2014 Research Grant Program
Comments by Selection Committee Chair
We have reached the fifteenth year of the new millennium. The world has been embroiled in great volatility, especially since the previous year, including disputes over resources and borders as well as conflict between opposing values rooted in ethnicity or religion. The repercussions of these challenging problems are manifested on both the social and individual level.
"Exploring New Values for Society" is the theme of the Research Grant Program created by the Toyota Foundation out of a desire to support researchers who share the view that we will not be able to successfully navigate this dangerous period if we stick to status-quo approaches.
Until the previous year, the Research Grant Program was divided into three different categories: "Research that Aims to Explore New Social Values" (Joint Research Grant A1), "Research that Addresses Social Issues" (Joint Research Grant A2), and "To Build a Better Future" (Individual Research Grant B). But for the current year we decided to focus on supporting researchers who are undertaking the challenge of addressing the unified theme of "Exploring New Values for Society." In line with this theme, this year we are seeking ambitious projects that aim to go beyond frameworks of existing academic research.
Judging from the content of proposals submitted this year, it seems that researchers are gradually coming to an understanding of the principles of the Toyota Foundation. This is evident from the fact that many of the project proposals clearly incorporate the concept of exploring new values. All of the members of the Selection Committee found this development extremely gratifying.
In total, we received 691 proposals for this year (351 for Joint Research Grants and 340 for Individual Research Grants), of which 31 were awarded grants (17 for Joint Research Grants and 14 for Individual Research Grants). As in the previous year, the competition to receive grants was intense. Despite the difficult odds, many researchers applied for a grant, which reaffirmed to those of us on the Selection Committee the significance of the Research Grant Program.
One characteristic among the proposals for this year was the large number submitted from outside Japan. Some of these proposals involved project teams composed of both non-Japanese and Japanese researchers who were all well aware of the essential aims of the Toyota Foundation. This seems to confirm the results of our ongoing effort to focus attention on researchers overseas as well. In the end, only a few of the overseas project proposals were actually awarded grants, but the fact we received so many proposals from outside Japan seems to indicate that our program has entered a new stage.
The issues addressed by the projects chosen to receive grants can be broadly divided into three categories: forming a sustainable society, focusing on the weaker members of society by promoting the welfare of the elderly and disabled, and addressing inequality in society.
Below are a few examples of projects that were chosen to receive grants.
<Forming a Sustainable Society>
Rupert Cox (Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester)
"Listening as a Civil Value in Okinawa: A Collaborative Project for Presenting Environmental Sounds as a Natural and Historical Resource for Community Health and Inter-generational Relations in Okinawa"
This is a unique project that grasps the environmental sound that is normally viewed negatively in Okinawa, such as noise generated by the activity of US military bases, as an important resource of the community that generates civic value. This project was highly evaluated for not merely presenting the means for listening to sound but also approaching the issue in terms of connections between people across generations and between human beings and nature, and seeking to explore new values as a result.
<Promoting the Welfare of the Elderly and Disabled>
Julian CH Lee (Lecturer, College of Design and Social Context, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology)
"Migration and Southeast Asian Filial Piety: The Impact of Mobility on a Core Asian Value"
This ambitious project combines theoretical research with fieldwork to pursue the question of how the core Asian value of "filial piety" has been changing amid globalization and increased migration worldwide, and what new values are being generated as a result. This research can be expected to provide valuable suggestions with regard to the future of Asia and to contribute in practical ways to the welfare and nursing-care policies of Asian countries.
<Addressing Inequality in Society>
Fan Yi (Graduate Student, Graduate School of Design, Kyushu University)
"A Study on Creative School Architecture in Rural Area of China: With the Aim of Closing the Gap of Education and Post-Earthquake Reconstruction"
This project by an ambitious young researcher looks at rural and urban areas of China with an eye to establishing a model for new school spaces that can foster creative individuals with diverse values. The researcher addresses a number of issues in the project, including the gap between rich and poor and disaster recovery. In light of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the relationship between disasters and schools has become an important issue in Japan, but this project takes a unique approach in dealing with this issue, and for that reason it has garnered high hopes.
The Selection Committee discussion pointed out that among the project proposals there was a common understanding and high level of awareness regarding the concept of "exploring new values," but the committee members also noted that some of the actual methods proposed to carry out research toward that end and to generate results were not adequately convincing.
An area of focus for the Toyota Foundation up to now has been the civic and social aspects of research projects. In our selection process for the current year, too, we have prioritized those projects that seek to balance research with practical applications, and that take the approach of community engagement in terms of research results having practical social applications.
I hope that the research projects that were selected for this year's Research Grant Program will bear in mind the points mentioned above and also consider the best methods to realize their principles and to channel their research results back to society.
Up to now, the Research Grant Program has made major achievements through the robust support system of its staff, represented by the program officers of the Toyota Foundation. Let me express my hope that all of the grant recipients will stay in close contact with the administrative staff of the Toyota Foundation for the sake of smoothly carrying out their projects.
The Toyota Foundation aims this year, as in past years, to foster interaction between the grant-receiving projects. We want to put in place a mutually stimulating environment that can raise the level of research results by allowing participating researchers to keep an eye on of each other's progress and track each other's research results. I sincerely hope that grant program participants will take advantage of this opportunity.
I look forward to the outcomes of the grant recipients' endeavors.