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Efforts to develop the consultant industry – SDG businesses bridging Japanese local companies and developing countries


『International Development Journal』2018 July edition

Momentum that encourages companies to realise Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to develop new business is gathering pace in the development consultancy industry. As Official Development Assistance (ODA) decreases, efforts are turning toward bridging local companies in Japan and developing countries, standardising the SDGs business and promoting various efforts.

Food hygiene inspection in Cambodia

The company named Spec Co., located in Tokushima City, that has developed a food hygiene inspection business, is now preparing to open the very first hygiene laboratory in Cambodia. It has provided “hygiene services” for approximately 4,000 customers, including enterprises and municipalities, in meat and fishery processing, noodle making, confectionery manufacturing, as well as the “Food Doctor” for the past 35 years since its foundation. However, while limiting domestic demand, they have decided to expand their overseas business.
Although economic development is good in Cambodia, standards for sanitary control pertaining to food processing have not been established. They anticipate that demand will increase in the future and they have been preparing to launch the Cambodian business from 2012.
This project was adopted in the subsidiary scheme of “Jump out of Japan! (The Assistance Project for Supporting Development in the World’s Growing Market)” in which the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has been supporting social problem-solving companies since FY 2016.
In FY 2018, it was also selected for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Overseas Development Project for Small and Medium Enterprises.
It was backed up by the development consultant, IC Net Ltd.. They are assigned with the management of selecting businesses for “Jump out of Japan!”. One of the evaluation criteria is its usefulness in achieving the goals of SDGs.
“SDGs” Goal 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture “. In concrete terms, it is said that “weak people, such as the poor and young children, can always get safe and nutritious foods”. Food hygiene inspection was adopted precisely due to this goal.

“Hero show” on TV in Thailand

“Jump out of Japan!” supports even more unique projects. In order to cheer up the children of Northeast Japan that encountered The Great East Japan Earthquake, Seigi-no-Mikata (Friend of Justice) Ltd., of Nikaho-shi, Akita Prefecture, created a hero character named “Tohoku God Miraiger” and nurtured a popular program on local TV. The company devised programs for the overseas market, starting with Thailand.
They made a Thai language version with a Thai hero and, since the fall of 2016, televised it once a week at a TV station in Thailand. As tourism to Japan is very popular among Thai people, and sightseeing information in Japan is also included in the program, it is enjoyed even by adults. Twenty-four programs have already been aired.
Anyway, why does this business meet with SDGs? According to Mr. Morihiro Tada, the representative director of IC Net Ltd., the production company for the project that helps out, METI officers initially wondered, “Will it really be of any use in solving social problems?”
However, such hero programs are not merely children’s entertainment. The plot of ” punitive justice ” that defends women, children, poor people and other weak people. while punishing evil, is a wonderful educational program that teaches children peace and virtue.
The SDGs “Goal 4″ calls for ” Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning”, “Sustainable lifestyle, human rights, gender equality, a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizens, cultural diversity and other education.
Looking at the efforts of these two companies, a development consultant can mediate between government policies and a new “SDG business model” coupled with local companies and developing countries. The “Jump out of Japan!” scheme that started in FY 2015 has already subsidised 28 companies in 11 industries in 19 countries up to 50 million yen.
President Tada said, “MDGs seemed to be goals for developing countries, and Japanese companies did not take a “common language” when going out to developing countries. However, as SDGs emerged, they took a “common language”. As the development consultant who knows the needs of the frontline in the developing countries, we are aware of the fact that the government, local governments and enterprises are interested in social problem-solving projects. It is a big opportunity to demonstrate our presence and the significant role it plays.”
The company continues to regularly exchange views on SDGs with eight major companies that operate globally. “Large enterprises do not need to settle for new businesses in SDGs. SDGs have 17 goals and 169 targets and are involved in core business. We help them to “define” it and improve the value chain. By doing so, the effect of SDGs can be raised”, Mr. Tada says.

Efforts to standardise business reporting

Meanwhile, there are attempts to create formats to evaluate companies’ SDG businesses on a common scale. The International Development Center of Japan Inc., (IDCJ) established the SDGs section at the beginning of this year.
According to the director of the section, Mr. Hisaaki Mitsui, the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), which operates the public pension fund of Japan, signed the United Nations Responsible Investment Principles (PRI) in 2015 and expanded “ESG Investment” to manage funds from a viewpoint of the environment, society and governance. With this trend, the major enterprises’ efforts of SDGs have become active. The Keidanren, the Federation of Economic Organisations of Japan, revised the Charter of Corporate Code with emphasis on SDGs in 2016, which was also helpful.
Large enterprises are responding to the movement of capital markets where GPIF and domestic and foreign institutional investors judge the investment of stocks etc. from the viewpoint of SDGs and ESG. However, even if they expand the business that leads to social problem-solving, there is no clear common scale to evaluate it, and efforts are disjointed.
IDCJ has a track record of studying the evaluation method of ODA projects and has knowledge on the field of developing countries, such as supporting the Indonesian Government’s implementation of the SDGs plan. They hope to make use of this and to create a format to write business reports based on common indicators for companies’ SDGs efforts.
Mr. Mitsui said, “SDGs, themselves, are primarily written for governments and are not documents for companies to follow. Unless standardisation of SDG business reports is considered, it will not only fail to expand CSR (corporate social responsibility) but it will also be unsustainable. “
In the background of serious efforts toward SDGs of the development consultancy industry, such as IDCJ and IC Net, is sluggish growth of ODA-related business, which accounts for the majority of those companies’ sales. Is it possible for them to nurture “SDG consulting” with companies as part of their diversification? It seems that it will depend on the understanding of SDGs in Japanese society and the business community.

Senior Journalist Yukifumi Takeuchi

***** 以下、日本語原文 *****


 カンボジアは経済発展が好調だが、食品加工に関する衛生管理の基準は確立されていない。今後、その需要が高まると予想し、同社は2012年から事業の立ち上げ準備を進めてきた。この事業は16年度、経済産業省が社会問題解決型企業を支援する「飛び出せJapan! 世界の成長マーケットへの展開支援補助事業」に採択された。18年度は国際協力機構(JICA)の中小企業海外展開支援事業(案件化調査)にも選ばれた。




 大企業は、GPIFや国内外の機関投資家がSDGs とESGの観点から株式などの投資を判断する資本市場の動きに対応しつつある。ところが、社会的な問題解決につながる事業を拡大しても、それを評価する明確な共通尺度はなく、取り組みはバラバラだ。

本誌編集委員 竹内 幸史

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