BreakThrough Study Idea

Identifying business tips for social entrepreneurs who succeeded through collaborationKoichi Yokota

<Series 3 (Total 4 series)>

2020.03.19

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In the first installment, we explained the the foremost characteristic of SDGs is "backcasting". Another important point of the SDGs is to seek "innovation born from connections among different societies". In this third installment of this series, we will examine successful examples of social entrepreneurs to identify methods for creating innovation from connections among different societies.


◆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)

The use of IT is changing social business

"All sectors must work together to achieve the SDGs, from national government and local government to corporations, NGOs, NPOs, and citizens. Of course, SMEs also fulfill an important role. Just a few years ago, social business was considered to be unprofitable no matter how hard one worked. However, the use of IT is changing this image."

So, what kinds of collaboration and cooperation actually create new business?

"miup Inc." received the Grand Prize at the 2018 Nikkei Social Business Contest for which Yokota served as an Advisor. The company has developed an application that supports remote medical care in Bangladesh. AI gives a diagnosis based on photographs of the affected area taken with a smartphone by the user. If anything unusual is found, the service sounds an alert and recommends that the user go to the hospital.

"Mari Sako, the CEO of miup, graduated from a school of agriculture. Originally, she had wanted to help developing nations from the persepective of food problems which are her area of expertise. However, the co-founder of miup specialized in AI and there were also medical personnel involved with the company. As a result, this service was born as a combination of social business, AI, and medical care."

Even if research can be performed alone, collaboration is necessary for commercialization

"OryLab Inc." developed the avator robot "Orihime". This is another good example of successful social business through collaboration.

"If a person is unable to move because of work, illness, injury, physical disability, etc., he or she can place Orihime in a certain location as their personal avator. Orihime can look around and react, communicating with other people in that location."

Kentaro Yoshifuji, CEO of OryLab, developed Orihime based on his experience of being unable to attend school. Yoshifuji studied AI by himself while in high school, and then started research AI robots while attending Waseda University. However, in order to commercialize his ideas, Yoshifuji says that it was necessary to build relationships with professors and manufacturing companies, and to incorporate the knowledge of members with various specialties. Yoshifuji formed these relationships when he began participating in the Social Welfare Robot Research Association at Waseda University.

In this way, collaboration and cooperation with others is a very promising option for SMEs which aim to achieve the SDGs, evolve their current businesses, or launch new businesses.

What conditions are essential for smooth collaboration?

Now, what are the important points in finding partners in co-creation aimed at achieving the SDGs?

"First, all participants should seek common benefits and share an understanding of how society will be impacted. Of course, you cannot hope for collaboration if your only goal is to increase profits at your own company."

Furthermore, you need people with high-level leadership and communication skills.

"Instead of people who use an authoritarian and forcible style, you need people who encourage cooperation towards achieving a common goal. In other words, servant leadership that can advocate cooperation through both emotions and reason."

It is also essential to be able to transcend cultural barriers, perform joint work quickly, and take matters to completion.

"The final essential condition is excellent judgment ability. The chance of success is highest when introducing a common acquaintance who understands the strengths of all collaborating parties. It is best when trusted individuals or organizations can be enlisted to support the collaboration."


Series Galvanizing the "corporate middle class" in order to exist as a sustainable company after 2030

Series 1 Two reasons why SMEs should work on SDGs
Series 2 Driving the SDGs will give you an advantage in the race for talent
Series 3 Identifying business tips for social entrepreneurs who succeeded through collaboration
Series 4 Galvanizing the "corporate middle class" in order to exist as a sustainable company after 2030


Koichi Yokota
President, Yokota Associates, Inc./Project Professor, Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance

Entered Nikkei Inc. in 1988. After leaving Nikkei in 2011, he established Yokota Associates, Inc. Yokota has been a Project Professorr at the Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance since 2015. He is involved in branding, marketing, CSR, CSV, HRM, innovative fields, and work-style reform at numerous companies, as well as regional revitalization in various regions. Yokota also conducts numerous lectures on SDGs at the Japan National Commission for UNESCO, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation (JAPAN), and training held at major companies.

◆ Main Written Works
"30 Keywords Changing Digital Workshift Marketing" (co-authored/Sangakusha Publishing) Published in 2018
"Tomorrow Will be Pioneered by Tomorrow" (co-authored/ Sekigakusha) Published in 2015
"Social Impact—Creating Shared Value (CSV) Changes Corporations, Business, and Work Style" (co-authored/Sangakusha Publishing) Published in 2014
"How to Created a Beloved Company" (co-authored/ Sekigakusha) Published in 2014

Coverage date January 9, 2019

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