LONDON – One of Japan’s fastest-growing nonprofit organizations, which has distributed 16 million meals to African children, is raising its international profile and drawing inspiration from Britain’s charitable sector.
Organizers from Table for Two — a group that aims to simultaneously tackle the global problems of hunger and obesity — were in London recently on a fact-finding mission and presented their concept to an audience of corporate executives in the capital’s financial district.
The charity, started by three young Japanese social entrepreneurs in 2007, has proved popular in Japan and the program has been expanded to 10 other countries with varying degrees of success.
The concept is relatively simple. Firms and other organizations agree to stock in their cafeterias a range of low-calorie meals and snacks approved by Table for Two.
A total of 25 cents (¥20) from the purchase price of each meal is distributed to schools in East Africa — Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania — which buys a nutritious meal of 1,200 calories for a hungry youngster.
“It’s almost like sharing a dining table beyond time and place,” said Masa Kogure, director of Table for Two International. “That’s why we call it Table for Two.”
In Japan the charity has 530 participants, including corporations, government offices, universities, hotels and restaurants. In other countries, approximately 50 organizations have signed up.
“We’re expanding year upon year and are probably one of the fastest growing nonprofit organizations in Japan,” Kogure said.
The charity is eager to strengthen its presence beyond Japan and Kogure is keen to learn lessons from Britain, where there is already a strong nonprofit sector competing for donations.
The Table for Two concept was well received by the British audience and Kogure thinks the program will appeal to Western countries.
Kogure says there are growing concerns in Britain about child obesity and the quality of food offered to children as recently highlighted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s crusade to make school meals healthier.
In Britain, only two corporations are participating in the scheme and the British chapter is thinking about donating part of the proceeds from meals to the local community, instead of Africa, as a way of enticing more companies and public bodies into the program.
The scheme is proving to be relatively popular in Hong Kong and the United States, but one of the main difficulties faced overseas is working with suppliers and caterers to ensure the meals are sufficiently nutritious and meet the requirements of being between 750 and 950 calories.
Kogure says the program has proved popular in Japan because the donation is included automatically in the meal’s purchase price.
“The culture of donating is not as established as it is in the West. We are not accustomed to making donations in public. Sometimes you get criticized for doing good,” Kogure explained.
The 40-year-old former management consultant, who has been running the organization since it came into operation, expected that last year’s earthquake and tsunami disasters would lead to fewer meals purchased, but the level of donations has been maintained.
“We were surprised that there wasn’t a dip in donations. We expected some companies would ask us to send their donations to northeastern Japan instead of Africa, but only one or two asked us to do so.”