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HOME  >  International Grant Program  >  2016  >  Comments by Selection Committee Chair

International Grant Program 2016

Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Selection Committee Chair Prof. Akira Suehiro
 

Outline of Fiscal 2016 International Grant Program “Cultivating Empathy Through Learning from Our Neighbors: Practitioners’ Exchange on Common Issues in Asia”

Since its inception in 1974, the Toyota Foundation has been implementing international grant programs with a focus on Southeast Asian countries. From fiscal 2009 it provided grants through its Asian Neighbors Program to projects aiming to solve specific problems in countries in Asia.

Across Asia economies have developed and living standards have improved. At the same time, though, many countries face the same challenges as Japan, including aging societies and lower birthrates, growing economic inequality, and frequent natural disasters. In fiscal 2013 the Toyota Foundation implemented a pilot program seeking to propose future-oriented policies on these issues. It changed the name of the program from the Asian Neighbors Program to the International Grant Program and narrowed the scope to the target countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Japan. In fiscal 2015 the International Grant Program inherited the existing structure while including the following five new policies.

First, the description of the program was amended to include “transnational on-site visits and exchanges between regional practitioners in two or more countries” so as to clearly underscore an emphasis on “Learning from Our Neighbors.” Second, the program areas were focused on “Aging Society” and “Multicultural Society,” and the inclusion of mutual exchanges and policy recommendations were made mandatory conditions for grant selection. Third, the number of target countries and regions was expanded from 4 Southeast Asian countries and Japan to a total of 18 countries and regions: 7 in East Asia (including China, Hong Kong, and Macao) and 11 in Southeast Asia (including Timor-Leste). Fourth, from the perspective of supporting practically oriented projects, an emphasis was placed on creating tangible output that has a visual impact rather than simply calling for grant recipients to survey and analyze the situation in target countries related to program themes. Fifth, to improve project quality, grant recipients were requested to submit the “Record of Changes” to the Toyota Foundation detailing changes in the awareness and actions of project members and related persons over the course of the grant period.

As a consequence of focusing the program themes on “Aging Society” and “Multicultural Society” and adding the requirement of on-site visits and exchanges between regional practitioners, we received only 68 project proposals for fiscal 2015. Moreover, projects tended to enlist more orthodox methods and avoided novel and risky approaches. In contrast, Asia is seeing an attempt to reevaluate traditions and create new culture and performing arts in a wide variety of areas, including food, video images, music, and theater. This new movement to establish a shared culture across Asia is being aided by the spread of social media and will come to serve as a common platform for addressing issues that communities face.

In fiscal 2016 the program preserved the overall theme and target countries but expanded thematic areas to (A) Multigenerational and Multicultural Inclusion in Communities; (B) Creating New Culture: Toward a Common Platform for Asia; and (C) Open Field.

Thematic area A includes projects related to the previous program areas “Aging Society” and “Multicultural Society.” Thematic area B was established with an eye toward ambitious projects that paint a vibrant picture of Asia through such cultural aspects as food, video images, and fine and traditional art. Thematic area C covers applicant-driven proposals addressing issues that fall outside or straddle the scope of the other thematic areas. As in fiscal 2015, projects were expected to carry out activities and conduct mutual exchanges aimed at solving issues, create and disseminate tangible output so as to optimize impact, and produce and submit the “Record of Change.” Finally, the Toyota Foundation revised the program’s target areas with the aim of attracting a diversity of applicants and proposals along with expanding the number of countries and regions where projects are carried out.

Overview of Applications

As a result of the above changes, we received 211 proposals in fiscal 2016, a significant increase from the 68 proposals received the previous year. By thematic area, we received 47 proposals (22%) for A, 56 (27%) for B, and 108 (51%) for C. The Open Field thematic area drew over half of all proposals because of its accessibility. Many of these proposals, however, overlapped social themes also covered in thematic area A, including disaster readiness, environmental issues, ecotourism, health care, and support for people with disabilities.

By country, 84 proposals were from Japan, 26 from Malaysia, 21 from Indonesia, 12 from the Philippines, 9 from Thailand, and 8 each from China, South Korea, the United States, and Vietnam. By region, 85 proposals came from Southeast Asia, 19 from East Asia excluding Japan, 6 from South Asia, and 17 from North America, Europe, and other regions.

Selection Results

In response to the expansion of the program’s thematic areas, the Toyota Foundation in fiscal 2016 increased the Selection Committee from four to six members. Three members, including the committee chair, retained their positions and were joined by three new appointees. As in the previous year, the committee gave particular attention to the following points when screening proposals: (1) whether and to what extent the project fits the thematic focus; (2) the practical level of awareness regarding mutual exchanges; (3) the soundness of the project’s implementation structure and members; and (4) impact and the way the results, including policy recommendations, are to be conveyed. In addition, regarding the newly established thematic area B, it was agreed at a Preliminary Evaluation Meeting in late June 2016 that the committee would take a flexible approach for each project when considering such factors as program structure, tangible output, and how findings were to be disseminated.

