BreakThrough Study Idea

Leverage open innovation to drive SDGs as a catalyst for growthTokutaro Hiramoto (Associate Professor, Department of Management Systems, College of Informatics and Human Communication, Kanazawa Institute of Technology)

<Series 4 (Total 4 series)>


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This is a series of interviews with Mr. Tokutaro Hiramoto, Director of the SDGs Promotion Center at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, on how small and medium-sized enterprises are involved in the SDGs. In this final part 4, we will discuss open innovation as one of the SDG initiatives. He also gave general advice to small and medium-sized enterprise owners.

◆What are SDGs?
SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of global goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 for the years 2016 through 2030 under the "2030 Agenda for sustainable development." The agenda consists of 17 goals such as "poverty," "hunger," "climate change," "energy," and "education" and 169 targets laid down for specific targets under these 17 goals for achieving a sustainable society. They were adopted with the participation of more than 150 member state leaders to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formulated in 2001. At the July 2017 session of the United Nations General Assembly, 232 indicators were adopted for measuring the progress of each of the targets.

17 goals of the SDGs (from the United Nations Information Centres website)


How to solve societal issues with open innovation

"The creation of new technology and business models through innovation is the key to solving social issues." "If company’s technology is inadequate..., it is necessary to engage in collaborative creation of innovation...." As the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry conveys in the Guide for SDG Business Management, open innovation will be a powerful tool in solving the SDGs' societal issues.

"However, knowing how to promote open innovation is important. It is important to understand the characteristics of the fields and regions to be addressed, create a market-oriented business model, and have the necessary players.

Mr. Hiramoto names three "players": the "Tech Holder" that possesses new technology, the "System Innovator" that creates a social system driven by new technology and runs businesses, and the "Storyteller" that talks about changes in society and life from the user's perspective, spreading technology.

"All that remains is to identify markets and open up the necessary information. In the phase of developing a new market, you need to provide and use technology more and more, and in a mature market, you need to protect your technology in order to make a profit. Therefore, you need to identify the stage and share information."

Make clear the "Reasons for getting involved with SDGs"

With the SDGs as a compass, the number of SMEs aiming for growth through the creation of new value will increase. So, what should corporate leaders keep in mind?

"Most importantly, don't get swept away by the hype. SDGs are a catalyst and a tool. It is important to make clear why they are involved with the SDGs as they proceed with the measures."

In that process, Mr. Hiramoto insists, all employees should think and talk with each other without hesitation.

"Employers need to provide "leadership" to inspire and motivate employees rather than "management" to administrate their work. If an employer can show the broad direction and create an environment where employees can discover and pursue what they aspire to do, employees will be dedicated and profits will soar. This is my strong impression after being involved in the management of many small and medium-sized enterprises."

Investing in an ever-changing world

As pointed out in the first article, Japanese people tend to approach SDGs passively. Mr. Hiramoto points out that the main reason for this was that Japanese people were not very involved in the decision-making process when establishing the SDGs.

"The SDGs were formulated in an open process involving more than 10 million diverse stakeholders including the United Nations and member governments, as well as businesses, academic organizations, and NGOs. But there was never much participation from the Japanese private sector."

Mr. Hiramoto says that Japan has relied heavily on domestic demand for economic growth, so it is less involved in international rulemaking, making it difficult to gain advantages when creating rules tailored to its own interests. However, we want companies to take a proactive approach with the aim of "going beyond the SDGs."

"SDG initiatives do not immediately pay off. However, in terms of "leading to great results in the future," this sector has the most certainty of any in today's market. If you work hard on the SDGs for the next five to six years, you will fully grasp the situation and become rule makers around 2025 when discussions to set succession goals for the SDGs begin. I hope small and medium-sized enterprise owners will invest in an ever-changing world in this spirit, aiming for the sustainable growth of their company and the entire human society."

Series Leverage open innovation to drive SDGs as a catalyst for growth

Series 1 SDGs are leading the world onward and are great opportunities to grow your
Series 2 Broad business expansion based on the “three keywords” of the SDGs
Series 3 Find tips for SDG initiatives in Japanese companies' businesses to solve societal issues
Series 4 Leverage open innovation to drive SDGs as a catalyst for growth

Mr. Tokutaro Hiramoto
Associate Professor, Department of Management Systems, College of Informatics and Human Communication, Kanazawa Institute of Technology / Director of the SDGs Promotion Center, Institute for Regional Revitalization and Innovation, Kanazawa Institute of Technology

After completing a master's program at Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance and a doctoral program at the Graduate School of Media Design, he joined Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. As a management consultant at the research institute, he was involved with BoP businesses to solve global issues such as poverty, with support for African business promotion, and with management reform support until the end of FY2016. Japan president of BoP Global Network, founder and president of BoP Global Network Japan. Since 2008, he has been a part-time lecturer at the School of Project Design of Miyagi University, and since 2012 he has been a special visiting professor at the School of Business Administration of Meiji University. In 2016 he became a lecturer at this university. He has been in the current position since 2019.

◇Main authored and edited works
・Afurika Shinsyutsu Senryaku Handobukku (Business Strategy Handbook in Africa) (Toyo Keizai Inc. / Co-author) 2015
・BoP Bijinesu Senryaku (BoP Business Strategy) (Toyo Keizai Inc. / Co-author) 2010

Coverage date November 18, 2019

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