FIELD ADVISOR SPOTLIGHT: YOSHIKO UGAWA

Being that Give2Asia works with a slew of highly qualified field advisors in 25 countries, we will be creating profile pieces on one field advisor per country. The intent is to provide on-the-ground insight into each local scene, in addition to interesting projects that have been accomplished or are currently underway. The profile pieces will also present the opportunity to spotlight our local partners - the field advisors - and their interests and accomplishments in their professional and personal lives. We'll continue our spotlight series with Yoshiko Ugawa, our field advisor in Japan.

Yoshiko in the JNPOC office in Otemchi, Tokyo

Yoshiko in the JNPOC office in Otemchi, Tokyo

Please tell us about yourself

I am Yoshiko Ugawa, a G2A field advisor in Japan. I work at the Japan NPO Center (JNPOC), an infrastructure organization for the nonprofit sector.

Where do you live?

I live in Tokyo, not far from central Tokyo where the JNPOC office is located. So, I commute to the office every day by bike.

What are your interests?

Jogging, snorkeling, encountering inspirational works, arts, and tea.

What is your favorite food?

I love Asian and Italian food in general. Other current favorites are Thai basil (Gaprao) fried rice and Spanish tapas.    

Where have you travelled to in Japan (or Asia)?

I have been to many places within Japan and Western countries, but haven’t traveled much in Asia so far. However, when I was a college student, I visited Bali, Indonesia as part of a field work team and learned how to play gamelan, a traditional form of Indonesian ensemble music played by local residents without music scores. As I could not speak Indonesian, we could communicate only via eye-contact and gestures, but we still managed. It was so much fun immersing myself in a different culture and playing their traditional music without using words. 

Where do you want to travel?

I would like to visit Estonia. A couple of years ago, I watched a documentary about children living there in poverty and their dreams, and it moved me. Many years have passed since then, but somehow it is still unforgettable to me.  

What are your responsibilities as a Field Advisor for Give2Asia?

I wear many hats.  Since the disaster in Kumamoto, I have been coordinating with Give2Asia's staff in the US to match US-based donors with Japanese local nonprofits working for community recovery. On a daily basis, I communicate with our grantees to assist them in understanding the overall grant process and purpose and advise them in setting up their projects and goals. Raising their level of reporting is also important. Due to cultural norms and language barriers, our grantees tend to understate their project's achievements in their English-language reports. To fill in the gaps, we facilitated a workshop in April for Give2Asia grantees about effective narrative reporting to facilitate more thorough reporting of accomplishments. 

Yoshiko with guests in the Pacific Asian conference held in Tokyo

Yoshiko with guests in the Pacific Asian conference held in Tokyo

How did you get involved with international development?

Prior to joining G2A, I worked as a therapist in the mental health field to assist in the “personal development” of individuals in need. After changing careers, I realized that there was significant overlap between these two fields. For example, an individual’s sense of well-being depends on multiple factors, which can shape the internal and external world of the person including health, safety, education, job, current situation, accessibility of resources, community, etc. All of these factors are linked to essential areas of international development. I feel like I am still working toward similar objectives, but from a broader perspective and in a different role. 

What do you think are some of the greatest challenges that non-profit organizations face in Japan?

The number of nonprofit organizations has been increasing in Japan recently but there is a long way to go before ordinary citizens will acknowledge and become actively involved in the charitable field. For many, working in the nonprofit sector still is regarded as non-paid volunteer work, not a real profession. In fact, many nonprofits are small in size and suffer from chronic organizational issues, labor and financial shortages, and time constraints, so staff members tend to be overworked to the point of burnout and do not have a chance to review their organizational capacity building. 

What are your expectations for the future development of Japan?

Japan is now a  super-aging society, to a greater degree than any other country. A serious shortage of human labor is expected here. To create a sustainable society, diversity is needed in all fields, and the employment of women and seniors, which is not yet mainstream under current social norms, will likely play a major role in future development.  

How do you see the social sector in Japan changing in the next 10 years?

In Japan,  people traditionally rely on the government to manage the social infrastructure and welfare system. The government and business sector have a stronger influence than the independent civic sector. However, emerging social issues have been so complex that they cannot be solved within the existing system. So, in order to assist people who fall through the safety net, charitable nonprofit efforts at the grassroots level have been significant. Inviting various sectors to participate in the creation of a new society will likely take place within the next 10 years.

Is there anything else you would like our community of donors and grantees to know (about Japan, your field advisor work, etc.)?

G2A has extensive networks in 25 countries over Asia, and I wonder if we could utilize this wonderful network for mutual knowledge-sharing and opportunities to learn about ongoing projects, solutions, and beneficiaries. 

For example, a Malaysian nonprofit’s program in child poverty might be linked to a Japanese nonprofit that deals with the same issues, or vice versa. Or if 10 organizations working with the best practices for suicide prevention within the G2A network could gather to exchange deeper insights, these gatherings would help each nonprofit to generate more effective interventions and solutions.  

So if you are interested in such knowledge sharing, please check the articles on the JNPOC Website http://www.jnpoc.ne.jp/en/ where Japanese nonprofits’ social efforts are posted. 

And if any of the information listed on the site reminds you of the particular social issues and charitable works happening in your country, please reach out to me. I would love to hear about the common topics and best practices of charitable organizations in your community.