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HOME  >  International Grant Program  >  2018  >  Comments by Selection Committee Chair

International Grant Program 2018

Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Selection Committee Chair Prof. Akira Suehiro

Outline of Fiscal 2018 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 provided international grants, especially to Southeast Asian countries, and has continued to provide grants to projects aiming to solve the specific issues facing Asia through its Asian Neighbors Program since fiscal 2009.

In this situation, Asian countries and region steadily achieved economic development and the improvement of people’s lives. On the other hand, Asian countries and region began facing issues that are common to Japan, such as the progress of the aging population and declining birth rate, the widening of economic inequality and frequent natural disasters. In response to this situation, the Toyota Foundation renamed its Asian Neighbors Program as the International Grant Program in fiscal 2013 and also introduced a policy of actively supporting forward-looking proposal-oriented projects in fiscal 2015.

However, because the Toyota Foundation focused only on the two areas of the aging societies and multicultural societies as themes and introduced the requirements of regional practitioners’ fieldwork and having mutual exchanges, the number of applications only amounted to 68 in fiscal 2015, and the concepts behind the projects tended to lack novelty to a certain extent. In response to this situation, the Toyota Foundation had discussions with the related people and decided to review its policy in fiscal 2016. More specifically, the Toyota Foundation succeeded to the fiscal 2015 basic policy on the theme (Cultivating Empathy Through Learning from Our Neighbors: Practitioners’ Exchange on Common Issues in Asia) and target areas (a total of 18 countries and regions in East and Southeast Asia), but the Toyota Foundation decided to expand its thematic areas to (A) Multigenerational and Multicultural Inclusion in Communities, (B) Creating New Culture: Toward a Common Platform for Asia and (C) Open Field.

Behind the Toyota Foundation’s expanding thematic areas were the beginnings of attempts to review traditions and create new cultures in multiple areas in Asia, such as movies, music, theatrical plays and food culture, and the advent of new movements that should be called “creating common cultures in Asia” due to the noticeable development of social media. We believe that these movements provide common foundations for people tackling the issues facing Asia with empathy.

Of the three areas, Area A focuses on two themes on which the Foundation has focused since fiscal 2013; that is, the aging society and the multicultural society, and targets projects that are intended to tackle imminent issues for regional communities in Asia. Area B targets ambitious projects that show a vision of a rich future for Asia, such as movies, music, theatrical plays and food culture. Area C targets projects in which the applicants set the areas freely and make proposals regarding issues that are not included in the abovementioned areas or issues that are included in both areas.

As a basic policy, the Toyota Foundation followed the same policy as in the past two years in fiscal 2018 as well. However, the Foundation clarified “Transnational,” “Cross Sector,” “Mutual Learning” and “Foresight” as the keywords of the requirements for applications to show the direction in which it aims to go more specifically and precisely. In addition, the Toyota Foundation reduced the total amount of the fiscal 2018 budget for its International Grant Program from 100 million yen to 70 million yen to commence measures for new projects focusing on a vision on future society.

Overview of Applications

The number of applications came to 242 in fiscal 2018, significantly below the 328 applications in fiscal 2017. This is because applications from Malaysia and Indonesia, which had increased sharply in fiscal 2017 (refer to post-selection assessment for fiscal 2017), decreased. Because there was a decrease in the number of random applications for their research that left the possibility of successful applications out of consideration, the quality of the applications increased.

By thematic area, there were 56 applications (23%) for Area A: Multigenerational and Multicultural Inclusion in Communities, 74 applications (31%) for Area B: Creating New Culture and 112 applications (46%) for Area C: Open Field. In this connection, the number of applications decreased from fiscal 2017, but the distribution of applications by area did not change significantly. The application themes of Open Field included many social-related areas that overlapped with Area A, such as disaster damage control, environmental preservation, ecological education, water management and constructing an inclusive society.

