The Japan NewsAmid rapid and dynamic changes occurring globally, what are the roles that Japan is being asked to take on? The World Economic Forum (WEF, see below) may offer a hint. The nearly half-century-old international organization for public-private cooperation is paying more attention to the country, a move reflected in its opening in July of a center in Tokyo focusing on the fourth industrial revolution, with other entities. To find out more, The Japan News recently sat down with Makiko Eda, chief representative officer of WEF Japan.
The Japan News: What are the main purposes of the center?
Eda: Prof. Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the WEF, often tells us that Japan showed the most positive reactions to the stakeholder theory, among others, during the early days of the WEF.
The theory says a company should not be only for the benefit of shareholders and be the sole winner, but rather should exist for the benefit of all its communities. This brings about sustainable growth, which goes along with Japan’s traditions.
I am sure that what has been discussed in Japan will happen in other countries. Japan has experienced the declining birthrate and aging population earlier than others. In addition, the country has to consider how to tackle the current labor shortage. Arguments based on the theory here should lead to discussions of the matter on the global stage.
Q: It is doubtful whether Japanese people are aware of this point. The typical younger generation hardly seems to discuss what their position is in the world, what their potential is, or what they can do.
A: Personally, I feel that they have a kind of inferiority complex, which I do not like at all. In terms of social mindedness, they express negative views more frequently than other generations. I hope that young people naturally dive right into global conversations. There are many things they can provide that are worth considering for others.
Q: What are Japan’s selling points?
A: Such an easy-to-live-in country doesn’t exist anywhere else, I think. There is also an extreme sense of security over food safety. People have much interest in environmental issues. Senior-friendly facilities are common in towns. In this society, people are eager to prosper together. Civil mindedness helps them sympathize with people around the world.
Q: We have few opportunities to recognize our strengths or attractiveness. Does the center effectively convey Japan’s talents or potential?
A: Yes, it does. Prof. Schwab referred to the fourth industrial revolution in his book of the same name. Under the revolution, technological development has taken place at a tremendous speed and it is influential in all industries. The more various things are connected, the more related data are produced. If something happens at a certain point, it would impact every field because they are all connected. Our society, however, has not braced for such a situation yet. For this reason, we will have to consider how to accept the revolution by introducing types of regulations, laws, frameworks or guidelines that allow more people to receive these technologies in a comprehensive manner. That is a main role of the center.
Q: Rapid changes in the industry will lead to many opportunities. I believe that education is one of the keys to exploiting such opportunities.
A: Education is key. Such changes suggest that we will have to do various types of jobs in our lifetime because what we are asked to do socially or economically will also alter and vary. Without reskilling yourself successfully when the time comes, our future won’t be positive. Therefore, it is important to think of learning as a continuous lifetime pursuit.
According to the 2018 WEF report “The Future of Jobs,” artificial intelligence won’t wipe out jobs. Instead, it will create a number of jobs. What we need is retraining to adapt to the new environment. The scope of what only humans can do will change constantly.
Q: In fact, however, it is difficult for small- and midsized-companies to offer retraining opportunities to their employees because their human resources are limited in general.
A: An opportunity is vital. In other words, we have to share the idea that such measures are needed.
Q: I feel there is a different way of thinking in motion, such as with the environment and the circular economy. Regarding the issue of plastic straws that cause marine pollution, for example, the worldwide movement for dealing with it spread among companies or individuals in Japan, although the government initially responded to it less positively.
A: The WEF published a report regarding marine plastic. Thanks to those who have made an effort to realize the circular economy for a long time with a strong passion, more and more people have come to recognize this issue. But this type of economy including recycling may raise product prices. Although consumers do not accept it in general, higher-priced products might be chosen and purchased if the concept of the circular economy becomes more well known. I am happy to see such a move starting.
Japan has also been making efforts with the 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. I think that there are many things Japan can contribute in this field since people have managed to survive in an island nation where natural resources are limited.
Aiming to be a ‘do tank’
Q: It seems the WEF aims at raising awareness or creating new values. It also provides a platform that allows people to discuss issues together.
A: We hope that discussions leading to new viewpoints continuously take place. At the same time, we would like to contribute to taking concrete steps toward solving problems. For example, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are big targets. In order to help lay out steps to achieve the goals, the WEF held a meeting in New York in September. The WEF is often called a think tank, but we also would like to be a “do tank” at the same time.
Q: What is your view of the gender gap in Japan, because the country ranks low on a global index?
A: Gender gaps exist all over the world. Although Japan has made some progress, other countries have risen up the index much faster. The purpose of eliminating the gap is to realize parity, which brings about a situation where people can successfully make use of their abilities or traits without considering their gender. If realized, more talent and innovation are created, resulting in positive economic effects. In addition, when many females or minorities assume decision-making positions, I think it will be an ideal cycle.
Q: New business activities such as those using fintech or blockchain technology have emerged. The concept of a nation has become less clear.
A: From its distinctive position, the WEF can contribute to finding what the world should be in the future. A framework for realizing this in an inclusive way is necessary. To achieve this, we will have discussions among multistakeholders. Otherwise, someone may be left behind, which causes complaints or disputes. That is not the world we want in the future.
Q: What is your goal for the 2019 Davos annual meeting in Switzerland?
A: We hope that Japanese participants will join in discussions on global issues from their professional viewpoints and fully make use of this opportunity.
This interview was conducted by Japan News Managing Editor Yuki Hasegawa.
■ Makiko Eda / Chief Representative Officer of WEF Japan
Eda held a number of leadership positions in marketing and sales at U.S. chipmaker Intel. After serving as president of Intel’s Japanese subsidiary for five years, she assumed her current post in April this year. Eda has also been serving on the committee for the promotion of regulatory reform by the Japanese government from 2016. A graduate of Waseda University, she holds a master’s degree in sociology from Arkansas State University in the United States.
■ World Economic Forum
Founded in 1971 by German Prof. Klaus Schwab under the stakeholder theory that asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society. Its activities currently take place at the intersection of three focus areas; mastering the fourth industrial revolution, solving the problems of the global commons and addressing global security issues. The forum holds two major annual meetings including the centerpiece in Davos, Switzerland. Its headquarters is in Geneva, and it opened the Japan office in 2009.
With the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Asia Pacific Initiative, the center opened in Tokyo this year, and aims to bring the public and private sectors together to develop new technology policies.Speech