trip, I’m planning to meet with Myanmar officials, including the president, minister of foreign affairs, minister of health, minister of border affairs, and minister of social welfare.

It has been decided that Myanmar will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Myanmar has little experience with international conferences. In response to this, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) will implement a new program specifically designed to develop personnel capable of chairing ASEAN, as an addition to the longstanding SPF programs human-resource programs in the field of government administration.

In addition, I plan to take a three hour trip by hovercraft from Sittwe, located near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, to visit Mrauk U. There I will observe some activities being carried out under the Nippon Foundation projects to eliminate leprosy, to help distribute medical kits with traditional medicines to 7,000 villages, and to construct 200 elementary schools in remote areas.

Other highlights of the trip will be the chance to meet the mayor of Yangon, who is an old friend of mine, and to attend a gathering in Yangon of more than 120 people―including graduates of the United Nations University for Peace who have taken part in Nippon Foundation human resources development programs, Sasakawa Fellowship students from the World Maritime University in Sweden, disabled people, allies in the fight to eradicate leprosy, people who have worked in a program to distribute traditional medicines, and those who have completed public-service training programs.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
“41st Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution” Award Ceremony [2011年12月09日(Fri)]

Chairman Sasakawa addresses the award ceremony, telling recipients: “I have a lot to learn from people who have dedicated so many years to serving others.”

“41st Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution” Award Ceremony

On November 21 last year I went to the Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo to attend the 41st award ceremony for the Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution, whose activities are funded by the Nippon Foundation.

Nominated for awards in 2011 were a total of 187 people who are contributing to society in Japan and overseas in an unassuming way, outside of the public eye; and 54 of them (involved in 49 different initiatives) enjoyed their moment in the sun as award winners.

I am very grateful to the hard work of Foundation Chairman Kimindo Kusaka, Selection Committee Chairman Masajuro Shiokawa, and the members of the board for having carefully reviewed the documents accompanying recommendations as well as the mountain of materials collected by foundation staff members who travelled to various sites.

At the award ceremony, I was impressed by the vibrant faces of the award recipients. As I told them in my speech, their beautifully vibrant auras no doubt reflects their noble spirit of always seeking to help others.

In my speech, I congratulated them for all of their hard work that has contributed to the welfare of the world and its people. I have tried to do likewise, through my efforts to help eliminate leprosy and increase food production in Africa, but considering the achievements of the award recipients reminded me of my own shortcomings and encouraged me to work harder in the future.

The sort of activities carried out by the award recipients are precisely what is needed today because Japan’s enormous fiscal deficit (on the order of one quadrillion yen!) means that more and more sectors are beyond the reach of the nation and its government. The award recipients have helped offset this by providing solid support at the grassroots level.

Another point I emphasized in my speech at the ceremony is the great image of Japan globally, as reflected in the fact that for three years running, starting in 2006, it topped a BBC ranking of countries considered to exert a positive influence around the world―and is still in the top ranks of that ranking. One reason for this positive reputation is due to the efforts of Japanese people like the award recipients I addressed at the ceremony, who are helping to bring the magnificent Japanese spirit to the rest of the world.

In my speech I also pointed the bonds among Japanese people, which were the focus of attention after the March 11 disaster. It is precisely that spirit of mutual assistance, reflected in the Japanese spirit, that the Nippon Foundation is seeking to foster through its philanthropic efforts. We are also recognizing and awarding activities by businesses that contribute to society, based on the view that businesses cannot simply concern themselves with earning profits. Indeed businesses will be called upon to play an increasingly prominent role, which is all the more apparent as we confront the prospect of recovering from the recent disaster.

More and more young people in Japan, as I pointed out to the award recipients, are seeking to work for businesses that actively honor their corporate social responsibilities. We have thus entered an age in which firms seeking to hire the most promising graduates will not be able to attract personnel unless they conscientiously pursue CSR initiatives. I myself am working every day, proceeding by trial and error, to create mechanisms that will enable these businesses to support the efforts of nonprofit organizations, volunteer groups, and people like you, who stand on the front lines.

A final point I touched on in my speech is that Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) has declined in recent years, thereby diluting the country’s oversea presence. Yet despite that decline wherever I go in the world―and to date I have visited more than 120 countries―I encounter Japanese people doing honest work and fitting in within the local community. They don’t call attention to their efforts, and they are hardly ever mentioned in the media.

