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SDGs are leading the world onward and are great opportunities to grow your companyTokutaro Hiramoto (Associate Professor, Department of Management Systems, College of Informatics and Human Communication, Kanazawa Institute of Technology)

<Series 1(Total 4 series)>


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How should SMEs approach the SDGs? After working as a consultant at Nomura Research Institute on world-class problem-solving businesses and support for management reform, Mr. Tokutaro Hiramoto conducts research on "businesses that solve social issues" as the Director of the SDGs Promotion Center at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. We interviewed him. The first topic of this four-part series is "About the international position of SDGs and the relationship between SDGs and SMEs."

◆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)


Nordic countries leverage their solutions to social issues

The SDGs seem beyond the abilities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate mainly in the Japanese market. However, Mr. Hiramoto has been involved in the problem-solving business for many years, and says that having compiled the global issues, SDGs are a driving force for business growth.

"Nordic countries are increasingly tackling the SDGs. They have been working on SDGs as part of their national strategy with the intention to develop their own industry while efficiently solving social issues, and have achieved considerable results."

With the rise of emerging nations, Europe is aware of the difficulty of competing on quality and price, so it competes on "solving social issues."

"On the other hand, Japan has not been able to adequately engage with the SDGs. The focus is on how to comply with the SDGs, and Japan has not yet shown efforts that people around the world could empathize with."

Pursue a sustainable society with the participation of all emerging and developed countries

Products and services aimed at solving social issues are spreading beyond national borders. Case in point, Mr. Hiramoto cited the Kenyan payment and remittance service M-PESA that uses mobile phones.

The M-PESA began in 2007 as a tool to solve the problem of remitting money earned away from home for Kenyans who often do not have a bank account. After a while it could be used to pay utility bills and for shopping. Mr. Hiramoto points out that Alibaba's Alipay was inspired by this service, and it even had an impact on cashless payments in Japan.

"It's worth noting that the seed of this technology that spread around the world came from a developing country. The predecessor to the SDGs, MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), were a scheme for developed countries to support problem-solving in developing countries. However, by the end of the MDGs period in 2015, developing countries had grown significantly and developed-country economies had stalled. So the SDGs were created, utilizing the expertise of both developing and developed countries to pursue sustainable growth with the participation of everyone around the world."

There are seeds of problem-solving businesses all over the world, and when the seeds sprout, they can easily spread around the world. Mr. Hiramoto emphasizes that companies should understand the nature of these SDGs.

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Japan's Implementation"


SDGs are the optimal tools to think about your business

In Japan, the number of companies that are adopting the SDGs for company management is increasing, but Mr. Hiramoto believes that many people perceive them as a hindrance to management.

"However, the SDGs are the basis for mankind to survive on earth, and are something responsible companies should engage with eventually. These initiatives are not quickly monetized, but they are the optimal tool for thinking about your company's future."

Mr. Hiramoto recommends that the SDGs be viewed as opportunities, not threats, and that they be properly incorporated into management. That's where Japanese companies can leverage their unique strengths.

"Actually, Japanese SMEs are highly valued by international experts in terms of sustainability. This is because the idea of sampo yoshi (good for seller, buyer, and society) that spread starting in the mid-Edo period is still alive in business. If we add an international perspective to the sampo yoshi of the national isolation period, which featured domestic demand only, SMEs will have a way to balance social issues and company growth."

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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