March 2018

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NPO Cross Fields

- The Corporate Volunteering Program sends Japanese corporate employees to emerging countries to seek solutions to social and local issues. -

This month’s issue of Close Up introduces the Nonprofit Organization, Cross Fields. Cross Fields manages the Corporate Volunteering Program (CVP) which dispatches Japanese corporate employees in the field to emerging countries with social issues. CVP participants undertake to resolve local social needs using the professional skills acquired in their respective careers. Begun seven years ago, the significant impact of the program on both the Japanese companies sending “corporate volunteers”, and the emerging nations with social issues which receive them, is elevating interest in the program. We had the opportunity to speak with Co-Founder and Vice President, Ms. Yuka Matsushima, and Project Manager, Ms. Tomoko Kitagawa.

Co-Founder and Vice President, Ms. Yuka Matsushima (R)
and Project Manager, Ms. Tomoko Kitagawa (L)

Please tell us the background of how Cross Fields was established.

Ms. Matsushima

Cross Fields was founded in May 2011, approximately 7 years ago. As background to the establishment of the organization, “Pro bono“ began to attract public attention at the time. “Pro bono“ are volunteer activities of working professionals providing their knowledge and skills to help non-profit organizations. The participation of business people in these activities not only impacts the social sector, but also provides diverse experiences beneficial to their own lives and careers. Therefore, we thought to initiate a program to “send an employee on an extended leave of absence from work to assist emerging countries in the field to find solutions to social issues” and have the company’s human resources department view it as personnel training. At the time, there were organizations promoting and coordinating “Pro bono“ activities, but these were designed to allow volunteers to participate in NPO activities only on their own time. No organization coordinated a “full-time commitment to work in the field resolving social issues overseas.” As a result, the current CEO, Daichi Konuma and I, co-founded Cross Field.

A food company researcher contributed
to create employment and improve living
conditions in rural Indonesia.
© Cross Fields

The first corporate volunteer, an employee of
an electrical manufacturer, contributed to reduce
the production costs of solar cooking equipment in Vietnam.
© Cross Fields

What are its principal activities?

Ms. Matsushima

Our principle activity is the Corporate Volunteering Program (CVP), which dispatches employees of Japanese companies to assist organizations working to resolve social issues in emerging countries in Asia. The “corporate volunteers” take an average of 3 to 6 month leave of absence from the company to join the personnel of a local NPO, or social enterprise. The hallmark of this program is that participants are experts rather than simply volunteers, achieving professional results by using their acquired work skills. In other words, participants contribute their Japanese professional skills to local organizations, such as for example, the direct participation of an IT company engineer in developing organization’s internal data management system. Thus far, around 35 Japanese companies have participated in the CVP and we have sent over 135 corporate volunteers to 10 Asian countries. When we first founded the organization, it was difficult to find companies willing to participate in the program, but thankfully we are now receiving many inquiries from interested companies.

An employee of a medical equipment
manufacturer working on the treatment of
medical waste of a healthcare NPO in Indonesia
© Cross Fields

An engineer of an electrical manufacturer
working on improving the efficiency of remote
diagnosis of a medical institute in India
© Cross Fields

What are the advantages to Japanese companies of introducing the CVP?

Ms. Matsushima

I believe the biggest advantage is preparing personnel to be leaders, ready to serve their company to expand into global business. The emerging countries of Asia are markets, which are predicted to grow and geographically close to Japanese companies. For that reason, many companies want to prepare personnel to be able to work in these countries, independently setting their own goals and cooperating with local people. Furthermore, I believe some companies hope that through their experience, corporate volunteers will become familiar with local needs, for example, their everyday life and problems, which may serve as stepping stones to potential business ideas. In addition, a consequence of the program is that corporate volunteers return with diverse experiences that pump fresh blood into the organization, which in turn motivates other employees. When one works for a big Japanese company the “meaning of work” and the “raison d'être of the company” are difficult concepts to understand but are more easy to grasp when one works for a small organization in an emerging country. The corporate volunteers become aware of the value and who their work is helping and share these with their colleagues, which then invigorates the company.

How are the recipient organizations chosen?

Ms. Kitagawa

Depending on the skills and experience of corporate volunteer candidates, and the needs of the Japanese companies dispatching them, we select the host organizations and determine the scope of work. To clarify what is expected of corporate volunteers and what they will do on the job, we listen to the concrete needs voiced by local organizations, for example, the areas in which they need assistance and the types of skills required by volunteers, in order for us to make a good match. Before posting a corporate volunteer, we carefully examine the potential of each one. Naturally, at times we arrive on site to discover that conditions are not what we expected, but with the objective of ensuring that corporate volunteers successfully work collaboratively with their local colleagues and meet their expectation, we closely monitor the situation and communicate with both the corporate volunteers and the host organization. For example, we accompany the volunteer for the first one week in the field after the start of on-site activities, and thereafter hold weekly coaching teleconferences. Corporate volunteers have a lasting impact on the host organization, such as setting up an in-house IT system, and as a result numerous host organizations have commented that they “are very grateful to the volunteers”. When we first founded our program, our acquaintances in different countries introduced us to potential host organizations. We now receive inquiries from various local organizations through our English website.

What are the criteria for choosing volunteers?

Ms. Matsushima

Because volunteers are expected to contribute concrete results in the country where they will be sent for only a few months, we require their professional and English skills to be adequate for the task. To evaluate English skills, we check a volunteer’s determination to express themselves in English without giving up during the interview, more highly than TOEIC scores. It is also important that they have the mindset to fend for themselves in a difficult environment quite different from Japan, and assume the personal responsibility and self-discipline needed to get the job done. But most important is the enthusiasm of the person---not “the company chose me to go”, but “I am eager to go!”.

An IT company engineer promoting
the use of IT tools to assist Cambodia’s
underclass gain independence.
© Cross Fields

An event of an Indonesian company and
a Japanese NPO collaborative project providing
employment assistance for people with disabilities.
© Cross Fields

Tell us of any outstanding successes of the CVP.

Ms. Kitagawa

The first corporate volunteer under my charge was a female researcher with 4 years of company experience who for 3 months steadfastly attempted diverse strategies to assist a social enterprise dedicated to garbage recycling in Indonesia. In the end, she devised a method for local people to easily separate organic garbage and create compost out of it. The experience of single handedly achieving her goal lifted her self-confidence, which after her return to Japan motivated her to join a group of young colleagues to breathe new life into the company. In addition, it was highly stimulating for her to have met a strong leader in the Indonesian organization she was volunteering for.

Ms. Matsushima

There is the case of one person, a researcher before participating in the program, who went on to become a leader managing the company’s international business after his time with the CVP. Some companies continue participating in the CVP and these companies note the tendency of these ex-corporate volunteers to come together as a community, which further invigorates the company.

Tell us about future projects in development.

Ms. Matsushima

Seven years have passed since the founding of our organization. It is now common to find business people contributing their skills to social issues, and other organizations have emerged offering similar programs to the CVP. We are reaching the point where we must innovate, and indeed we have initiated a few new projects. While CVP participants are predominantly young employees, we are now offering company executives the opportunity to experience firsthand the social issues in the field, both within and outside of the country. Another is connecting NPOs and social enterprises from different countries who are addressing similar social issues, so as to share good practices and accelerate finding solutions to the problems. As you can see, we are promoting new socially impactful projects by building upon what we have thus far created. With the CVP as our main project, we strive to make greater impact to the society.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

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