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INTERVIEW WITH MR. SATO FROM JICA COLOMBIA


The Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA is an incorporated independent administrative agency of the Japanese government that supports the economic and social development for developing countries.  Its main activities include technical cooperation and financial assistance. There are around 2,000 staff members in JICA’s headquarters, Japan, in addition to 100 offices with numerous local members around the world, which makes JICA an even larger agency. 


By:  Sakura NAKANO – International Business Internship CCJCI - Tobitate! Study Abroad Initiative


Seccion1. JICA Colombia focus to support on peace building, but there are challenges in supporting a country like Colombia. This is precisely why the transition to a Triangular Cooperation model with Japan allows building cooperative relationships not only with Colombia but also with neighboring countries in the future.

Could you introduce us about The Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA?

JICA is an incorporated independent administrative agency of the Japanese government that supports the economic and social development for developing countries.  Its main activities include technical cooperation and financial assistance. Through technical cooperation, JICA sends experts and shares Japan's experience for the development of human resources and the strengthening communities. Regarding financial cooperation, JICA provides funds for the development of large-scale infrastructure and priority projects. Moreover, JICA has the program Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers which promote the participation of Japanese citizens international cooperation activities. There are around 2,000 staff members in JICA’s headquarters, Japan, in addition to 100 offices with numerous local members around the world, which makes JICA an even larger agency.

How does JICA see Colombia as a country in the global context? How does Colombia look from the Japanese point of view?

Mr. Sato, I have question for you who have experience working in multiple countries. I suspect that the Japanese government judge official development assistance (ODA) is necessary for Africa and also economic development assistance should be given to Asia. However, Colombia does not fall into any of these groups, which makes it challenging to create agendas for support. Could you discuss your opinions based on your international work experience?


 

Seccion 2. JICA Colombia emphasizes sustainable economic growth.

I heard that JICA Colombia emphasizes balanced and sustainable economic growth, could you give me some specific examples of the projects you are working on?

Mr. Satō:

I believe that balanced and sustainable economic growth is a crucial factor that leads to peace building. At JICA Colombia, we have implemented 1. regional development programs and 2. Programs to improve international competitiveness.


1. Regional Development Programs aim to address social inequalities, address the root causes of conflict, and help victims recover. Specifically, we help communities achieve a better life by clearing landmines-ridden areas and promoting regional development.


The main focus is on rural development, based on the One Village One Product (OVOP) model. In order to strengthen rural development, projects are carried out in collaboration with organizations like Agencia de Desarrollo Rural - Adr (ADR) to improve support for agricultural comunities that have been operational so far. The objective of OVOP is to facilitate regional development by utilizing diverse resources, including but not limited to agriculture, local products, and tourism resources. By promoting community and rural development through initiatives like OVOP, efforts are directed towards addressing the social and economic disparities that often are at the root of conflicts.


In the field of rural development, we also place emphasis on the notion of peacebuilding. We promote long-term inclusive development, which includes not only displaced populations, but also ex-military personnel and victims affected by disabilities due to the armed conflict. If we only support conflict victims, other community members may be left behind. Similarly, if we only support non-disabled individuals, those with disabilities may be ignored. Therefore, we are supporting inclusive development that considers the interests of everyone involved in the process.


Additionally, we provide support for peace education using the experiences of war lived in Japan. As mentioned, the long-running internal conflicts in Colombia have created complex relationships between victims and perpetrators, creating social tensions. It may be difficult to connect Colombia and Japan, but both countries have experienced war. Japan is presently overcoming the tensions resulting from this conflict. We are sharing the experiences of Okinawa, describing how the memory is transmitted to prevent the repetition of war, and how Japan has built peace based on the experience of the victims. Through this cooperation, we believe that Colombia will also be able to overcome conflicts in the future.

 

2. The International Competitiveness Improvement Program helps countries become more productive and competitive. This includes technical research and studies to improve beef cattle production efficiency and sustainability. To accomplish this, we encourage collaboration between Japanese academic institutions and the Colombian Agricultural Research Institute Agrosavia. Professors from Japanese universities regularly visit the Agrosavia headquarters in the department of Córdoba near Montera to work on the project.


Furthermore, in collaboration with the National Planning Department (DNP), port and urban development projects are being undertaken to address transportation infrastructure challenges due to Colombia's mountainous topography. This approach involves efforts to improve urban planning and revitalization. Colombia has played an important role in the urban planning development of the South American region and provides support to neighboring countries in terms of urban development.

Is JICA also involves in projects that connect Japanese and Colombian businesses, such as the Colombian-Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry?

PICTURE: The Ceremony of the First Export Shipment of the SWEET PEA Flower

Mr. Satō:

Indeed, JICA offers schemes that utilize the technologies and products of private Japanese companies to address challenges in developing nations, and we are currently utilizing these schemes in Colombia as well.


In March of the previous year, Universal Flower Services, a Japanese enterprise, achieved its initial export to the United States, owing to a feasibility study conducted as part of JICA's Public-Private Partnership Projects and an innovative business model that incorporates Japanese sweet pea seedlings and cultivation technology developed for production in Colombia. On October 4th of last year, Universal Flower Services presented the SWEET PEA flower, a Japanese variety cultivated for the first time in Colombia. The novelty of this flower, along with its vivid colors and captivating appeal, attracted a considerable number of customers and participants. We hope that this type of business will continue to be promoted in Colombia.