When you see how Japan and the Japanese spirit clearly flows through them, however, you realize that foreign aid means more than just using putting up ODA-financed public buildings. Hardly anyone who lives in Japan knows how influential this aspect of the Japanese spirit―its soft power―really is. This year, the Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution’s selection committee paid particular attention to this point in making their evaluations. As someone involved in overseas assistance activities, I find this very gratifying and feel it needs to be publicized throughout Japan.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
University of Helsinki [2011年12月05日(Mon)]

With Ilkka Niiniluoto, Chancellor of University of Helsinki

University of Helsinki

The Sasakawa Ryoichi Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) that has been established at 69 universities across 43 countries has to date graduated more than 14,000 excellent students.

University of Helsinki is the oldest and the largest multidisciplinary university in Finland. It was founded as Royal Academy of Turku in 1640 when Finland was under Swedish rule, by Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689). When Finland became the Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire in 1809, it was renamed the Imperial Academy of Turke. With the independence of Finland in 1917, it was renamed as University of Helsinki.

On my recent visit to the university to deliver a speech at the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the SYLFF program, I was able to spend a pleasant time chatting with Chancellor Ilkka Niiniluoto.

“Am I correct to understand that the university chancellor is an honorary position served normally by the president or the prime minister of the country, and does the rector usually do all the work inside of the university?” I asked.

To my question, Chancellor Niiniluoto answered:
“During the days of the Russian rule, there were times when the Czar became the university president at the age of two, but what could a two year-old do? so…. I am in charge of acquiring the budget for the university and negotiating with the government, and I leave it to the Rector to take care of university matters. Queen Christina, an intelligent woman, founded the predecessor to this university, the Royal Academy of Turku, at the age of 14. When she was 23 years old, she sent that famous philosopher Descartes 3 personal letters asking him to be her tutor and he finally accepted after the third letter, and it is said that she went to fetch him on a warship. The lectures started from 5 a.m. in January of 1650. It was an ordeal for Descartes who had a habit of sleeping in late, and he died of developing pneumonia from a cold he had in February.

By the way, we hear of news of famine in Somalia these days, and we have about 10,000 Somalians living here in Finland. It was the safest and the cheapest way for Somalian refugees to escape via Cairo to Russia, and these people then came into Finland.

Mr. Sasakawa, how do you measure the level of democracy in each country? I judge by the height of the raised knees of the soldiers in a military parade.”

“Yes, we have a neighbor whose soldiers in their military parades raise their knees higher than anyone else in the world. By the way, Chancellor, how do you look at the Arab Spring?”

“I would wish it to succeed, but I think confusion and chaos will continue as there is no established system to accept the dissidents even after their success in ousting the government.”

“An Arab intellectual that I met in Prague the other day said, “Please don’t call it the ‘Arab Spring.’ Spring in Arab is nothing but a desert storm. Call it Arab Illusion.” ”

“I see.”

We went on talking from one subject to another like this. The Chancellor was a big-hearted man of fine humor.

Historically, Finland has been tossed about by Sweden and Russia before gaining independence in 1917. But she has continued to be troubled by the existence of Russia. Finland is a new country, but the educational system is attracting world-wide attention and I have been told that there are quite a number of Japanese visiting Finland. Master’s degree is required also for kindergarten teachers, and although the salary is low, there are many who wish to become teachers for the high social standing of the profession.

University of Helsinki has 38,000 students of which 3,000 students come from 115 countries. Today, when every university suffers from the effects of low interest rate in their financial administration, but UOH is an exception. In its early years, the University received a gift of a chain pharmacy from the royal family which today enriches the university with sales of 4,000 Euros (approximately \4 billion). The endowment fund is operated at a special 6% interest rate. As a result, UOH is free of all worries in today’s world of low interest rate, and can select excellent students as their scholarship recipients. It is indeed one of the best universities in Europe where the operation of the endowment is successfully implemented.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
The 2011 CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Grand Prix goes to Kuroneko Yamato [2011年12月02日(Fri)]

The 2011 CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Grand Prix goes to Kuroneko Yamato

The 5th CSR Citizen-selected Grand Prix Award Ceremony was held on November 11th at the Nippon Foundation. The Grand Prix went to Kuroneko Yamato (transportation business). Below is the list of all the recipients with reasons for their selection.

