Since 2018, the Rakuten Social Accelerator program has seen hundreds of employees volunteer their time and expertise to empower dozens of NPOs, NGOs and other organizations to achieve their social missions.
In 2021, despite a global pandemic, the program continued to power organizations working across Japan and beyond with as much optimism as ever. 86 Rakuten employees volunteered to work alongside eight different groups for a period of six months to share tech business expertise and help the groups find success in their respective goals.
Career choices for rural youth: Dappi
Okayama Prefecture lies in Japan’s west, at the midpoint between Osaka and Hiroshima. There, Dappi is on a mission to connect the region’s youth with working adults to help them decide on career paths. The group holds regular career networking events for students and runs a student-driven online media outlet that tackles relevant topics such as whether leaving home to work in Tokyo is truly the right choice, or what the point of studying is.
The employees from Rakuten split into two squads, one helping the group take their events online, another helping the students plan ways to broaden the reach of their articles — efforts which resulted in a five-fold increase in readership.
Supporting independent learning in rural Japan: Maru Office
Based in the town of Kesennuma, in northeastern Miyagi Prefecture, Maru Office aims to provide local youth with a new kind of education that goes beyond the scope of a traditional Japanese curriculum. The team believes that more diverse perspectives and the ability to conduct independent learning are critical for the future of their town.
Rakuten volunteers joined the group’s “Online Discovery Lab” as mentors, taking part in 16 sessions with some 55 Kesennuma students, supporting a project in which students conduct independent research into topics they’re passionate about, and create presentations to share their findings.
Conserving local scenery in Fukushima
The city of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. However, despite that fact that some historical buildings in the Nakanosaku area were left standing, most were marked for complete demolition, a move that would wipe out any trace of the town the residents once knew.
The Nakanosaku Project began with a last-ditch attempt to save an old Japanese-style house from demolition, and quickly transformed into a community-driven NPO with a mission to restore other buildings marked for demolition, conserve local scenery, create community spaces and cafes, hold workshops and keep local arts and crafts alive.
But with the arrival of the pandemic, community participation dropped and the organization began losing contact with many past participants. The group worked with Rakuten volunteers on a variety of social media initiatives and website improvements.
Navigating complex welfare programs: Okayama NPO Center
Returning to Okayama Prefecture, the Okayama NPO Center runs a number of social initiatives, including one called Kotomo Kikin, which looks to provide support for children and families in financial difficulties, or who are facing challenges such as disabilities or the loss of a job.
In Okayama, local governments provide a variety of support programs for children and parents, but with so many different programs on offer, and so many unique situations to accommodate, it can be difficult for those in need to find the support they’re after. Rakuten volunteers collected information from each of the local governments in order to help build a system that makes it easier for children and parents to receive support.
Disaster prep in northern Japan
The town of Otsuchi in the northern prefecture of Iwate was also hit particularly hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. During the decade since the disaster, the Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba has held mock disaster experiences and tours to allow locals to communicate their experiences of the tsunami and help others prepare for possible similar situations in the future.
The pandemic hit the brakes on many of the group’s activities, but through the Rakuten Social Accelerator program, Rakuten volunteers were able to help take Oraga’s historically offline storytelling tour online. Several trial sessions were held, with feedback being provided each time by Rakuten volunteers, in an effort to produce the best possible end product. Notably, Rakuten’s diversity was a strength, as volunteers from a variety of cultural backgrounds were able to offer diverse insights, which could benefit the online content when considering English offerings in the future.
Broadening entrepreneurial horizons: Ryukyu Frogs
Ryukyu Frogs was established in Okinawa to give young leaders an entrepreneurial education to help them broaden their career horizons beyond Okinawa and Japan. “Frogs” is a reference to an old Japanese saying: The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean. The name of the program implies that they want students to have a broader perspective and not become like the proverbial frog in the well.
The group runs six-month programs culminating in one month of “global training,” and has so far instructed some 100 students from middle school to college age. Students brainstormed business ideas to help solve social issues using technology, and Rakuten volunteers participated in a feedback session for those ideas, giving the students new perspectives drawn from experience gained by working for one of Japan’s most prominent global tech companies.
Pre-loved goods to those in need: Shapla Neer
Operating from offices in Bangladesh, Nepal and Japan, NGO Shapla Neer has spent five decades helping people in poverty who have slipped through the cracks of global support networks.
One initiative run by the company seeks to transform the disposable culture of developed countries and turn unused goods into donations for those who might need them. The group teamed up with Rakuten Social Accelerator volunteers to hold an event appealing for donations of unused stamps, postcards and more from Rakuten employees. These goods were in turn sent to Shapla Neer, who sold the items to designated buyers, putting the profits toward funding international cooperation initiatives.
Cycling tours convey the charm of Tatsugo Town
With just 6,000 residents, the population of Tatsugo in Japan’s southern Kagoshima Prefecture has has not grown since the mid-1950s. The local government is looking for ways to encourage more people to move there.
The town runs a number of services to support people interested in town life, including an akiya bank, a popular initiative that matches new residents with affordable vacant homes — of which there are many in depopulated areas.
But with the pandemic limiting movement, Tatsugo felt limited in its ability to respond to inquiries from those interested in moving to the town. In response, a plan was conceived to allow visitors to deepen their understanding of Tatsugo town in a safe and secure way by taking local tours using e-bikes. Rakuten Social Accelerator volunteers pitched in by creating online media to help spread the word about the innovative e-bike program.