Global Health Interview: Japan Committee for UNICEF
date : 3/17/2010
Interview with Mr. Yoshihisa Togo, Vice-Chairman
Japan Committee for UNICEF office, Minato-ku, Tokyo, July 7, 2009
On the Japan Committee for UNICEF
The Committee essentially represents UNICEF in Japanese civil society. Our work centers on the basic principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Japan is a signatory, of protecting the life and development of the world’s children through advocacy, publicity, and fundraising activities.
I’ll talk later about the Committee’s emphasis on advocacy activity for protecting the rights of children, but I think the point I mainly want to talk about, and what those connected to other Japanese NGOs are really interested in, is how we in Japan have attained the largest scale of private sector fundraising among all the national UNICEF committees in developed countries.
“Contact as many people as possible and let the custom of donating take root in Japan. Financial management must be transparent.”
When I joined the Japan Committee for UNICEF in the early 1990s, there was no established custom of donating in Japan. However, large-scale fundraising was essential in order to generate the substantial funding needed to improve the situation at that time (1991) in developing countries, where the lives of 15 million children aged 5 or under which could have been saved were being lost every year. There was extensive fundraising knowhow in the US and Europe, including the use of direct mail, and the issue was how to transfer and implement it within Japan. At the time, the Japan Committee for UNICEF had something of a mental block toward fundraising, since it thought of itself as being closer to a ”charity”, and people there were strongly against the use of methods such as direct mail, which they misunderstood to rely on coercion to gather donations. Fortunately, the then chairman, Mr. Saburo Ohkita, backed my plan and we were able to get things started. Of course, the ability to put a plan into practice and the backing of senior officials are vital elements. At first, I confirmed the effectiveness of direct mail by trial and error, and when this succeeded I rolled out the program full-scale. It’s important to have this kind of “can-do” attitude even if you eventually collect only enough to cover your costs. Through direct mail, we were able to seek donations from as many people as possible, and by gradually but successfully heightening people’s sense of the need to donate, we realized a big increase in donations.
A key point when fundraising is that financial management must be transparent. If people understand that their donation will be spent on a valid cause, they become more willing to donate, and a lot of money can be collected as a result. Therefore, all revenue and expenses must be managed accurately and systematically. With a conventional philanthropic charity, where the founder contributes and manages their own money, there’s little transparency since public and private are not clearly delineated. Showing the source of funds in a completely transparent way and avoiding any confusion over public and private funding gives donors greater peace of mind. This needs to be done effectively by making use of volunteer professional accountants and systemizing fundraising management on computer. When I joined the Japan Committee for UNICEF, fundraising data was managed in very primitive and inefficient ways, with multiple requests for donations being sent to the same person, and donors regarding us as frittering money away on unnecessary expenses. Systemizing everything on computer was necessary both to optimize the processing of fundraising data and to win the trust of donors. Fortunately, by making use of a system engineer I knew from my time at Japan Airlines, together with my own basic grasp of systems, I was able to create a fundraising management system. Thanks to this systemization, we’re now able to handle large volumes of transactions, and I think it really improved transparency as well. However, as systemization in itself doesn’t enable effective fundraising, it’s important to have a robust policy of continually pursuing efficiency.
“Advocacy is the foundation of fundraising.”
Aside from fundraising, the main pillars of the Japan Committee for UNICEF’s work consist of publicity activities to inform people in Japan about the conditions faced by children elsewhere, and advocacy activities to make a public appeal for resolution to what is, after all, a societal challenge. I laid particular emphasis on advocacy when I became Executive Director in 1991. Nobody will donate funds unless an organization’s policies and ideas can clearly be grasped, which is why I consider advocacy to be the foundation of fundraising. To give a past example, donations in Japan would immediately and dramatically increase if there were a special campaign showing waterfowl coated in oil as a result of the Gulf War, but then fall back to nothing as soon as the campaign ended. Even for causes such as the international polio eradication campaign and Africa relief, the peak period for donations lasts no more than 2 or 3 years. However, regardless of such fluctuations, it’s necessary to establish a system capable of generating a stable flow of donations, and so advocacy became a cornerstone of the Japan Committee for UNICEF’s approach. Before I joined the Japan Committee for UNICEF, its basic philosophy was one of helping children in developing countries out of pity for their desperate situation. However, I realized that if the organization served simply as a charity, there would be no scope for advocacy. Thus, its basic philosophy needed to change into the belief that a child in a developing country has the same right to live and grow as any Japanese child.
As for concrete examples of our activity, we first of all pushed for Japanese ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. To do this, in 1993 I set up a Committee to Promote Understanding of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the support of around 25 major organizations such as the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations, and the Japan Federation of Primary School Principals Association, and thereby got more and more members of the public involved. Working in tandem with influential organizations such as these proved vital, and in part as a result of this, from 1994 the government became serious about ratifying the convention. I was called as one of four expert witnesses to a hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, and spoke on behalf of the Japan Committee for UNICEF. The Convention was ratified the same year, but as I listened to the other expert witnesses, I realized just how much preparation and effort was needed to promote understanding of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 1996 “1st World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children” was held in Stockholm, which gave a strong shock to Japanese delegates with reports on its countrymen’s offensive conducts abroad. Facing with this situation, the Japan Committee for UNICEF played a central role in promoting activities to eliminate child prostitution and child pornography. Since there were many aspects of the penal code at that time which did not satisfy the provisions of the Stockholm Declaration, we organized a national petition drive in 1998 calling for swift passage of a bill to protect children and punish adult perpetrators. Eventually, we submitted to the Diet a petition signed by around 40,000 people, and this had a positive influence on the adoption of legislation in 1999. However, with child pornography on the internet becoming more and more of an international problem through the spread of file sharing software, we’re continuing to collect signatures now to urge for further revision of the law (submitting over 110,000 signatures in February 2009), and striving at advocacy through an annual symposium. The theme and content of this symposium are decided in response to the current situation each year. Recently, themes such as the abolition of child labor and the impact of climate change on African children have been actively discussed. As for collecting signatures, it’s now possible to work with other NGOs to implement the activity nationwide. Through all these activities, I always endeavor to reflect public opinion.
