TOKYO: In early November I received an invitation from the University of Tokyo to give a keynote speech on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Development. Initially I was a bit nervous about delivering a keynote speech; but having a prior acquaintance with Bottom of the Pyramid initiatives in Japan and experience of working with a UNDP project on Growing Inclusive Markets helped to draw relevant lessons and prepare the speech well.
During the symposium, it was interesting to hear the experiences of Japanese public and private actors with regards to CSR and emerging markets. I especially liked Sanyo’s environmental initiatives to introduce safer and cheaper lighting to families living at the bottom of the pyramid. In the Q&A session one could feel the interest of the new generation of young Japanese students in the topic.
The representatives of Japanese firms also expressed their interest in taking CSR to the next level and linking it to core business strategies while enhancing its social impact. With the rise of China and South Korea in emerging markets, Japanese companies need to be more outward-looking and see emerging markets with a different lens. However, both sides admitted that traditional corporate culture and societal trends have yet to adapt to a different and more appropriate approach.
Social responsibility is deeply rooted in the Japanese philosophy of doing business and the country certainly has a competitive advantage in environmental technologies, which can be linked to green innovation for those at the base of the pyramid. However, technological innovations need to be supported by appropriate business models and become socially embedded in the local context. The latter is something that Japanese firms have less experience with. The firms seem to focus too much on their technological skills, while more attention is needed for accompanying soft/social skills, for example developing human capital and local ties to make innovations locally embedded in emerging markets and BoP.
In my keynote speech I argued that CSR can be linked with Inclusive business approaches to develop a socially inclusive innovation that caters to sustainable development in the South and benefits companies’ long-term growth. During the stay in Tokyo I also conducted interviews with representatives of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan International Cooperation Agency about new policies for linking private sector innovation with development initiatives.
Shuan SadreGhazi, PhD Fellow, UNU-MERIT