Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
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Kenji Sekine (Part 2)
My Eyes Tokyo is bringing you the interview with Kenji Sekine, a young social entrepreneur who manages the click-to-donate website called “ekokoro!” (It means “Good heart). In this part, we tell you about his method of balancing social action work and profit-making business, and the vision of his ideal world.
*You can go to the first part from here!
*Kenji Sekine (1976-)
Born in Kanagawa, Japan. After graduating Beloit Collage, USA, he worked for several IT companies. He established his own company in 2002 and launched “ekokoro!” in May 2003. He changed the corporate name of his company to “United People Co., Ltd.” in February 2007. He received the Social Business Award from Microsoft in September 2007. He expanded into movie distribution business in 2009. Sekine and United People started the journey project called “BADO!” in 2010.
“ekokoro!“, a Click-to-donate website (Japanese)
After you launched “ekokoro!”, you scrambled to find a sponsor. But many companies frowned on your business plan. Did you wonder why they didn’t understand your thoughts?
Yes, I did. But worrying gets me nowhere so I thought what I should do to make them understand.
One day my friend gave me a useful suggestion. “You try unsuccessfully to do something and get depressed. It happens often. In that case, just think, “How can I work it out?”. Don’t let it get you down.” That was the right remark for me. As soon as I think, “How can I…?”, I could break any barriers.
If my plan gets shot down by a company, I thought, “What do I have to do to have them listen to me?” “What should I do to have them adopt my plan?”. That’s how I’ve bridged the gap between my ideal vision of a society and the current situation.
Would you show me some concrete examples?
If someone says that he/she is interested in my plan but his/her company can’t adopt my plan for some reasons, I ask him/her then and there, “How can I get you to work with me?” Then he/she tells me his/her idea. I go back to my office and rework the earlier plan and prepare the documents for the next presentation.
Then I meet him/her again within a week and he/she says, “OK, we’ll adopt your plan.” In an alternating succession of that process, the number of sponsor companies which support my activities increased.
I think services which you provide to companies are a little bit difficult for them to understand. It’s not easy to understand like a cell-phone service.
I think it’s not so difficult for you to combine the contribution to society and services that you provide to companies. Electricity is a good example.
You don’t want to get electricity from a thermal power station or atomic power plant when considering the harmful impact of those power generation systems. Then a power company tells you that they can provide you electricity produced by wind power. It means that company provides electricity in an eco-friendly way and makes money. Also you have more choices.
If a homebuilder could use forest thinnings for building a house, they would be able to make money and contribute to environment conservation.
Everybody knows that we have to reverse the trend of large scale production and consumption in order to build a sustainable society. This can be achieved by producing durable or long-lasting products and stop making disposable ones.
For example, if you use a fountain pen, you don’t need two or three because it must be a long-last product. You can use it in a lifetime so a fountain pen company can set a high price for it. Instead, a company sells consumable goods such as ink, cartridges or pen cases. Then production of volume of disposable ballpoint pens or mechanical pencils would decrease. As a result, the amount of resources we need could be reduced. Also we need to choose long-last products rather than disposable ones.
I think business entities can do that, not NGOs or NPOs. Thanks to that kind of corporate activity called “social marketing”, NGO/NPOs might be unnecessary someday.
Your interest towards the broader issue of conflict resolution, environmental conservation and symbiosis with nature. Do you think those issues have certain things in common?
I think what they have in common are “lust” and “imagination”. It means our excessive lust and lack of imagination have destroyed nature and our lust has triggered wars.
It has been accepted that poverty was a cause of wars. But I think that’s not true. In some cases, that’s true, but in the majority of cases, it’s not true.
I think the countries which possess military forces wage wars because there must be no country which wants to fight a losing battle. Countries which have the odds in their favor trigger wars and bereave everything from people.
But from now on, we have to curb our desire to be covetous of others’ properties or desire to turn over others by killing and nurture a rich spirit enough to share one thing with each other. Capitalism has interpreted our desire approvingly and maximized individual benefit or company’s profit. Also capitalism has given priority to national interests. Instead, we have to share our properties with each other from now on. It means we treat our belongings as a public property and share it with each other.