Company Reasons Votes
Grand Prix

Yamato Holdings Co .Ltd
The company was recognized highly for the united
action in providing free-of-charge transportation of
relief goods and donation of \10 per package
towards the regeneration of the fisheries and
agriculture in the disaster affected area.
First Prize
(Tokyo Stock Exchange
Section 1
listed companies)

Fujifilm Corporation
Fujifilm used their camera and film expertise to
clean the photographs that had been spoiled by the
disaster in collaboration with the volunteers in the
disaster affected area.
First Prize 
(Tohoku companies)

Familiar, Ltd
Familiar operates sales of agricultural products and
consultation business in Tohoku. They were
evaluated for their initiative to come up with
measures to tackle harmful rumors and to create
employment and for their active involvement in
supporting the regeneration of agriculture by
focusing on individual companies and their needs.
Communication Prize
(Alterna Prize)

Felissimo Corporation
A catalog direct sales company Felissimo has
developed new donation-based products. The
recipients of the donation are selected by customers
thereby creating a good customer relationship
management scheme.
Special Prize

Yagisawa Shoten Co. Ltd
A 200 year-old soy sauce and miso (soy paste)
company has been delivering relief goods free of
charge to evacuation shelters while their own
business was totally devastated and there was
absolutely nothing left. Yagisawa Shoten has been
focusing not only on its own recovery but the entire
region by collaborating actively with other local

Summary of the Speech of Yohei Sasakawa at the CSR Grand Prix Awarding Ceremony

November 11, 2011 at the Nippon Foundation

The CSR Grand Prix is already in its 5th year. There is a vast difference in the interest shown by many citizens towards corporate social responsibility now as compared to the time that the Nippon Foundation started to advocate the importance of this corporate action. While acknowledging that you are all specialists in this area, allow me to explain the reason why we have created this mechanism.

As you are already aware, Japan currently has an astronomical fiscal deficit in the order of \1000 trillion. What it means is that we are on the par with such countries as Greece and Italy. There are several reasons why Japan has been able to hold out, but I shall not go into the technical reasons at this time.

With such a huge debt, there are many areas of our society where the government and administrative organs cannot reach out in terms of budget allocation. During sixty some years since the end of World War II, we have enjoyed a period where the government could be left to run the country as long as the citizens paid taxes. Yet those times are over and we are currently facing an era where there needs support, or actors to shoulder the work and fill the gap where the administration cannot reach out to. One such support was provided by the NPOs who worked energetically to aid the disaster area during the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. But there is yet one more player that is even more important.

When we think of the raison d’être of companies in the days gone by, it was to manufacture good quality products to make citizens’ lives richer, or it was to promote employment. Half of the profit would then be paid to the government as tax, and they were able to separate dividends from directors’ bonus. These were the corporate activities that exhibited the value of their existence. But in the globalized world, it has become a matter of course to make good quality products. In addition to good quality products, it was required of the companies to have corporate personality with corporate magnetism to be called an excellent company, an exceptional company. Globalism brought upon them a mandate to develop into, and be evaluated by the civil society, as a superb company by extending their kind hands to society that seemingly might not have any relationship with their business.

We, the Nippon Foundation would like to play a role as a detonator to change society. For that we publish the CSR ranking of top 1700 Tokyo Stock Exchange Section 1 listed companies. Bloomberg, a world premier site for business and financial information has immediately picked up the Nippon Foundation CSR ranking list. They are applying it in their business knowing very well that this is useful investment information to be provided to overseas investors and companies. Recently the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan’s economic newspaper) has asked us to share the information with them as well.

Our program is in no way sufficient as it is still in its early stage. We must still develop it with stricter criteria that are required in the analysis of CSR activities.

The young generation today visits the internet site to collect industry information, but in doing so they are already starting to show preference to work in a company that is actively contributing to society. As a result, companies have no other choice but to be aggressively involved with society if they are to hire excellent human resources. We would like to turn also to the consumers and create a mechanism whereby consumers will be able to select products from CSR active companies. For example, if there were to be a selection made for a laundry detergent, the choice would be to buy the product of an environmentally-friendly company.

We can also go further and include companies that are supporting NPOs through their active CSR or companies themselves that are working in the capacity of NPOs. It is one of our major goals that by doing so, the corporate sector, like yourselves, would be able to turn your attention to, and come in to help, those individuals and companies that are not being sufficiently served by the government.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, we have been visited by many companies at the Nippon Foundation, saying that they have the financial resources but do not know how or where to use the money. We believe that we, at the Nippon Foundation, can play the role of assisting companies by suggesting customized CSR program for each company and for them to contribute their social services in a way that their names are visible. Another way is for us to act as catalyst between companies and NPOs. It is the wish of the Nippon Foundation to become a catalyst to bring about a richer life for the citizens of our country.

These are the reasons for which we have asked 20,000 citizens to select the recipients of our CSR awards. Your companies are all involved in the most advanced, pioneering work. We would like you to take this as an opportunity to take further strides so that all the companies in Japan would help those in need of help, and become a major factor for creating a better society through your collaboration with NPOs.

I would like to express my sincere felicitations and joy to the recipient companies as your daily efforts have been justly evaluated to have given you your respective awards today.

Congratulations and thank you for your attention.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)