On August 29, 2018, the International School Network visited the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), to interview the Director, Dr. Yuko Yasunaga.
UNIDO is an international organization working towards poverty reduction, inclusive globalization, and environmental sustainability. The Tokyo office of UNIDO works with Japanese private customers and receives budget from the Japanese government to encourage Japanese private industries in developing and emerging countries, and promoting technological transfers from Japan to overseas.
About industrial development, Dr. Yasunaga noted that primary resources, such as agriculture, fishery, and underground sources are being too relied upon. Such primary resources fluctuate a lot as their supply and hence prices depend on volatile market and production situations such as climate and weather. In order to develop industries, Dr. Yasunaga noted that the initial products should be sold at higher prices with value added. For instance, a fish that is sold for \300 can be sold for \500 as tempura (fried), and \1000 as a sophisticated dish. Dr. Yasunaga believes that value added in this way is the starting point of industrial development.
For world peace, Dr. Yasunaga noted the importance of humanitarian aid as the baseline of UN objectives. He commented that the objective of UNIDO goes beyond aid, as it helps nations develop their own industries to earn income by themselves. With the eradication of poverty, people can learn to care for others and about manners, which is the first step towards peace and living harmoniously.
One of the activities of UNIDO is ameliorating investment climates. For instance, adjusting corporate acts can stipulate how private companies operate. Countries like Japan should allow more subsidiaries for foreign companies so foreign companies can gain more control. Furthermore, there are currencies that are favorable for investment; international currencies like the USD and Euro are easy to use and widely accepted. UNIDO asks promotion delegates to explain this to Japanese companies and ask for one-to-one meetings. UNIDO also strengthens activities such as English language skills for Japanese staff overseas through human resources, as many SMEs of Japan don’t have staff overseas who can speak the language.
Another activity that Dr. Yasunaga introduced is technological transfer. UNDO lists technological advancement products of Japan and makes promotion videos for them, as well as hosts exhibitions to Japanese SMEs can demonstrate their technology and products. Dr. Yasunaga believes in the potential of the African continent as an investment destination, as there is a high economic and population growth alongside urbanization. He mentioned that Japanese companies can teach the knowhow for systems such as environmental, waste, and water security to solve any infrastructural problems so countries can advance more industrially.
Geographical Area of Focus
Dr. Yasunaga explained that from the 1980s, Japanese investment has been focusing on ASEAN countries, where Japanese companies are now running successfully, and workers are accumulating wealth. This initiative had been mutually beneficial, and there are many reasons investment to Asia had been a success. ASEAN countries are geographically close to Japan and are belonging to the Chinese civilization area; this means that there was an existing original psychological sympathy, as linguistics and culture were close. Dr. Yasunaga noted that the broken English of the countries, including Japan, had been a similarity that did not act as a burden for investment. Investment to ASEAN countries was smooth and easy.
On the other hand, Dr. Yasunaga finds that investment to Africa has been a challenge for Japan because of geographical, cultural, and linguistic distances. Dr. Yasunaga noted that Africans tend to be very good at languages, as they can speak their traditional and former colonizer’s languages. African countries may also have unstable political situations due to its diverse nature and consequent internal and external conflicts. Dr. Yasunaga mentioned that such barriers had made Japanese companies too timid to invest to African countries, unlike some aggressive Chinese companies. Yet now, Japanese companies are starting to plan for African investment. Dr. Yasunaga gave some examples of companies working on investing in the African region, including Yazaki automobiles in Morocco, and Mayekawa juice companies in South Africa. Japanese companies mentalities have gradually been changing towards more active investment to Africa.
Dr. Yasunaga explained that competition has been severe in the market of international trade, with countries constantly producing cheaper and better products. The 1990s to 2000s in Japan, also known as the “Lost Decades”, had been a time with no growth, which Dr. Yasunaga commented is partly attributed to globalization, as Japan could not compete in the world market. Moreover, recently, Dr. Yasunaga has noticed that developed countries are choosing inward oriented policies, which could perhaps be a social problem. As examples, he listed President Trump’s disapproval of immigrants and high tariffs for China, and UK declaring Brexit. It is the dogma of economics that international trade enriches the world, yet Dr. Yasunaga notes that the world is not driven solely by economics.
When he was a child, Dr. Yasunaga had the dream of becoming an astronaut. He said that he was inspired when US Apollo II landed on the moon.
Now, one year has passed since Dr. Yasunaga was appointed as the director of the Tokyo office of UNIDO. Before, he worked as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He was originally from the mining and engineering sector, and was involved in tasks including the foreign mineral resource development. He has traveled to Africa often since this time, to promote technology by accompanying universities and labs in projects. The science and technology policy involved pharmaceutics, materials, and environmental technologies. When the Japanese industries were especially strong during the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Yasunaga was involved in aiding the floods of exports.
Dr. Yasunaga’s passion working as the director of UNIDO is the challenge of encouraging Japanese industries. He notes that people may be interested in investment but it takes time. Dr. Yasunaga has hosted various seminars and symposiums especially about investment to Africa, yet it will take time for companies to take action. He noted that the ASEAN case took 20 to 30 years, and so patience is needed for this case as well. There must be time for Japanese companies to become more familiarized with the African culture and people, and to realize the high expectations African nations have towards Japanese cooperation. There very good mentality for Africa in promoting Japanese business, which Dr. Yasunaga believes is a strong hope for the success of his mission.
Dr. Yasunaga’s goal is to realize 100 Japanese companies to Africa. He explained that there are 200 in South Africa, and 50 to 60 in Morocco, but other countries only have one digit.
Dr. Yasunaga told us that life is “full of challenges”. Sometimes there are risks to be taken, and sometimes not. He said that his Japanese government work life had been especially busy, but he kept his optimism high by turning his challenges into motivation. As a professor, Dr. Yasunaga teaches energy and resource economics at Tokyo University, especially concerning open innovation theory.
Dr. Yasunaga’s advice for students is to “do exciting things in exciting ways”, and not to stick to ordinary methods. He drew a graph to depict activities, with the y-axis indicating the excitement of the way of doing an activity, and the x-axis indicating how exciting the activity is.
He explained that in life, we should make efforts to do the most exciting things in the most exciting way possible. Sometimes, it is inevitable that we have to do things that are not as exciting, and sometimes we do not have the choice to do something exciting in an exciting manner, but it is always important to strive for it. Dr. Yasunaga recommends to university students that there are ways to arrange your work for intellectual stimulation; to make boring things interesting. Furthermore, Dr. Yasunaga noted that many Japanese people do not look very happy; yet this can be changed if you think and add or change something to make your life activities more exciting whilst maintaining your world and identity.
As the director of UNIDO, Dr. Yasunaga’s message towards students is that he is welcoming university graduate students to UNIDO as interns. UNIDO internships offer a flexible schedule, and so he hopes that more students will be interested in participating.
Dr. Yasunaga also mentioned that there are activities that are not well known by young people. For instance, from April, the Director General in Vietnam will regularly visit Japan to have meetings. Furthermore, there is a symposium in Tokyo University that is globally active. To achieve SDGs, Dr. Yasunaga explained that there must be innovation; this requires new business models and human capital.
In terms of the literacy rate project, Dr. Yasunaga supported the importance of reaching decision makers as well as cooperating with the “grassroot” people, such as the teachers and advisors. Top down activities and bottom up activities must be done in parallel. This is the case for many volunteer activities such as in JICA, where experts as well as young and senior volunteers cooperate to advance their projects.