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Empathy Education for Young People is the Key to Solving Japan's Social Issues

From a declining birthrate to a super-aging society and economic disparity, Japan’s social issues have become more complex and diverse in recent years. Japan therefore urgently needs people who recognize the true nature of these issues and take concrete action to solve them. To this end, Ashoka Japan supports the work of leading Social Entrepreneurs / Changemakers Ashoka certifies as Ashoka Fellows and actively engages in discovering and fostering human resources, in particular teenagers who have the potential to lead the next generation.


A Creative Space for Young Minds to Thrive

The current network of Ashoka Fellows, Changemakers is over 4,000 people- strong, spanning 97 countries. However, the reality is that the problems vastly outnumber the Changemakers. To overcome the deficit would require every person to adopt a Changemaker-like mindset and convert ideas into action.

As the first step towards this goal, Ashoka created its Youth Venture Program, a global exchange program focused on educating young people between 12 and 20 who exhibit Changemaker-like qualities. The idea for the program came from Ashoka's findings that 80% of the world's Ashoka Fellows are already taking action to solve social problems in their teens. One common denominator among these Fellows is that their parents/guardians tolerated their behavior and never objected to their ideas. This finding led Ashoka to conclude that what is needed to nurture young Changemakers is not adults to guide them but a creative space where they can thrive that respects awareness and self-reflection.

Over the past 10 years, Ashoka Japan has supported 112 young Japanese Changemakers, certifying them as “Youth Venturers”. Each of them has devised an idea to improve society and implemented it. The latest 10 Venturers are unique and motivated young people with the ability to turn thought into action—even in a pandemic. Projects include providing rich reading experiences to children in orphanages, creating a more transparent hair donation system, and increasing understanding of and alleviating the difficulties people with hypersensitivity. Ashoka hopes that providing these venturers with a creative space and opportunities to explore and demonstrate the limits of their abilities will help them expand their projects.


The Importance of Empathy Education, the Key to Changemaking

The foundation of the skills needed to be a Changemaker is cognitive empathy, the ability to put yourself imaginatively and consciously into another person's shoes and try to feel what they feel. As Ashoka Japan believes that anyone can acquire this skill with training, they are working to incorporate it into educational programs from different angles. For example, the workshop for junior and senior high school students called LEAP, which Ashoka started at the end of 2020, encourages children to seek out problems they want to solve through careful self-reflection. Furthermore, Ashoka Japan hopes that having Youth Venturers present to the students as role models of the same generation will stimulate them and provide the spark that changes their behavior.

As a proper understanding about the essence of Changemaking is needed, Ashoka Japan launched another initiative called JOURNEY OF INNOVATION in 2018, a series of lectures and workshops in which Ashoka Fellows share their change-making journey from childhood. Previous guest speakers include Mr. Kenji Hayashi, who has created a new trend of recruiting talented young people to become players in depopulated and aging communities, and Mr. Takashi Kawazoe, who developed a self-health check system for just 500 yen per item enabling individuals to manage the prevention of lifestyle diseases. These lectures showing the path to social change are recorded and used as future teaching materials.


Japan Needs to Have the Courage to Effect Change

Abilities that are impossible to quantify like desire, confidence, patience, empathy, and cooperation are called non-cognitive abilities. It is precisely these non-cognitive abilities that make up the necessary fiber of a Changemaker. Several Ashoka offices, such as those in Mexico and Argentina, offer "YOUR KIDS" workshops to company workers raising children. This initiative teaching parents how to draw out change-making skills from their kids demonstrates the potential of redeveloping education to prepare children for the new age. However, when Ashoka Japan launched the pilot program, they realized most of the people in Japan were not interested in “teaching that do not correlate to high marks in academic tests”.

The academic skills needed to pass tests are called cognitive abilities, but people who aspire and dedicate themselves to contributing something to the world do not develop their non-cognitive abilities by honing their academic skills. Ashoka Japan believes that to provide children with the education they need to survive in this turbulent era, there is a pressing need to enlighten their parent's generation.

Striving for a Developed Cultural Society Where Everyone has Empathy

Ashoka Japan was launched by Nana Watanabe on January 11, 2011, as the first office of the organization's expansion into East Asia. In Japan, where the notion of individuals investing time and money into the public good is still rare, Ashoka Japan’s intentions are not easily understood. As Ashoka Japan enters its 12th year, the number of people who resonate with them is significant.
The many issues may weaken the country but as long as people have empathy in their hearts, a shared happiness should be possible without the need to sacrifice the country's developed culture. To this end, Ashoka Japan's role is to spread empathy-based education and to increase its understanding. In 2022, Ashoka Japan hold a regular exchange event in the Kansai area to bring globally active Ashoka Fellows, Youth Venturers, and the people who support them together. Looking ahead 20-30 years into the future, Ashoka Japan started this event to provide an environment where youth with the same philosophy to make the world a better place can remain active and develop the mindset of those around them.


Small Actions Open the Door to Changemaking

ANA supports the work of Ashoka Japan by subsidizing Ashoka Fellows, Youth Venturers, and Ashoka staff with its core competency, air travel. You too can support them by donating miles, flying with BLUE CLASS, and sharing this article on social media. This is your chance to join the Changemaker Movement!

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