Japan takes on global role under ‘Vision for Tomorrow’


Staff Writer

Vision for Tomorrow is a regional partner community project of the World Economic Forum in collaboration with consulting firm Accenture Japan Ltd. In short, the project aims to contribute to the world by Japan’s experience together with today’s advanced technology.

The concept matches the ideal of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), dubbed Davos after the Swiss resort at which it is held, where global leaders in politics, business, academia and other fields discuss various global agendas and examine how to make the world a better place. This year’s conference will be held from Jan. 20 to 23.

The Vision for Tomorrow project came about following a speech delivered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Davos in January 2014, in which he said Japan should take a more active role in solving various global problems.

“Japan is among the most advanced countries in a number of areas such as social security, urbanization and infrastructure and many others. The mission of the project is how Japan can contribute to other countries to avoid or mitigate socioeconomic problems that Japan has experienced in its own development through lessons learned,” said Tadashi Waki, managing director at Accenture.

For example, many experts predict that the Japanese pension system will fall short in the near future due to the increasing financial burden on younger generations as the elderly population grows.

“Japan should have shifted its policy to encourage Japanese people to be responsible for their own futures a long time ago,” Waki said. “Many other countries will probably go down the same path. We should study when a country should undertake policy choices and help them overcome difficulties we’ve already faced.”

The challenge facing their mission is that developing countries typically want to prosper and join developed countries as soon as possible, rather than spending time and money to make their futures — dozens of years from now — better.

“Ultimately, our job is to help regular people (not politicians or other leaders) have long-term views,” he said.

In one of the activities in line with Vision for Tomorrow, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is helping the Thai government with the country’s health care system. Thailand has implemented universal health care coverage, a social support system that Japan has enjoyed for many years, and JICA is currently giving the country advice on securing the financial resources to support the system.

In another example of JICA’s activities in line with Vision for Tomorrow, it helped about 20 countries issue a total of 8 million volumes of maternal and child health handbooks, which originated in Japan. The handbooks contain a variety of information, including when babies need be vaccinated for various diseases such as measles and polio.

The books help mothers understand what is necessary to protect their children’s lives. Some 6.3 million children die before reaching the age of five and 290,000 pregnant women die every year in the world. Of the children, 6.15 million would have survived if they lived under the same medical and social conditions available in Japan, said Takao Toda, director general of the Human Development Department at JICA.

“We need to learn and work together to solve various global problems. Sharing knowledge is important for that,” Toda said.

He also pointed out that Japan was able to achieve universal health care coverage half a century ago, not because Japan was a rich country, but because it was poor and everybody, especially politicians, was unified to build a strong country and agreed that solid health care was essential.

Indeed, health care is just one area in which developing countries can learn from Japan’s experience.

Establishing a public health care system is essential to maintaining a healthy workforce. Japan has invested in universal health care, which has become a model for the world as almost everybody has access to affordable health care. However, the system has become more and more difficult to finance as life expectancies have increased and medical expenses have surged.

If Japan had shifted its focus to preventive care and healthy longevity, a reduction of the financial burden on younger generations may have been possible. For example, eating healthy foods and exercising can prevent lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension stemming from high cholesterol. Encouraging people to adjust their lifestyles may be something government authorities can do.

Another case study shows that developing countries can learn urban planning from Japanese experience.

Many people moved into cities when Japan was experiencing economic growth, creating surging demand for housing, public services and infrastructure such as electricity and water supply in urban centers. As people moved to avoid the crowding of major cities, demand for housing rose in new satellite cities.

Japan’s government adopted a laissez-faire approach and let the private sector build infrastructure to meet short-term demand. However, as the economy slows and people living in major cities move away and those living in satellite cities move back to centers, they leave underutilized infrastructure in the satellite cities that local governments have to maintain.

Building long-lasting infrastructure is also something developing countries can learn from Japan, which focused on quantity and speed of infrastructure, rather than safety and longevity, things that later proved important.

Infrastructure in Japan that was built during the high growth period in 1960s and ’70s was not built under assumption that it should last several decades. Later, public authorities were forced into “patchwork” maintenance every time repairs were needed.

“Urbanization issues, environment and disaster risk reduction would be where Japan can help developing countries. The important thing is that Japan should provide know-how of how to  operate the system,” said Hiroyuki Ishige, the chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization.

One of JETRO’s missions is to connect Japanese companies with foreign companies and Japanese companies with foreign governments to aid Japanese businesses. But business opportunities can be found in providing solutions for various issues faced by developing countries. Japan has experienced many of these and has the know-how to address them.

For example, the organization held a number of events to match people involved in the elderly care business of China and Japan.

The organization also gives advice for foreign governments to lure Japanese investment.

For example, JETRO provided Laos with a proposal to enhance the business environment in the country in July last year. The proposal included a reduction of transportation costs with neighboring countries and simplification of administrative procedures for cross-border transportation.

While governmental organizations such as JICA and JETRO pave the way for international cooperation, corporations enhance people’s lives by way of technologies, services and know-how.

Fujitsu Ltd., a Japanese information technology company, has found business opportunities in activities in line with the spirit of Vision for Tomorrow.

In one such business, Fujitsu is working on operating a validity study of a participatory disaster prevention system for Hue Province in Vietnam, with support from JICA’s Vietnam office. In the system, residents check river water levels and report them on their smartphones. Disaster risk reduction authorities compile the data and release information to residents.

Needless to say, using residents’ smartphones instead of installing large machines to constantly monitor water levels saves a great deal of money.

“Fujitsu’s information and communication technology can contribute in disaster risk reduction, agriculture, environment and traffic systems,” said Takeshi Nakajima, corporate executive officer, head of the Government & Public Utilities Business Unit, Fujitsu.

He stressed that ICT-based social infrastructure should be designed with the outcome in mind, and that it be easy to use and versatile so that the actual operators could recognize its value at an early stage and continuously improve their operations.

Topics in line with Vision for Tomorrow will definitely be discussed at the Davos meeting. Some of the issues that will be addressed at the conference include agriculture and food security; economic growth and social inclusion; employment, skills and human capital; environment and natural resource security; as well as the future of the global financial system. Additional topics to be discussed include the future of health; the future of the Internet; gender parity; international trade and investment; and long-term investment, infrastructure and development.

The theme of the meeting is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The fourth industrial revolution refers to the period of digital transformation that will have profound effects on economies, societies and human behavior.

According to the WEF’s press release, central questions that will be asked of the fourth industrial revolution include: How will it transform industry sectors, including health, mobility, financial services and education? How can technology be deployed in ways that contribute to inclusive growth rather than exacerbate unemployment and income inequality? How can breakthroughs in science and technology help in solving globally common problems ranging from climate change to public health?

Participation in the meeting is by invitation only for more than 2,500 people from more than 100 countries, including chief executives and chairs of the WEF’s 1,000 partner and member companies, political leaders from the G20 and other countries, heads of international organizations, experts representing the WEF’s Global Agenda Council and civil society communities (or NGOs), media leaders, spiritual and cultural leaders and people designated by the WEF as Young Global Leaders, Social Entrepreneurs and Global Shapers (under the age of 30.)

The annual meeting has six co-chairs. This time, they are Credit Suisse AG CEO Tidjane Thiam, Hitachi Ltd. Chairman and CEO Hiroaki Nakanishi, International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow, Al Bawsala Founder and Chair Amira Yahyaoui, Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella and General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra.

Klaus Schwab, a German-born business professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, founded the WEF in 1971.

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