Photo: Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi, co-founder and Chief People Officer of Rakuten (far right) with Maria Valles, Barca Foundation General Manager and Young Ambassadors outside Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.

On May 20, Rakuten and FC Barcelona launched “Goals Beyond the Game,” a unique campaign designed to raise awareness of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The initiative encouraged people to post and share their own SDG pledges, reaching out to millions through promotion across 64 Rakuten services spanning 9 countries, as well as FC Barcelona’s global digital channels.

As part of the campaign, 11 “Young Ambassadors” were selected by Rakuten from a pool of young applicants to represent their own SDGs at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s home ground. The Young Ambassadors escorted Barca players onto the pitch before their final match of the season, proudly wearing a specially designed t-shirt that bore their pledge. For Rakuten, the campaign was the latest effort in the company’s ongoing mission to empower society and create a more sustainable future through innovation—a mission born more than 20 years ago with Rakuten’s founding.

“Since day one, our philosophy of improving society through innovation hasn’t changed,” said Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi, co-founder and Chief People Officer of Rakuten. “The company was built to empower small, regional merchants, many of whom were unfamiliar with the internet. We realized that through innovation, we could level the playing field and connect them with customers all around the Japan.”

Kobayashi points to an early example that showed him the transformational power of Rakuten’s services: “I will never forget hearing about the son of a small rice merchant from the countryside who moved from Tokyo back to his hometown to continue the family business after seeing the potential of Rakuten Ichiba. It’s this desire to make local communities sustainable and improve the world through innovation that still drives us today.”

Kobayashi makes his SDG Pledge at Rakuten's Experience Booth in Camp Nou.

Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi, co-founder and Chief People Officer of Rakuten writes down his SDG Pledge at the Rakuten Experience Booth in Camp Nou.

To accelerate Rakuten’s sustainability initiatives, Kobayashi took the helm of Rakuten’s Sustainability Promotion Department in January 2018. Inspired by the SDGs, which provide a globally recognized and inclusive set of sustainability targets, the department has launched a number of activities that leverage Rakuten’s tech and business expertise. Each activity falls under four defined pillars: (1) Accelerate Social Innovation, (2) Realize Sustainable Consumption, (3) Make Local Communities Sustainable (the company’s original focus) and (4) Improve Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Aid.

One such activity aimed at accelerating social innovation is the Rakuten Social Accelerator. In March, Rakuten started accepting applications from entrepreneurs with a social mission in Japan to work with Rakuten employees to grow their businesses. Partner organizations will be paired up with specialists with a wide range of expertise and will spend six months developing technology-based solutions to accelerate their businesses.

Another upcoming initiative aimed at contributing to the third pillar of Make Local Communities Sustainable is Rakuten IT School NEXT, a program that helps teens solve local social challenges by leveraging Rakuten services.

“Through Rakuten IT School NEXT, the company works with students to identify issues in their local community, pinpoint the root cause of the issues and then provide access to Rakuten services they can utilize to make a difference,” said Rakuten Sustainability Promotion Department Manager Takayuki Mamabe. “There is nothing more rewarding than giving young people the tools to improve their own local communities.”

Some of the issues that will be addressed through Rakuten IT School NEXT are natural disaster recovery, environmental protection and tourism development.

“There is nothing more rewarding than giving young people the tools to improve their own local communities," commented Takayuki Mamabe, Rakuten Sustainability Promotion Department Manager.

“There is nothing more rewarding than giving young people the tools to improve their own local communities,” commented Takayuki Mamabe, Rakuten Sustainability Promotion Department Manager.

Another way Kobayashi hopes his department will make a difference is by inspiring Rakuten employees to create change. Kobayashi and his team are currently working on introduction of new programs aimed at empowering employees to contribute to the achievement of SDGs, such as “social innovation leave,” which would allow employees to take paid time-off from work in order to apply their skills to helping solve social problems.

“We want employees to work to their strengths. To leverage the same skills that help them excel in business—be it technical skill, legal knowledge or other abilities—to solve social problems,” commented Kobayashi.

Thanks to the success of Rakuten’s Englishnization program and rapid global expansion, Kobayashi and Mamabe agree that Rakuten is uniquely suited to making a difference.

“The only way to solve global issues is through innovative thinking. So I think that a global innovation company like Rakuten can have a big impact,” explained Mamabe.

While Kobayashi admitted that the work of his team is just beginning, he is optimistic about the future.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of a team that can make the world a better place.”