In its first six months, the inaugural Rakuten Social Accelerator program helped six innovative new companies along on their road to new heights. Beginning in July 2018, the program recruited a group of startups, each with a social mission, to work together with Rakuten volunteers to take their operations to the next level.
Accelerating change around the world
The six organizations selected had a wide range of focuses, from global undertakings to more local issues. WASSHA provides charging stations to power Africa’s smartphone-driven economy, AlonAlon is creating a friendlier labor market for Japan’s disabled workers, and G-experience is promoting an alternative, experience-based approach to education in Japan with its innovative learning program.
Rakuten’s role in the project was more than that of simple guidance. Rakuten employees volunteered their time and technical expertise to help the startups establish themselves online and get the wheels turning on new business undertakings.
Many of Rakuten’s chosen social startups began with little to no online presence. Japan Taberu Journal League — a foodie magazine designed to raise awareness of the stories behind Japan’s food production — worked with Rakuten to make their content available through the internet for the first time.
Otetsutabi — a tourism experience service providing free travel to rural areas in exchange for helping out local hotels and businesses — was able to set up and promote their first online registration system, significantly increasing applications and setting up 2019 to become a year of significant growth. Meanwhile, HOUKAGO NPO AFTER-SCHOOL — an NPO that provides afternoon activities on school premises for students from all backgrounds — worked with Rakuten to set up the STEAM Lab, where kids can learn robotics and programming using computers, projection mapping, 3D printers and more.
Rakuten resources empower startups
The achievements of the six months of collaboration were showcased during a demo day at Rakuten’s Crimson House in January 2019. Rakuten co-founder and Chief People Officer Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi emphasized that the best way to create lasting solutions is to approach challenges with a business-oriented mindset.
By working with Rakuten, each organization was able to make full use of Rakuten’s portfolio of online services and brand visibility, as well as gain access to industry talent to move business plans forward at a previously unattainable scale.
“Over the last 20 years, Rakuten has been giving back to society in many different ways — such as donation programs and volunteering,” Seichu explained. “But this project is more than that. We want to use Rakuten’s business assets to the full extent possible in order to find solutions to social issues that the world faces. If we can tackle social issues through business, we can ensure that the solution is sustainable.”
Driven by passion
The Rakuten Social Accelerator began to pick up serious steam soon after inception in mid-2018, and the project soon found itself inundated with volunteers from across Rakuten. For Rakuten Group Managing Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer Naho Kono, such a reaction wasn’t surprising.
“Many good ideas only come to fruition when you meet someone else with the same level of passion as you. Once you do, it’s like a chemical reaction,” she explained. “One thing I realized after joining Rakuten is that it’s full of passionate people bursting with ideas. It’s that passion that’s kept me here at Rakuten for the past 16 years.”
The Rakuten Social Accelerator program has facilitated more of these ‘chemical reactions’ by connecting people from different fields, Kono said. “This time, it’s not just Rakuten employees, but all sorts of organizations and entrepreneurs coming together to create this amazing program that gives so much back to society.”
Cross-industry collaboration is key
Following the event, Rakuten Executive Director and founder of the Rakuten Institute of Technology Masaya Mori shared insight into why such programs are necessary to move society forward. He argued that while the internet has brought a high level of convenience to the world, phenomena such as globalization and the concentration of populations in urban areas continue to pose serious challenges.
“These are problems that can’t be solved with the power of a single big IT company alone. What you need is the passion of the people whom these problems affect, along with a diverse array of people from different backgrounds,” Mori commented. “On top of that you need the resources of big companies, you need the power of technology on your side. You need expertise in cloudware, UI/UX design, AI, IoT and more. If you can bring all of these things together, only then does it become possible to take on these complicated social issues.”
“Through this program, we want to channel the passion of these social entrepreneurs. That’s something that’s really important to Rakuten.”
For more details on the six startups participating in the program, see here.