Next, in terms of the distribution of the 242 applications (representatives) by nationality, Japan was on top with 88 applications (36%), followed by 24 applications (10%) for Malaysia, 18 applications (8%) for Indonesia, 17 applications (7%) for the Philippines, 12 applications for Vietnam, 11 applications for South Korea, 10 applications for Thailand, 9 applications for the United States, 5 applications for Taiwan and Singapore, 4 applications for China, 2 applications for Mongolia and Myanmar and 1 application for Laos and Cambodia. Both the countries and the ranks were the same as in fiscal 2017, from Japan on top to the Philippines in fourth place. By region, Southeast Asia made up 90 applications (37%), a significant decrease from 52% in fiscal 2017. As mentioned above, this was because applications from Malaysia and Indonesia decreased. East Asia, excluding Japan, made up 22 applications, an increase in relative density from fiscal 2017.

Selection Results

The Selection Committee consisted of four members, including the committee chair. For selection, just like the past two years, the Committee focused on (1) the compatibility of set themes, (2) the degree of practical contributions of mutual exchanges, (3) the soundness of the structure for implementing projects and the organization of members and (4) the impact of results and policy recommendations. At the same time, for Area B, the Selection Committee did not set uniform standards on the organization of members and the presentation style of results (works), and decided to make flexible judgments according to the contents of projects.

After confirming the abovementioned policy, each Selection Committee member reviewed application forms and a Selection Committee meeting was held. As a result, 11 projects were adopted with an adoption rate of 4.5% (4.9% in fiscal 2017). Because the budget was reduced and the number of adoptions was narrowed down, the assessment turned out to be more stringent for applicants than last year.

In terms of the target areas of the projects, there were three projects for Area A, three projects for Area B and five projects for Area C. Although it was not intentional, they almost reflected the distribution of the number of applications. Next, for the countries and regions to be covered by projects (multiple countries and regions related to a project were counted), Japan made up 8 projects, followed by 4 for Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, 3 for Malaysia and Taiwan, 2 for Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines and 1 for Laos, Cambodia and Brunei. Southeast Asia made up 24 out of all 37 projects, or 65%, and covered all countries except for East Timor.

The following are several characteristics of the projects that were adopted in fiscal 2018. First, the percentage of Southeast Asian countries increased, while China, Hong Kong and South Korea dropped from the target countries and regions. Second, there were three projects in which Japan did not engage at all, and there was an increase in exchanges between countries and regions other than Japan. Third, by gender, the 11 representatives were made up of 6 men and 5 women, being almost equal to each other. The second and third characteristics suggest that the scope of the projects expanded.

Prior to the selection, as usual, the Foundation’s program officers energetically picked out the application projects, conducted advance consultations with the application candidates, gathered additional materials about the candidate projects and conducted an opinion survey. These activities were of great help in ensuring that the selection was conducted smoothly. We consider that they worked very hard to organize more than 240 application documents. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to them for their hard work.

Examples of Selected Project

As follows, we will choose one project from each of the thematic target areas of the 11 projects adopted this year and will provide a brief introduction of its features and the significance of the grant.

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

Jun Sasaki, CEO/Chairman, Yushoukai Medical Corporation
Redefining "community symbiotic society" focusing on dementia
Target Countries and Regions: Japan, Taiwan, Singapore
Grant Period: two years
Grant Amounts: 7.3 million yen

Of the Asian countries and regions in which people are growing increasingly older, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore have in common that the percentage of elderly people is high and a nursing care system has been introduced. This project started from the recognition of the current situation in which Japanese measures for elderly people are mainly targeted at medical service and nursing care and are passive about services beyond these frameworks. Behind this are prejudices of and indifference to people suffering from dementia. Based on this recognition, the project is intended to pick out progressive cases of measures for dementia in the three regions, to construct a model for encouraging people suffering from dementia to participate in societies, setting these as best practices, and to facilitate mutual exchanges of experience and knowledge.

This project is very clear in terms of critical thinking and setting issues. Participating members consist of medical groups, people related to hospitals and researchers. The important aspect of the project is the points it seeks to learn from the Taiwanese and Singaporean experiences as well as the Japanese ones. Because the issues are imminent ones, it is also conceivable that they will encourage media people, officials of the central government, including the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and officials of local governments as well as the abovementioned three actors to participate and cooperate in the project.

