APO (the Asian Productivity Organization )
On September 7, 2016, the International School Network visited the office of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) to interview the Secretary General Mr. Mari Amano. We also received a presentation about the APO by Mr. Joselito C Bernardo, the Director of the Research & Planning Department. Mr. Shubhendu Parth, the Information & Public Relations Officer, organized and led our visit, and we were also joined by Ms. Yumiko Nishio, the Administration & Finance Officer, and Ms. Yoko Fujimoto, the Administration Assistant.
APO is an organization that has been enhancing productivity in Asian countries since May of 1961. Secretary General Mr. Mari Amano explained to us that the organization hosts about 70 to 80 courses, in which participants from each country can join. The programs undergone by the organization ranges from the area of manufactured goods to service industries. Recently, the organization has been working on topics in the public sector such as the productivity of education and security, and the issuing of passports or driver’s licenses.
Secretary General Mr. Mari Amano mentioned that efficiency and productivity are similar and interconnected. The comparison of efficiency and productivity both consider how much output can be produced with a fixed number of input, or vice versa. Mr. Mari Amano notes that this aspect of economic development has been an important focus in many countries for a long while, as it was relevant 60 years ago and still is now. He believes that productivity is the key to greatly enhance economic development in nations.
After the Second World War, the economy of Japan was in a devastating state. The country’s production facilities were destroyed and were in need of recovery. Mr. Mari Amano appreciatively stated that during this hard time, the United States had offered Japan insight into their advanced technology in a very helpful manner. Starting with the steel industry, leaders of Japanese industries were invited to places in the US such as Chicago and Detroit to learn the technology and techniques that were used in the US. These leaders were able to bring back their experiences to Japan, and use such gained knowledge to rebuild the efficiency of the Japanese economy. This process continued in many other sectors for about 10 years, with about 6,000 Japanese people visiting the US to learn new technology. As a result, Japan was able to recover their economy, and Mr. Mari Amano notes that to show Japanese gratitude for the help they received, Japan started to use this same effective methodology for providing help in productivity for other countries in Asia. This is concept of APO.
With 20 countries participating in APO, over 60 projects are being held each year. Mr. Amano explains that each country is to host 2-4 projects per year. He commented that this method of distributing project hosts allows for practical models to be learnt by each country. For example, some countries may find Japanese models to be too advanced, so it would be more advantageous for them to learn from a different country that has a closer business style. This is because Japanese business styles are based on a network infrastructure that already exists which make it impractical for some countries to directly learn from Japanese methods.
Mr. Amano has worked and studied at various locations in the world, including the UK, Thailand, USA, Kuwait, France, and Switzerland. He mentioned to us that his proudest achievement has been his contribution to cancel a program of nuclear reactors in North Korea while he worked at the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization.
Mr. Amano described to us his passion about working in APO in three different aspects. Firstly, Mr. Amano believes in the importance of economic contribution. He is glad that through APO he can help enhance the productivity and therefore the growth of economies for a more prosperous future. His second passion is the fact that he is able to help Asian countries, who are the neighbors of his home country Japan. Mr. Amano has only had one overseas post in Asia, which was in Bangkok, and has always been interested in further contributing to the betterment of Asiatic countries. Finally, he explained to us that he is proud that Taiwan is one of the 8 founding members of APO and is still recognized as Republic of China even after the change in the representative right of China in the United Nations in 1971. Personally, Mr. Amano has always felt it unfair to call Taiwan “Chinese Taipei”.
According to Mr. Amano, globalization is a trend that cannot be reversed, and is impossible and unreasonable to resist against. He explained to us that economies must adapt to such changes in order to succeed. Because globalization creates a large, single market, competition becomes harsher. Mr. Amano described that economies must therefore increase their productivity so they will not be left out in such a wide phenomenon. Mr. Amano explained that globalization may cause the income disparity gap to expand, hence it may not bring a beneficial environment for everybody. However, if adaptation to globalization succeeds, Mr. Amano notes that globalization can bring upon countless opportunities.
Mr. Amano’s message towards Japanese students is to be more curious about the world. He hopes students will look outwards and not inwards, with more desires to travel the world. When Mr. Amano was a student, he had always been interested in visiting different places in the world even when he did not have money to travel. He explained that he and the students around him all had a curiosity to learn about different cultures and people. Mr. Amano therefore hopes that the young people in Japan will maintain such spirits of curiosity. He believes that opening your eyes and learning about other cultures can help “widen your scope”, and will act as a useful experience “as you grow more in society”.