The Selection Committee met on July 29, 2016, and chose six proposals from each of the three thematic areas based on the above guidelines. The committee discussed the merits of each proposal extensively, and the subsequent choice of an equal number of projects for each thematic area was quite coincidental, not a conscious decision. Looking at countries covered by projects, 13 focused on Japan; 5 on Thailand; 4 on Cambodia, Indonesia, and South Korea; 3 on Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam; 2 on the Philippines and Taiwan; and 1 each on China, Hong Kong, and Timor-Leste. A major characteristic of the program in fiscal 2016 was the increase in target countries. As projects were required to cover multiple countries, a greater number were covered than suggested by the 18 proposals chosen by the Selection Committee. The only countries not the focus of projects were Brunei, Macao, Mongolia, and Singapore.

In addition, the program officers (POs) of the Toyota Foundation vigorously worked to unearth potential projects, consult applicants in advance of their applying, and request that project candidates provide additional materials. It was a demanding task to carefully scrutinize the paperwork for over 200 proposals, and here I would like to sincerely convey my appreciation for their efforts.

Examples of Selected Projects

Out of the 18 projects selected in fiscal 2016, here I would like to introduce one project for each of the three thematic areas, briefly discussing their characteristics and significance.

1. Thematic Area A: Multigenerational and Multicultural Inclusion in Communities

Songil Kim, President, Kobe Foreigners Friendship Center
“The Decent Work Promotion Project for Immigrant Youth Empowerment in Japan and South Korea”
Target Countries and Regions:Japan, South Korea
Grant Period:two years
Grant Amounts:8 million yen

This project involves immigrant youth and their host societies in Japan and South Korea working together to investigate the situation of immigrant youth in those countries, clarify the issues, and then consider support activities. Participants are organizations and researchers who have good track records in the field, including the Kobe Foreigners Friendship Center and the University of Hyogo in Japan and Yonsei University, Sungkonghoe University, and various NGOs in South Korea, so there is no problem concerning the project’s execution.

The project considers the situations in Japan and South Korea on an equal footing and seeks involvement by soliciting immigrant youth to become coordinators and interns. The Selection Committee gave the project high marks on this last point for presenting a forward-looking, constructive approach. Youth in both countries who are chosen for the above positions will compile field notebooks to be used for educational and practical purposes. These notebooks will then be used to develop policy recommendations to empower immigrant youth. This activity plan is both unique and significant in that it connects with the next generation, which corresponds to the purpose of the International Grant Program.

2. Thematic Area B: Creating New Culture

Tadamori Fujisawa, Associate Professor, Showa Womens University
“Design and Art Exhibition Consortium of a New Style in Asia Using the Various Cultural Climates of Country and Landscape”
Target Countries and Regions:Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand
Grant Period:two years
Grant Amounts:7.5 million yen

This program delves into the distinct modern art worlds that have developed in each target country separate from regionally based and Western traditions. It not only looks to mutually share this art but also will establish a cross-functional design and art exhibition consortium with members. The program will offer joint workshops involving planners, creators, spectators, researchers, and the media and plans to hold the First Design and Art Triennial in Phnom Penh. If realized, the event will become an important initiative for art activity in South and Southeast Asia, distinct from the already established Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is comprised of three pillars: the Political-Security Community, Economic Community, and Socio-Cultural Community. The Selection Committee received a number of proposals that considered ways to construct the Socio-Cultural Community, which has been the slowest of the three in developing a framework. This program has the potential to bolster this framework going forward. As the project is largely being carried out through the efforts of Associate Professor Tadamori Fujisawa of Showa Women’s University and other Japanese members, however, some on the Selection Committee felt there was a need to increase the number of counterpartners.

3. Thematic Area C: Open Field

Arihiro Minoo, Assistant Professor, Toyo University/Director, NPO APLA
“Project for Fostering Youth Farmers’ Leaders Toward the Practice of ‘Natural Circularity Agriculture’ in the Cash Crop Cultivating Areas”
Target Countries and Regions:Laos, the Philippines, Timor-Leste
Grant Period:one year
Grant Amounts:4.3 million yen

This project aims to facilitate interaction among young farmer leaders in Southeast Asia toward advancing economically sustainable cyclic agriculture in areas reliant on cash crop cultivation. The Selection Committee is hopeful for the success of this project not only because of the expertise the project representative has in the field from years monitoring the fair trade of coffee in Laos but also the wealth of experience he has in international cooperation and his extensive network of NGO members in Laos and other countries.

Combining mutual exchange among youth in Southeast Asia with efforts to foster environment-friendly agriculture is far from a new idea. However, the Selection Committee chose this project because, among other reasons, it includes a clear intent to foster cooperation among Laos, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste; it was the only proposal focusing on Timor-Leste; and its plan to convey results through reports and video images is appropriate.

Conclusion

In fiscal 2016, as in the previous year, the Selection Committee considered proposals in line with the Toyota Foundation’s desire to set the International Grant Program apart from academic research funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) by promoting practical, future-oriented projects. The expansion of thematic areas to include aspects of culture and performing arts along with various social issues brought a positive level of tension to the selection process. The committee members unanimously felt that the greater number of proposals was influential in lifting the overall quality of applications.

Unfortunately, however, this time there were no applications that astonished committee members with their unbridled and epoch-making ideas. This was largely the result of applicants’ interpretations of the Toyota Foundation’s overall image for the grant program, such as its focus on the soundness of projects. It also showed a failure to adequately convey the goals of the program through the theme “Creating New Culture.” On this point, several committee members pointed to the need for the Toyota Foundation to convey a clear message to applicants next year and beyond on its website and by other means.

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