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Young South Africans learn from Japanese businesses

19 March 2018

When considering the infinite development space, skilled youth remains a non-negotiable. With its sole resource being its people, Japan, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with a 20-year footprint on local soil, has a credible appreciation for people, and a noble intention to support South Africa’s human resource development.

Photo: Seated centre is Mr Shigeyuki Hiroki, Japanese Ambassador to South Africa, (on his right) Mr Toshikazu Otani, Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Japan in South Africa (CCIJ) and (on his left) Mr Tomohiro Seki, Chief Representative of the JICA South Africa Office with the returnees

The African Business Education (ABE) Initiative, introduced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013, aims to empower 1,000 African youths through scholarships (master’s degrees) at Japanese universities and internships at Japanese enterprises. The initiative is targeting youth with leadership qualities, aiming to maximise their potential and to enrich them through a cultural journey of note. Returnees are highly employable, with some absorbed by the Japanese private sector.

Over the years, South Africa, with a cumulative total of 104 awardees, with the number expected to grow in coming years, has seen much success in shaping youth who will come to nurture the relationship between South African and Japanese businesses, 140 and counting.

On 8 March 2018, the JICA South Africa Office hosted a session for 16 returnees of the 32 awardees from the Second Batch, who left for Japan in 2015. The session celebrated their return, showcased the life-changing experience which this initiative offers, and encouraged networking between them and the Japanese private sector in South Africa. Amongst the guests who welcomed them back, were Mr Shigeyuki Hiroki, Japanese Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Toshikazu Otani, Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Japan in South Africa (CCIJ), Mr Tomohiro Seki, Chief Representative of the JICA South Africa Office, and management from 14 Japanese businesses.



Photo: Mr Bonginkosi Mthombeni

Returnees gave the audience a glimpse of their lives in Japan. One of them, Mr Bonginkosi Mthombeni, who studied towards a Master of Business Administration at the Doshisha University in Kyoto, chose “Promoting Entrepreneurship in South Africa” as his research topic. Although he remains in formal employ at the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA), he, along with fellow awardees from African countries, created an informal network called “Kakehashi Africa”, aiming to voluntary provide support to emerging entrepreneurs. Their concept originated from the Japanese word “kakehashi”, meaning “bridge”, symbolising the connection between Japan and Africa, and the immense potential of collaborating on business diplomacy.

The network, with Mr Mthombeni as Founding Member, has a 30-strong leadership team working in various “chapters” (regions), with its Headquarters now being set up in Kenya. Future activities will see greater exchange between these chapters, and even accessibility to a “Japanese Chapter”. According to Mr Mthombeni, the network’s philosophy is based on a principle shared by both Africa and Japan, being “Ubuntu” (“I am because we are”) and “Wa” (“Harmony”), showing how unity, regardless of diversity or solidarity, can impact on development efforts.

Awardees’ fields of study vary according to their interest, which consequently determines host universities, scattered across Japan. The list is endless, and many research topics are both relevant and timely to the South African landscape. Returnees foster lasting friendships with not only their Japanese peers, but also students from across the globe. Such global opportunities for learning are paving the way for a global village which will see future leaders crossing the cultural divide with greater ease.

Japan will continue its efforts to reach Prime Minister Abe’s target, with Fifth Batch awardees expected to leave for Japan later this year.




October/November 2019











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