Mr. Amano described to us his views on the two major schools of economic development: the European-style and Japanese-style development philosophies. Firstly, he described the European-style as one that is focused on charity. This philosophy aims on providing aid for those in need, directly preventing deaths from poverty, sickness, starvation etc. Mr. Amano then continued to explain that the Japanese philosophy of economic development is more focused on the long run benefits. The Japanese philosophy aims to develop a country’s economy first so that the benefits of economic development can reach to everyone later on. He notes that although the income disparity gap may increase at first, those at the bottom will also benefit from this in the long run through the trickle-down theory. Therefore at the end, this method would be able to help more people to increase their living standards. He explained this using an analogy: instead of giving a man a fish, this method teaches a man how to fish, by the provision of a boat and a net. Mr. Amano hopes that people can realize that the Japanese strategy of productivity enhancement has helped various countries in Asia to develop greatly. He wishes that such methods can be incorporated for helping economies in different areas such as Africa or Latin America. APO is working towards reaching out and helping the productivities of other areas in the world beyond Asia.
Mr. Joselito C Bernardo, the Filipino Director of the organization’s Research & Planning Department, gave us a very wonderful presentation about the APO after showing us the organization’s introductory film. The APO has four departments: Administration & Finance, Research & Planning, Industry, and Agriculture, with the mission of enhancing “sustainable socioeconomic development”. Mr. Bernardo commented that the organization is unique because it works closely with a wide network of organizations from different countries.
With a large network of international partners and experts, Mr. Bernardo introduced to us that the APO undergoes three types of projects: Multi Country Program (MCP), Individual Country Program (ICP), and Digital Learning Program (DLP). MCP is the program between all member countries, focused on research, conferences, forums, workshops, and study/training missions. ICP is a more specific program of observational/demonstration study missions, expert services, and strengthening cooperation of NPOs with companies or other NPOs for specific goals related to individual countries, because each country has a different economic development situation. DLP is a program that offers video conferencing courses between people in different locations, and also free e-learning courses that Mr. Bernardo recommends for students to try. Mr. Bernardo explained that those who pass the e-learning courses and their exams can earn authorized certificates.
Mr. Bernardo explained to us that the activities of APO are promoted greatly not only by media and publications but also by study missions to non-member countries such as France, Germany, and the United States (New York). In Japan, the activities of APO have been promoted through events such as Foodex, a showcase of various agricultural products.
The APO has also been undergoing women projects since 2006, to increase the opportunities for women by training and enriching entrepreneurial skills.
Mr. Bernardo explained to us that productivity is especially important for the world in order to cope with the food demand, and to promote technology for food production in a safe manner. A major focus of the APO, Green Productivity, explores how “we can feed people (in the world) by 2050”. As the name suggests, Green Productivity means the enhancement of productivity that does not damage the environment. In APO, Mr. Bernardo described that Green Productivity is ensured by reviewing three aspects: quality of life, environmental impacts, and ensured profits.
Mr. Bernardo commented that in order to increase awareness of the importance of Green Productivity, the APO undergoes various events such as the Eco-Products International Fair (EPIF). In 2017 this fair will be held in Hochi Minh, Vietnam. The APO also shares their research through data books on productivity, which can be accessed from their website.
Mr. Bernardo believes in the importance of agriculture for reasons not only for the enhancement of industrialization. He explained to us the various issues related to agriculture that he would like to address and raise awareness of. Firstly, climate change has taken effect to deteriorate natural resources. Next, food safety, as well as food loss and waste are issues that we should realize and eliminate through enhancing productivity. Another issue Mr. Bernardo mentioned is the aging population of farmers, which tends to limit agricultural practices to traditional methods. Mr. Bernardo hopes that more young people can be encouraged to farm, with the introduction of new technologies for enhanced productivity. Mr. Bernardo also introduced to us the reality of international businesses taking over local ones, and the still very limited opportunities and low income that are received by those in rural areas.
Mr. Bernardo hopes that students can “raise awareness” and be happy to “share knowledge” to contribute to the expertise of people in different countries, especially in economically less developed countries. By 2020, the APO hopes that competition and productivity can improve the effectiveness of economies and that the organization itself can be recognized as a leading international organization for productivity enhancement. As mentioned earlier by Secretary General Mr. Amano, the APO has been reaching out towards countries outside of Asia, such as Columbia. APO is working hard to provide workshops to cooperate with other organizations to realize such important goals.
When we asked Mr. Bernardo’s perspective of Japan, he expressed his admiration for the disciplined and polite nature of Japanese people. He also commented on the convenience of the predictability of time in Japan because the smooth flow of traffic. Mr. Bernardo mentioned that his first impression of Japanese people were that they were very business-like, yet upon arriving in Japan, he was pleased that he had opportunities to speak to Japanese people also in a casual manner. His message towards Japanese people is his hopes that Japan can continue sharing and exchanging ideas of their “best practices” and disciplined education.
Madoka Nishina Keio University
Kate Shimizu Doshisha University