On a sunny day that reminded many of the approaching summer, people began filtering in to the Hall of Flags at The Fletcher School. The inaugural Japan Business and Technology Roundtable attracted close to 100 people. Attendees varied from students at various academic institutions to professionals across industries, showing the great interest for this topic.
The event was officially opened with a welcome speech by a second year MALD student and one of the organizers, Saori Imaizumi. She explained how concept for this conference had come up over a meal among the Japanese students at Fletcher on what Japan can offer to the Global community. Professor Carolyn Gideon then spoke on behalf of the Hitachi Center for Technology and International Affairs, which had generously sponsored this event. After giving some background of the center, she explained how this conference epitomized the principles of the center before introducing the opening key-note speaker, Professor Partha Ghosh.
Key-note Speaker - Professor Partha Ghosh
||His opening remark was a great prelude to the event as he discussed the importance of the timing of the conference and what he coins, the inverse pyramid. The inverse pyramid emphasizes the need for a new paradigm where the top-of-the-pyramid to look at the base-of-the-pyramid as providers and not just as consumers.|
First guest speaker - Mr. Toshihiro Nakamura
||He began by explaining the traditional overseas development aid structure and how it had grown cumbersome and ineffective. This was felt strongly by him during the Indonesian tsunami reconstruction, where he worked as part of UNDP to estimate the economic cost of the reconstruction effort and how much aid was needed. To his surprise, he found that there were $2~3 billion that came from private donations and NGOs. This was his inspiration for a new business model which he is pursuing with Kopernik. The new business model was to connect the technology products directly with local entrepreneurs and to help subsidize this with cloud funding from the online market.|
Second guest speaker - Mr. Yushi Akiyama
||He provided the multinational corporation’s perspective to this roundtable. Hitachi has a long standing corporate philosophy of giving to the community and therefore CSR has always been an integral part of the culture at Hitachi. To illustrate this, he gave two examples. One was the solar generation project in Indonesia and the other example was the agricultural information system in Vietnam. He then went on to explain the difficulties faced by Hitachi in pursuing these projects. Aspects such as lack of local knowledge and data collection capabilities, difficulty in finding appropriate local partners, and lack of a long-term commitment, makes a difficult business proposal.|
Third guest speaker - Professor Jenny Aker
||Her talk focused on how technology can be taken to low-income countries to add social welfare. However, technology can be beneficial or questionable and end users must weigh the cost and its potential benefits. Two contrasting examples were given to highlight successful and unsuccessful introduction of technology. The improved cooking oven was the unsuccessful one and the successful one was the mobile phone. The key to successful adoption is tangible benefits, ease-of-use, adapted to local needs, information externalities, cost-sharing and cultural acceptable. It is also important to have engagement of the key players such as the local entrepreneurs, national corporations, multinational corporations as they all have different competencies that they contribute to the successful deployment of welfare enhancing technology.|
Networking Coffee Break
||A brief intermission was held after the presentations. This time was used to allow audience to network with speakers as well as other attendees. There were many lively discussions held over drinks and refreshments.|
Round Table Discussion
||After the intermission, the attendees returned to start the interactive roundtable with the speakers-turned-panelists. There were many engaging questions from the audience to which the panelists answered in a lively dialogue.|
||Closing remark was by Professor Ghosh, who concluded with a brief speech on how the world’s poverty problem is too big to be tackled in the current paradigm. He reiterated the inverse pyramid and that at a high-level of abstraction a new ‘ism’ was needed to replace the current defunct capitalism while at the low-level abstraction it was important for us to think what can we do as micro-volunteers.|
It is the organizers’ consensus that the day was a resounding success overall and is a promising inaugural event that can be institutionalized at The Fletcher School.