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Volunteer Platform (VPF) -Spreading International Cooperation among Younger Generations by Utilizing SNS -

Ms. Hori, the PR Division Leader, and Alliance Section at the VPF offices in Nishi-Shinjuku.

Ms. Hori, the PR Division Leader, and Alliance
Section at the VPF offices in Nishi-Shinjuku.

January’s Close Up introduces Volunteer Platform (VPF), a general incorporated association. With its vision of “supporting vulnerable people and children around the world”, VPF was established in 2003 as a non-government organization (NGO) that engages in international cooperation activities. Commencing with the fight against poverty, VPF conducts support activities in many fields including education, the environment, healthcare and welfare, etc. A feature of the group is its use of social business techniques and information technology (IT) resources. Through such means VPF responds to the project-sustainability and efficiency issues that plague numerous international cooperation organizations. Continuing its own development, VPF aims to be the “best support platform in Japan and around the world”, and by achieving this aim it hopes to realize the smooth matching of human resources, materials, money, information and technology, etc., between aid donors and recipients. On this occasion we spoke to Ms. Sachiko Hori, PR Division Leader and Alliance Section about the unique activities that the group undertakes.

- Broadly speaking, VPF engages in three types of activity. Firstly, there are the direct support projects in developing countries. These involve lessons conducted at elementary schools, the operation of orphanages and the development of infrastructure, etc. Secondly, there are the intervening support projects. These involve the dispatch of volunteers to various destinations overseas. Finally, there is the indirect support project. This involves the operation of one of Japan’s leading volunteer information websites. Of these divergent strands, the core activity is the dispatch of volunteers overseas. In terms of numbers, each year several thousand people participate in VPF volunteer programs and study tours.

Q.Please describe the features of VPF’s dispatch of volunteers overseas.

A. Rather than focusing on people who possess a strong desire to engage in international cooperation activities, our targets are members of the younger generation who simply possess a degree of interest in the topic. To broaden the focus placed on international cooperation, it is important to create opportunities that lead people to taking their first steps. Speaking of the participants VPF attracts, almost all lack previous experience as overseas volunteers. Thus, a high percentage of our volunteers are venturing overseas for the first time. Accordingly, so that such novices can also participate with peace-of-mind, we have a system organized whereby the member pages on our website have checklists of procedures to be completed prior to a volunteer’s departure from Japan. We also have staff members who frequently contact any participants who show a tendency to lag in completing their preparations.

©VPF ©VPF

Ninety percent (90%) of VPF overseas volunteer program
participants take part as “individuals” and as “novices”.
©VPF

Q.What feedback do you receive from people who have volunteered overseas?

©VPF

On the VPF website there is a wealth of shared
experiences. It is possible to come into contact
with the views of program participants.
©VPF

A. Our volunteers often tell us “my values have changed”. Concerning people living in developing nations in less than affluent circumstances, they nevertheless can possess very active and positive outlooks on life. Even though they lack certain amenities, their personalities are brimming with the sense that they can achieve things themselves. Comparing such people to those of us who live our lives in the enriched environment of Japan without much thought to our surroundings, you might ask which group is the more blessed and the happier. Working as an overseas volunteer gives individuals the opportunity to consider such deep issues. Some 87% of our participants feel that their experiences have been of value in the future choices they make. Volunteering can also deepen a person’s interest in international cooperation. Among our former volunteers some have gone on to either participate in Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) activities or undertake further study in developing nations. Furthermore, the VPF website has numerous recollections from our former volunteers, and I would thoroughly recommend looking through them.

Q.And you are very proactive in using SNS as a channel for the dissemination of information?

©VPF

This entry received 489 votes, a memorable photo of
a smiling Cambodian girl.
©VPF

A. In that focusing on university students, the target of VPF is the younger generation; we feel that for both information dissemination and diffusion, it is very important to fully utilize social networking service (SNS) channels such as Facebook, LINE and Twitter, etc. In 2014, we conducted a photography contest entitled Sekai e no Ichimai Grand Prix (“A Single Photo for the World”) in conjunction with SNS. In this project we obtained single photographs from VPF volunteer program participants. These had been taken by participants during their time overseas. Participants were also invited to give a 100-word commentary on any episodes related to their entries. The photographs considered for the final prize giving were selected through voting conducted via SNS.

Q.Please tell me more about the details.

©VPF

Those feelings of those people who submitted
photos and those people who liked them
resulted in rice being delivered locally.
©VPF

A. The photographs received for the contest were published on the VPF Facebook page. Page visitors who liked a particular photo pressed the associated “Like” and “Share” buttons. The other option for them was to leave a comment. The photos attracting the greatest number of actions were considered as attracting the greatest number of votes. Thus, they were selected for the final prize giving process. Furthermore, in accordance with the number of entries received and the number of actions initiated towards the photos, rice donations were made to local orphanages and NGOs that VPF supports. A photo entry was calculated as equating to 10 bowls of rice, while each action received (a “Like”, a “Share” or a comment) resulted in the donation of a single bowl. On this occasion, photos were received from 226 volunteers, and some 8,689 actions initiated towards the photos. This resulted in VPF making a donation equivalent to 10,949 bowls of rice, in excess of our initial objective of 10,000 bowls.


Q.What merit was there in this approach?

©VPF

Rice will be delivered to local people by the hands
of local program participants and staff members.
©VPF

A. Concerning this project, by leveraging the overseas experiences of actual volunteers, and through dissemination by SNS of these experiences via photographs and comments, it proved possible to incrementally increase our rice donations in accordance with the numbers of people who voted. Moreover, the larger the voter numbers, the greater the spread of interest with regard to international cooperation and volunteer programs. Furthermore, through Facebook friends giving “Likes”, doing “Shares” and making comments, we would be gratified if even just one additional person came to the conclusion that “being an overseas volunteer is good” or “this is something I want to try for myself”. Also, just by giving a “Like” or doing a “Share”, people were able to contribute via the donation of a single bowl of rice, and that in itself seems to be a form of international contribution that is in keeping with the times.

Q.Finally, please give a message to our readers.

©VPF

Ms. Hori; “Because of the age
in which we live, there now
exists some structure to what
individuals can do in terms of
international cooperation.
Considering this, we would
like people to participate
while feeling relaxed about
things.”

A. In the past, it could be very difficult for individuals to venture overseas. However, in the society in which we currently live, if somebody wants to, they can visit a developing country and get involved in activities. That is the age in which we live. That being said, however, I think that it is a shame that people don’t use such an opportunity! We have a desire to conduct a range of activities so that more and more people will begin to feel that both international cooperation and volunteering overseas are very much a normal part of who they are. As shown with the “Single Photo for the World” contest, another way to make a contribution locally in developing nations is simply clicking a “Like” or “Share” button on Facebook. We really don’t want people to feel that the barriers to participating are that high, rather we would be very grateful if people could start participating from the perspective of empathy.