2022 Activity Report vol.20:J. F. Oberlin University

Activity Report of Open Application Program 2022 vol.20 (Course A)

Japan's small−and medium−sized businesses taking on social issues: Female managers and employees and the value of the diversity they create

Report from J. F. Oberlin University

 This program was spearheaded by Professor Kiyoshi Hori of the College of Arts and Sciences, who specializes in research about small−and medium−sized companies in Japan, and was responsible for overall program design and coordination. The program was designed to work with domestic small−and medium−sized businesses that aim to take advantage of the diversity of their human resources to create new value. Based on the theme of "Japan's small−and medium−sized businesses taking on social issues: Female managers and employees and the value of the diversity they create," it focused on goals "5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls" and "8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all" of the SDGs in light of the decline of Japan's national power against the backdrop of the aging population and declining birthrates. We invited 18 students and teachers from business schools in the Netherlands and Finland with which we have partnership agreements (one teacher participated using their own funds). The Netherlands and Finland are also countries with small populations, and both have used gender and diverse human resources to enhance their national power. Students from our university also participated, and in an environment where students from the three countries of Japan, the Netherlands, and Finland learned from each other, the program went ahead with the aim of exploring models with environments where the work of diverse human resources leads to corporate and national growth.

Activity Report Photo 1
Group photo in Harada Sakan (Plastering) Industry Inc.

 In the previous year, the effects of COVID−19 meant the program took place online, but this year it went ahead in person. Taking the opportunity presented by last year's online program, professors from the University of Eastern Finland visited Japan in September 2022 to engage in joint research with Professor Hori and observe the companies cooperating with this program. This, plus online introductions with the three universities and email exchanges, drove the preparations for the program to go ahead.

 The online advance training involved an overview of the program, an explanation of the procedures to visit Japan, self−introductions, and introductions to the culture of each country. On top of this, to encourage active participation after coming to Japan and maximize the learning outcomes, the universities used videos of the lectures given in last year's online program so the students could engage in learning in advance. Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences also carried out advance learning through relevant teacher based on these lecture videos and entered the program having created infographics on the state of Japan's gender equality.

 The program after arrival in Japan included special lectures by Professor Kostas Kaimakis of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences on digital marketing, by Professor Katariina Ylönen of the University of Eastern Finland on leadership, and by Professor Markus Raatikainen, also of the University of Eastern Finland, on entrepreneurship. The students from Finland, the Netherlands, and Japan held active discussions with diverse opinions, and gained knowledge and perspectives on developing global businesses.

 In addition, lecturers from Japanese companies and organizations also spoke. The students attended lectures on the issue of declining birthrates around the world, starting with the case of Japan, gender equality, the social progress of women, and the creation of businesses by female entrepreneurs. They then actively exchanged opinions, questions, and proposals on the current state and issues of each country and future prospects.

 Everyone from the companies and organizations, including Mr. Muneaki Harada (Representative Director and President) of Harada Sakan(Plastering) Industry Inc., Ms. Miyo Yamamoto (representative and Director) of Howa Co, Ltd. (DiNing+), Ms. Kanako Kikuchi (representative) of Work Innovation Co., Ltd., and Ms. Noriko Uchiyama (representative and Chair) of the Japan Atotori Musume Association, gave thoughtful lectures. The students were able to experience raw information and enthusiasm unique to this opportunity, and all the invited professors and students were inspired.

Activity Report Photo 2
Corporate lecture at NN Shibuya Crossroads (Shibuya Scramble Square 44F)

 This time, there were participants from Finnish, Dutch, and Japanese universities, but among these were students with roots in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Bulgaria, and their ability to share the current state of each country and their issues was an effective factor in making discussions lively. This was a good chance to consider each person's thoughts and actions toward building a better society and world. We also received good reference feedback from the corporate lecturers, who said that they felt that the perspectives of the international students were very fresh.

 Moreover, their plastering workshop at Harada Sakan (Plastering) Industry Inc. and direct experience of Japanese culture and society as they went around businesses with our students wiped away (in a good sense) past stereotypes of Japan, and many students were impressed at Japan's cleanliness, politeness, and orderly nature and environment.

Activity Report Photo 3
Plastering workshop at Harada Sakan (Plastering) Industry Inc.

 On this occasion, five Japanese students participated as program management staff, and this had several positive effects on our students, including improved ambition for language learning and promoting an understanding of other cultures. Of these students, two expect to study overseas this fall, and one is considering study overseas in the future.

 The international students and invited professors who participated expressed extremely high levels of satisfaction in the post−program survey, and many said they would like to return to Japan to study or work. We hope that this leads to them coming to Japan again, mutual student exchanges, and research exchanges.

Activity Report Photo 4
Sharing learning outcomes with each other at the closing ceremony