Business | davos special 2019

Looking toward a digital future for a globalized society

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Chief Representative Officer of the World Economic Forum
Chief Representative Officer of the World Economic Forum’s Japan Office Makiko Eda has held a number of leadership roles. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

For Makiko Eda, who has been chief representative officer of the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Japan Office since last April, leaving her previous job as president of Intel Japan was a big challenge, but one she was willing to take on.

“Curiosity is the source of my energy,” said Eda. “To keep on making an effort, to keep learning and making new colleagues, and using those resources to do something new is important to me.”

Eda had been president and representative director of the U.S. chipmaker for five years when she was offered the role with the WEF, so it was not an easy choice. Although she wavered, she finally decided to take on the new challenge, as she believes she can implement the experience she gained from working in business and technology.

Taking on new challenges has always been a part of Eda’s life. She has changed jobs five times, and during her 18 years at Intel, Eda held a number of leadership roles in marketing and sales. She has also served on the Japanese government committee for the promotion of regulatory reform since 2016.

Today, Eda faces a new challenge of tackling the agenda of “Globalization 4.0” in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” at the upcoming WEF Annual Meeting scheduled from Jan. 22 to 25 in Davos, Switzerland, together with other global leaders.

As a person who delved deeply into technology at Intel, Eda says she would like to see how advancement of technology could be applied to the global society in the future, adding that she looks forward to exchanging ideas with other participants at the meeting.

“I would like to deliver a message to the world as someone representing Japan, and learn from other participants, too, to think about how to create a cooperative platform where public and private sectors, as well as civil society, can collaborate,” said Eda.

Explaining that almost 60 percent of the economy will be cyberspace-based in the future — be it through e-commerce or the cloud — Eda said more and more people should have access to cyberspace, not just a limited group.

“At the moment, there is disparity between those who have access to the digital world and those who don’t. We need to design the digital economy so that more people in the world can benefit from it,” said Eda.

As the Japan head of a worldwide organization, she says she is keen to be a part of WEF’s endeavors to build a sustainable, inclusive and trustworthy digital future.

Another agenda Eda is looking to tackle further is global gender disparity. According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report released in December, the WEF’s annual review placed Japan 110th out of 149 countries, up four places from the previous year.

However, Japan is still way behind such countries as Iceland, which is ranked first, as well as Norway, Sweden and Finland. Eda says for Japan, she thinks there is “still a long way to go (to lessen the gap), to be honest.”

Eda feels this gender gap is due to the fact that in Japan, women are still expected to take care of the family, including children and the elderly, which makes it difficult for women to hold responsibilities career-wise.

Eda compared Japan to other parts of Asia, for example Hong Kong, where she says she saw many women with small children taking the chance to broaden their horizons and thus bringing out their potential to the fullest.

“The women weren’t limited in their careers,” she said. For instance, they could go on extended business trips with enough support such as nursing care if they had small children.

“There needs to be a proper environment for women to aspire higher in society,” said Eda.

One aspect that helped Eda climb the ladder in Japanese society was her experience studying and working abroad.

After graduating from Waseda University, Eda went to the U.S. to obtain a master’s degree in sociology from Arkansas State University. It was the situation in Japan at the time that pushed her to study abroad. “I thought that if I stayed in Japan, it would limit my horizons to aspire higher,” she said.

Eda says that she had to go and create chances herself. “It doesn’t happen automatically; you have to go and get it yourself,” she said.

“I don’t want Japanese women to limit themselves and set a low bar. In the future, careers will change dramatically, and not many will get jobs that are related to what they studied. There will be more flexibility in society, so I really would like to ask women not to limit their possibilities,” she said with a smile.

Download the PDF of this Davos Special