To Activate the Activities of Japanese NGOs
“Separate fundraising from operations. It’s important to specialize in your strengths and not spread yourself too thinly.”
The Japan Committee for UNICEF does not conduct on-site operations, but instead provides funds to the general resources of UNICEF headquarters. By leaving the on-site operations to the international organization which best understands the situation, we are able to become more efficient in what we do ourselves. If the same organization in small or moderate scale conducts both on-site operations and fundraising, it will spread itself too thinly and in many cases end in failure. Another possibility is for an organization in Japan to foster a local organization in the developing country and then entrust it with on-site operations while devoting efforts here to providing funding and administration. For that also, the vital element will be in structuring the organization. The leadership to set in motion and maintain an organization like this is vital for an NGO, and so care needs to be taken to ensure that only truly devoted people make up your volunteer staff. One problem for Japanese NGOs is that their small scale leads to frequent difficulty in attaining their desired objective. UNICEF, searching for an on-site partnership with a Japanese NGO, felt they were too small-scale to be entrusted with running a program, and instead linked up with a large overseas NGO out of necessity.
“For an NGO to grow, it’s essential to have professional management working with a real sense of mission.”
One thing that’s essential for an NGO is a concept of management. A professional managerial staff with ability and leadership is indispensable for an NGO that seeks to grow. Fortunately, there are many such people, especially in the private sector, but it is still necessary to instill in them a sense of mission and a passion for the work they’ll be dealing with. Anyone who thinks along the lines of “Well, we’re only an NGO but let’s do what we can…” is absolutely not up to the task of leading an NGO. Now the baby boomers are reaching retirement, there are many people with plenty of time to spare and possessing overseas experience, but instilling earnestness and a sense of mission will still need to be dealt with.
The catalyst for me to join the Japan Committee for UNICEF was my friend and contemporary at Japan Airlines, Captain Ｋoken Okadome. He ardently preached support for UNICEF throughout the company, and I too was often asked by him, “Why don’t you work for UNICEF?” After serving as manager of the Danish office, I returned to head office as a Vice President and created a new unit known as AXESS Center. Competition was starting among the world’s leading airlines to secure ticket agencies with their own in-house reservation and ticketing systems, and so I created a neutral system to counter this. In 1989, after I’d introduced around 10,000 of these computer terminals into domestic agencies, a request came to Japan Airlines from UNICEF headquarters, through Capt. Okadome, asking if we were able to spare someone. A suitable person was needed to oversee the transfer of UNICEF’s greeting card operation, which until then had been directly controlled by headquarters, to the Japan Committee for UNICEF. Since I had just then completed the first stage of work on AXESS Center, and I also wanted to do some truly meaningful work in the wider world, I decided to give it a try. At the time, the Japan Committee for UNICEF was still a very small outfit, and I couldn’t count on it for a salary, but I felt I was ready and made the jump.
I eventually served as Executive Director for 14 years, and saw the long-cherished UNICEF House completed in 2001. Once we had a first class successor lined up to replace me, I took on a part time role as Vice Chairman from 2006.
Future Challenges for Japanese NGOs and the Japan Committee for UNICEF
“We need leaders with real communicative ability to be the faces of Japan overseas.”
Even in Japan, it’s become increasingly possible to make use of one’s English. However, through my activities for UNICEF, I realized that simple conversational ability is inadequate to fully express myself in discussions in a global setting. To truly strengthen my communicative ability to the extent that I could fully participate in discussions, I completed a 2-year distance learning course offered by the University of Leeds in the U.K. and earned a Master’s degree in International Studies. The effect of this has been that, at recent international conferences, I’ve been able to make my point clearly and effectively, and thus communicate ideas from Japan. This ability to communicate on a global level is indispensable for any NGO leader, and I would like to see more people capable of gaining broad international recognition as the faces of Japan.
One issue for the Japan Committee for UNICEF now is strengthening its publicity. Recently, one focus of UN reform has been the consolidation of several UN agencies into one point of contact able to deal directly with the government of each developing country, and project operation is also likely to head in the same collective direction. As a result, even though UNICEF’s activities will remain unchanged, UNICEF’s ability to publicize information about its on-site work is likely to diminish. Thus, to clearly communicate UNICEF’s activities across Japan, the Japan Committee for UNICEF will step up its publicity activities.
To really energize the activities of Japanese NGOs, tax reform is necessary. The number of NPOs benefiting from tax incentives through reform of the system for charitable corporations is increasing, but the system for making donations tax-deductible is undeniably poor compared to the situation in the US and Europe. If the rate of tax deductibility for donations to charitable NGOs and authorized NPOs were greatly expanded, there would be far more private giving, the activities of charitable corporations would be boosted, and more Japanese faces would be seen contributing to international aid efforts.