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HOME  >  Research Grant Program  >  2012  >  Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Research Grant Program 2012

Comments by Selection Committee Chair

KUWAKO Toshio
Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology

In 2012, as in the previous year, the Toyota Foundation Research Grant Program conducted reviews in two categories. Category A covered Joint Research Grants; Category B was for Individual Research Grants. In previous year, Category A was broken down into Category A1 (“Practical research that contributes to addressing challenges facing society”) and Category A2 (“Value-creation research aimed at forging a new society”). This year, the order of these subcategories was reversed, so that Category A1 is now “Research that aims at creating new social value”, and Category A2 is “Practical research that contributes to addressing social issue”.

We changed the order in order to reflect our priorities. Our aim is to actively support original, visionary research projects that work toward a new future. We believe that society is at a critical historical turning point. It is vital to resolve the issues we face today. The phrase “Creating new value” encapsulates this philosophy.

In soliciting applications for Joint Research Grants A1, we were looking not for conventional research of the kind rewarded within existing academic evaluation systems, but projects that went beyond conventional academic research. We hoped to see ambitious, ground-breaking research that introduced new ideas, concepts and theories capable of taking the world into the future.

Unfortunately, however, the selection committee was forced to conclude that overall few projects met these expectations and offered real potential in terms of creating new value for society.

There were probably a variety of reasons for this. It may be that the purpose of the Toyota Foundation research grant was not communicated to applicants properly. The foundation need to work on the way it conducts its publicity. On the other hand, it may simply be the case that this year’s applicants did not take the time to understand the intent of the foundation’s research grants fully before applying.

Some applications gave the impression that the projects in question had been designed in such a way as to make it eligible for a wide variety of different funding initiatives, of which applying to the Toyota Foundation was just one part. Additionally, a number of proposals were laden with jargon and difficult to understand.

This probably reflects the situation in which academics find themselves today. It is vital for applicants to make sure that their projects have a sense of direction, rather than just doing research for its own sake. In many cases, we felt that applicants needed to give more careful consideration to the question of how their project could contribute to society.

Research projects that were considered for grants under Category A1 were all rooted in issues facing local communities. Some of these projects might have been better considered as applications for funding under Category A2. We gave high evaluations to projects that proactively sought to tackle a variety of topics, including living spaces, education, disasters, film, and nuclear energy.

In Joint Research Grants A2, “Practical research that contributes to addressing social issue”, the selection committee was delighted to receive several successful applications from Central America and other regions that have received very few grants in the past.

All over the world, citizen-led research initiatives are underway to resolve the issues faced by local communities. This is the kind of research that the Toyota Foundation seeks to support. One representative example of the kind of project we are delighted to support came from Kyoko Abe at the World Open Heart: “Joint Research for Developing a System to Prevent Repeating Crime Activities by Convicted Criminals in Japan.” Projects like this tend to be overlooked by the academic establishment, making grants for these kinds of activities especially significant.

Because only a small number of applications were qualified for Category A1, we were able to give grants to more young researchers who had applied to Category B, Individual Research Grants. The youngest researcher to be awarded a grant was 26 years old. the Toyota Foundation is expanding its scope to cover talented young researchers and various activists working in local communities outside the remit of universities and other academic institutions.

Although this year’s successful applicants were all either Japanese or South Korean, the focus of their research covered a wide range of countries including Kenya, China, Angola, the United States, Zambia, Canada, and the Philippines. For individual research grants, the committee took the view that supporting the development of the applicants was more important than pointing out any problems with the content of the proposed projects, and worked to select projects that seemed promising from this perspective. The committee was unanimous in wanting to support projects in which the applicants’ lives were reflected in the proposal and its anticipated results.

From this perspective, Akie Kyo’s project, “A Study on Factors Promoting Adherence to Medications in Vulnerable Groups,” and Haruko Aito’s project, “Establishing Childcare Networks Approaching Issues in Closed Mine Area: Focusing on the 15 Years’ Activity of ‘Chikuhou Kosodate Network’” are good examples. Both are ambitious, solution-oriented projects based on a sharp-sighted understanding of the problems in local communities and marked by a passionate sense of commitment. We look forward to seeing the results of these promising projects.

This year’s applications came a year after the earthquake and tsunami disaster of March 2011, at a turning point in which a wide variety of societal problems were brought to the fore. We hoped that applicants would attempt to tackle these problems and build new value in this changing society. It was extremely disappointing that very few projects met these expectations. Despite this, we are hopeful that the applicants who were selected to receive a grant will demonstrate good understanding of the aims of the Toyota Foundation. We are confident that their results will succeed in making a contribution to resolving the issues in their respective fields.

(Figures in parentheses are for previous year)
Applications Grants Selection Rate
Joint Research A1 126 (149) 6 (5) 4.8 (3.4)
Joint Research A2 184 (236) 8 (8) 4.3 (3.4)
Individual Research B 327 (495) 19 (21) 5.8 (4.2)
Total 637 (880) 33 (34) 5.2 (3.9)
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