2. Thematic Area B: Creating New Culture

Eric Jose Olmedo Panal, Principal Research Fellow Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
The "Ulam School": A Food Education Transborders' Network to Foster Solidarity and Edible Flora Preservation for Sustainable and Healthy Lifestyle Among Neighboring Countries
Target Countries and Regions: Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan
Grant Period: two years
Grant Amounts: 7.2 million yen

The word Ulam means “edible greens” in the Malay language and is a side dish combining native vegetables and wildflowers from farming areas. Malaysian traditional knowledge and wisdom about health are used for Ulam. But with urbanization progressing, the sharing of such knowledge and wisdom is becoming less frequent. In response to this situation, this project is intended to compare local residents’ knowledge and wisdom about healthy foods between Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia and to pass on the knowhow that should be handed down from generation to generation.

The projects that applied for the competition included many projects focusing on Asian food culture and Asian food education. The reasons this project was adopted were the soundness of the organization of members, the novelty of the idea of establishing the “Ulam School,” an educational base, at the Langkawi Campus of the National University of Malaysia (UKM) and the combined strength of securing academic results, educational effects and advocacy to the public. In addition, the stance on spreading project results out of Southeast Asia and reporting them at an international conference to be held in Paris was also evaluated. In recent years, people have shown an increasingly strong interest in traditional herbs and herbal medicines (Samunprai) in Thailand and Laos and in mountain vegetables and wildflowers in Japan. We hope that you will focus on comparisons with them.

3. Thematic Area C: Open Field

Kaito Miwa, CEO, Specially Approved Nonprofit Organization e-Education
Building network among 3 Asian countries living in an era of media reform: Finding social issues and nurturing leaders for solutions
Target Countries and Regions:
Grant Period: one year
Grant Amounts: 4.5 million yen

Communications using the Internet and social media are phenomena that have become common all over the world, whatever the country and region. So how should you design and manage education using the Internet? The outline of this project is that the representative and founder of the Japanese NPO “e-Education” will play a central role in putting this into practice in cooperation with Myanmar’s Foster Education Foundation and Bangladesh’s BacBon Foundation.

The main feature of this project is an examination of how Myanmar and Bangladesh circulated information and opinions about Islamic residents living in Myanmar becoming refuges; that is, the Rohingya issue via social media and how it ended up inciting mutual distrust and hatred in people between the two countries. The project is mainly intended to seek a way of boosting information literacy in Asian countries via social media through this examination. In conducting this examination, it is important and unique for Japan to mainly act as a mediator to construct networks for developing mutual understanding from within exchanges between the parties concerned. This is a project that embodies “Cross Sector,” “Mutual Learning” and “Foresight” of the four key phrases that the Foundation clarified as the requirements for application, and it is also significant in a practical sense. Because this project includes the Rohingya issue, an internationally sensitive issue, we hope to ask experts for advice.


Just like the previous year, in fiscal 2018 as well, we drew a line from grants-in-aid for scientific research projects conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) for academic research and proceeded with selections with a focus on the concepts of the Toyota Foundation International Grant Program, which aims to undertake forward-looking practical projects. This time, based on reflections on last year, we increased the number of candidates for English applications. As a result, five out of 11 projects were managed by foreign representatives, not Japanese representatives. For the presentations of results, however, there were still many somewhat abstract proposals such as constructing platforms using the Internet. There were only a few proposals for impressive ideas about more specific and impactful ways of circulating results. This is a future issue for us.

Lastly, in 2018, we established a special committee to evaluate the results of the international grant programs in the last four years and their social influences, and its members are now conducting interviews together with the Foundation staff. It has been decided that we will reexamine the policy and areas of International Grant Program from fiscal 2019 onward on the basis of the final report and recommendations. Asia is the world’s most rapidly changing region. We have expectations of establishing a more appropriate and attractive policy and framework that can respond to the actual conditions of Japan and Asia.

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