As for “imagination”, we need to imagine like, “The Amazonian forest would disappear if I keep buying this product.” “A man would be killed if I buy this diamond.” If you have such an idea, your behavior will change.
The micro-enterprise school which was set up by Amurt, the NGO
which has been providing emergency and humanitarian aid.
This school is intended for the independence of women.
Southern Sri Lanka, December 2005 *Photo by United People Co., Ltd.
In my opinion, companies which produce unhealthy stuff such as fast food become world-class enterprises. On the other hand, attempts that are eco-friendly, low-impact such as fair trade are done on a small scale. That shows how grabby humans are.
Do you believe that humans still have a mind for good will?
Of course! Actually there are many people who live together across all faiths and nationalities. Also there are many people who have gotten past animosities and connect with each other. Those exist not only in the Middle East but also in the rest of the world.
They call each other by their first names. They don’t mind any ideology. They don’t put the word “Israeli” or “Palestinian” before their names. They just call each other “John”, “Jack”, “Kenji” “Ichiro” or whatever. They can do it with any kind of people for granted without prejudice. If we want to be like that, we need to recognize each other’s differences.
In order to rid the world of conflicts and strife which are occurring today, people have to face the same direction. There is a good example in the Middle East.
I visited Israel and Palestine last year (2009). I saw many Jewish people and Arabic people working together at NGOs and companies for establishing lasting peace in the region. They were not working as Jews, not working as Palestinian people. They were tackling conflicts just as “human beings”. They did that naturally. I was really moved by that.
Reuters’ coverage of “G.ho.st“, an Israeli IT venture company. G.ho.st hires Palestinians who live in the Palestine autonomous region. Their activities contribute to Palestine’s economic growth and peace building in the region.
*Sekine interviewed CEO in September 2009; Click here to watch.
How does your ideal world look?
People can go where they want to, people can say what they want to, people can interact freely and enjoy eating and drinking together. That’s my ideal world.
Also I hope that all people in the world can participate in their happiness together. For example, you share vegetables with neighbors. Exchanges with neighbors contributes to the growth of a community. If that kind of exchange is boosted, many small communities will be formed. I hope those communities would be unified and one world would be formed someday.
I understood that conflicts and destruction of nature start with human lust. In order to solve those issues, we should share things with each other, not work for gratifying our desire.
That’s right. If we could have gentle hearts enough to share something with others instead of having the desire to take something out from others, we would be able to prevent the occurrence of wars before the fire is opened.
Inequality in wealth may be inevitable. But if haves share things with have-nots, we might be able to solve the conflicts. At the moment all people gain such a mind of good will, the world will change dramatically. I hope so.
What are you working closely on?
It’s “journey”. I believe that “to know” and “to feel” are totally different. “To know” means collecting information and you won’t be moved very often in the process of that. For example, when you hear that there are still millions of land mines buried in Cambodia, you may think, “Really?” but that’s it. However if you have been to a village which is strewn with land mines and talked to a child who has only one foot, you will be very affected when you got to know about the current situation of Cambodia.
That kind of impressive experience will enrich your life. Also it will change your life and you’ll be able to have a wild imagination. I believe that it’s really important for us to have it.
But you can’t cultivate your imagination in your daily life because many people learn or work in a closed world such as schools and offices. So we started a travel project called “BADO!” (Borderless Action and Documentary).
We support young world travelers who take moving pictures while traveling and transmit them to the world. They make personal progress and they become “changemakers” (social entrepreneurs). That’s a goal of this project.
We are focusing on this project “BADO!” now. Young people go and see what’s happening in the world and feel something. Many of the participants will have life-changing experiences. After they come back home, they become lawmakers, businesspersons or journalists. They might change society from within. If they get interested in the conflicts, they might come up with a creative solution for them. I would like to increase the number of people who move to improve the society and the world.
The special website of “BADO!”（http://www.bado.tv)
Also I would like to increase the number of people who work on what they can do in order to build a good relationship between the society and themselves. I believe it makes all of us happy.