By Akiko Imai —
On March 19, 2015, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and her Japanese counterpart Akie Abe announced a pledge “to strengthen bilateral cooperation in helping girls around the world receive an education, especially in developing countries.” The U.S. government will spend $250 million supporting girls’ education in the 2015-16 budget and the Japanese government will outlay $350 million or more under its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program during the next three years. According to the Japan Times, “Under the partnership, the Japan International Cooperation Agency… and the U.S. Peace Corps, both sending volunteers abroad, will formalize cooperation and ‘focus in particular on advancing girls’ education through cooperation on the ground in countries around the world.’”
This effort represents a promising starting point for cross-sector cooperation among U.S. and Japanese aid agencies, companies, civil sectors, and local social entrepreneurs to create a “Collective Impact” on girls’ education in Asia. Moreover, this model could serve as a framework for additional U.S.-Japanese development collaboration utilizing cross-sectoral expertise in ways that benefits both countries.
Both the U.S. government and Japanese government have policy incentives for improving girls’ education; the United States has already started the “Let Girls Learn” initiative under Michelle Obama, and women’s empowerment is one of the key policies that Prime Minister Abe promotes. Women’s empowerment is high on the agenda and the Asia-Pacific is the priority region for the U.S.-Japan Development Cooperation Dialogue. Japan’s new Development Cooperation Charter aims “to mobilize a wider range of resources… ODA… will serve as a catalyst for mobilizing a wide range of resources.”
There are several rationales for supporting girls’ education. First, girls’ education will be a powerful drive in the push for inclusive growth in developing countries in Asia. But women’s issues are deeply rooted in the norms, values, and culture of a society. For a society to adapt and change, broader social awareness is required, and the best way to boost the awareness of the many different strata of society is through a cross-sector approach.
Second, over 60 percent of Japanese corporate affiliates are located in Asia and hope to include lower- and middle-income populations in their value chain. Some educational companies have even established a social investment fund for education in Asia. As the supply-chain extends, Japanese corporations will have to raise their awareness as responsible corporate citizens in developing countries.
Third, Japan has been developing women’s education for hundreds of years, even when social norms did not allow girls to learn with support from Western girls schools. This is evident in Japan’s many schools for girls’ and women’s middle- and higher-education. In addition, increasing numbers of young Japanese professionals are entering the field of social innovation. This may provide an avenue for Japan’s commitment to mobilize younger generations in traditional Asian societies.
Fourth, USAID and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) desire cross-sector cooperation not because it is a top-down policy but because broader participation from the United States, Japan, and recipient countries, will allow USAID and JICA to obtain further support from taxpayers, as well as people in the developing countries. Finally, U.S.-Japan cooperation on social issues may create a new form of shared “soft power” in Asia.
Transaction costs of partnering may be justified using the rationale above, however, there are some bottlenecks, such as how to create backbone organizations. One possibility is to use the 1.5 track framework, like the Tomodachi initiative, by establishing one common campaign identity and creating a backbone organization under its name. A philanthropic foundation which has expertise in collaborative work, development in Asia, or education for the poor is desirable.
The backbone organization needs a professional with multi-sector experience to play the role of a “transmission gear” in the middle of different actors with different stakes. Under this director, the backbone organization would need a fund manager to assemble public and private funding and donations. Private funds should be raised in such forms as social investment, cloud/group funding, or CSR outlays (including in-kind donations such as educational/daily materials and tools). After the March 2011 earthquake, information technology-based social finance gradually expanded and now represents a useful tool, especially among younger Japanese. Corporations which seek new markets in Asia, too, have to share fair “membership” fees so that they will be able to collect data and information through the collaborative work.
To empower this public-private partnership, aid experts from governments and international institutions, as well as local professionals with social enterprises operating in Asian countries, will play core roles in proposing a “theory of change” for cross-sector initiatives with clear benchmarks and exit strategies. Some technical improvements will also be required to decrease transaction costs, such as standardizing reporting formats.
USAID and JICA has long accumulated expertise with overseas volunteers. Involving the business community will give younger generations the opportunity to train leaders, which is the best way to invest in people. Under the new charter, the Japanese government is encouraging use of ODA money as a catalyst, so this sort of arrangement would be well-advised.
Ms. Akiko Imai is an Executive Director of the Tokyo Foundation, where she also serves as a Research Fellow and Director of Public Communications. In 2015, she was a Visiting Scholar with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Ms. Imai’s essay is part of CSIS’s Strategic Japan Working Paper Series featuring Japanese scholars addressing pressing issues in Japanese foreign and economic policy.