How does a global company empower local communities? It’s a question Rakuten has been addressing with its actions since launching Rakuten Ichiba in 1997 as a platform to help merchants across Japan bring their businesses online. Over the years, this dedication to empowering society has been at the center of many of the company’s most impactful decisions, from launching Rakuten Mobile to Rakuten’s various investments into sport.
And what better way to impact local communities than to start in your very own backyard?
Rakuten has a long history of supporting causes in Setagaya City, the Tokyo community in which Rakuten’s Crimson House headquarters is located, from launching a Social Accelerator program with local residents and partnering with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors on a basketball court refurbishment for area youth, to now collaborating with Setagaya-based Sanno University on a program designed to empower local students.
Introducing Global Communication Camp Advanced
For two days in March 2023, Rakuten hosted 18 students from Sanno University for a pilot project in collaboration with Setagaya City, called the Global Communication Camp Advanced. Participating students were tasked with improving the special Setagaya City website designed to keep non-Japanese residents informed during emergencies and natural disasters.
Eight Rakuten employees, representing various countries around the world, volunteered via Rakuten’s Sustainability Department, acting as mentors for the students over the course of the two-day event, providing insights, business experience and diverse perspectives to the student-designed-and-delivered proposals. In groups of three, students presented their proposals for improvements to the website to a panel including Rakuten employees, university staff and Setagaya City government officials.
Yoko Koizumi works in the evangelist group for Rakuten’s Regional Economy Vitalizing Business and helped organize the event. Sharing the purpose of the project, she noted, “We believe that education for next generations is a must in order to realize a sustainable society and empower local governments. We aim to collaborate with local government, universities and schools to create an ‘ecosystem of learning’ to support residents receiving opportunities to learn,” she continued. “That’s our group’s mission.”
Koizumi acknowledged the importance of improving the students’ skills and cultivating a “challenge, change, contribute and connect” mindset. “Those powers could be the base of an ideal society. But in Japan, we often lack opportunities or the environment to cultivate this kind of mindset. After these two days, I am confident we can develop a program that promotes this mindset, with the help of Rakuten employees who come from overseas as well.”
Sanno University associate professor Eiko Peña was on hand to guide students and their Rakuten mentors through the rigorous camp. She emphasized its language training component. “One goal of this program is for students to feel confident that when somebody asks them, ‘Do you speak English?’ they can say, ‘I do.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand everything, but it means that even if they don’t understand, they have the guts to ask questions.”
Kurt Low, one of the Rakuten mentors, shared his experience. “I signed up for this program because it was a great opportunity to give back to Setagaya City, which is where I live. I hope the students have a good experience, getting a chance to interact with people from different countries and learning presentation skills.” Ana Damaschin, another mentor, added, “This was a good opportunity to see what people outside of our company think of Rakuten. And I think we can learn a lot from the students too.”
The camp itself was powered by the hard work and dedication of those very students. One student, Ryoga, remarking on his experience, said “[It was] very, very fun. I learned how to work efficiently. Thank you for this opportunity.” Another student, Yuna, shared her experience as well. “Two days ago, I thought I couldn’t speak English, but this program has been a special experience. Now, I think I can speak English a little.”
Finally, Rina summarized, “I’m very happy because I could learn a lot of things through this program, like communication skills, presentation skills and English skills. I’m really glad I joined the program.”
From Setagaya to local communities across Japan
Of course, it isn’t just Setagaya City where Rakuten and its employees are making a difference. The company has been leveraging its technology and the strength of its ecosystem to empower communities across Japan for years. Whether it be drone deliveries to remote islands and mountaintops, hometown tax programs to support local farmers, or offering specialized services for Japan’s seniors, Rakuten has always worked to deliver customized solutions to help people achieve their dreams.
To learn more about how Rakuten empowers communities around the globe, visit here.