JICA Colombia offers scholarships to support Colombians to study in Japan. What is the purpose of this program and how has its effectiveness been demonstrated?

Mr. Satō:

JICA has been providing support through scholarships for foreign students for many years, with the aim of cultivating advanced human resources. In recent years, JICA has improved its study abroad programs and began implementing the JICA Development Studies Program since 2018. This program focuses on sharing Japan's development experience in Japanese universities with those studying abroad, especially learning about the Meiji Restoration, in Japanese history and Japan's post-war reconstruction and development. Students usually study abroad for 2 years for a master's program, 3 years for a doctoral program, and enroll in the university to continue their studies. The goal is to present Japan's experience as a development model for developing countries, allowing students to demonstrate leadership in their home countries in the future.


Japan has a unique and exceptional history and is a special case that developed during the Meiji Restoration and after post-war reconstruction. Japan was the first country among non-Western nations to achieve development, balancing traditional culture with modern technology to create a peaceful and democratic nation. Through these experiences, Japan has the potential to be a model for development and progress in developing countries. Although we usually think of countries like the United Kingdom when talking about development, Japan has played a significant role in contributing to the development of developing countries.


Therefore, Japan welcomes potential future leaders from developing countries as scholarship students, allowing them not only to study their respective fields but also to learn about Japan's experience during the Meiji Restoration and post-war reconstruction and development, the efforts to incorporate Western culture and build institutions during the Meiji Restoration, and the post-war reconstruction activities. By actively promoting a study abroad program, we are fostering interest in Japan.


In this program, we offer a wide range of study opportunities, not only in fields such as medicine and engineering but also in areas such as politics, economics, and education. JICA aims to receive around 2,000 scholarship students every year from all over the world.


In Colombia, there are currently two candidates for the JICA scholarship program awaiting results, and there have not yet been past participants who have traveled to Japan under this program. However, around 10 Colombians are participating in a training scheme provided by JICA specifically for the Colombia-Japan community. Although there are challenges in building relationships with scholarship students, JICA Colombia is making efforts to promote the JICA Development Studies Program in Colombia, with the intention of maintaining relationships with these participants in the future.


In addition, JICA is advancing the establishment of the JICA-Chair in Colombia in collaboration with Universidad de Los Andes and the Japan Center to organize short seminars where information is shared in areas such as education, urban transport, and support for small and medium-sized enterprises. Within this framework, last year, the president of JICA visited Colombia to give a lecture on international policy. The goal is not only to offer seminars once or twice a year but also to provide more in-depth classes in the future that grant academic credits for students.



 

Section 3. The framework of Japan's economic cooperation involves the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, MOFA guiding policies and JICA implementing them. JICA engages in dialogue with the government of the recipient country, details the plan, and hires the most suitable personnel to carry out the project.

How is JICA involved and how does it contribute to these projects? Does it play a role in connecting multiple organizations or are JICA members directly involved in the projects?

Mr. Satō:

JICA officials do not directly carry out the projects; they are involved in dialogues with the governments of developing countries and their implementing agencies, based on Japanese government policies, to jointly design the necessary cooperation projects. Then, based on the requests from these countries, JICA implements the projects adopted by the Japanese government. In the implementation process, JICA discusses with the recipient country's government to specifically design the required cooperation, methods of cooperation, objectives, outcomes, and activities necessary to achieve those outcomes. According to this design, JICA selects the necessary personnel, considering the number of experts, in which fields, and for how long they are required. This may include hiring consultants, obtaining recommendations from Japanese government ministries, or directly hiring specialists.

 

In essence, JICA engages in dialogue with the recipient country’s government, details the plan, and selects the most suitable personnel to carry out the project. Additionally, local offices play a crucial role in implementation. The staff from JICA headquarters and overseas offices, in cooperation with experts and counterparts, monitor the progress of the plan, evaluate the need for changes, and determine the need for additional funding, managing the projects flexibly.

What is your current job at JICA?

Since you are caught between the Colombian office and JICA headquarters, do you find yourself experiencing a dilemma from understanding the perspectives of both parties, Mr. Satō?

 

Section 4. It is important to strive to listen to the perspectives of each person and deepen understanding in a business culture different from that of Japan. Then, it is crucial to make balanced decisions by leveraging one's own experiences.


What are the main challenges faced when starting and collaborating on projects in a business culture different from Japan? How do you tackle these challenges?

Mr. Satō:

As I mentioned before, Colombia is a centralized country with significant disparities, which may explain why the government, universities, and people in high positions are prominent individuals with a high level of education. This allows for complex discussions. On the other hand, what particularly surprises me about Colombia is the high turnover of personnel. In the two years since I became director, the main counterparts have changed three times, giving the impression that there is more than one change per year. When someone in a high position changes, many people in the organization also change. This high turnover is a major obstacle to technical cooperation, human resource development, and organizational strengthening.

 

We have to explain everything from scratch, and potential setbacks in the projects represent significant challenges. This problem is deeply rooted in Colombia's employment practices, making it difficult to resolve.

 

Therefore, we respond by building relationships with new appointees as quickly as possible and providing appropriate explanations to facilitate their adaptation. Additionally, building relationships with long-term employees within the organization is also crucial. Although high turnover is common among executives, establishing strong relationships with long-term technical staff helps ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Could you give me some concrete examples of what you are doing, especially how work is done and the communication styles?

How do you deal with cultural and linguistic differences in the Colombian at work? Have you implemented any specific strategies to facilitate communication and enhance mutual understanding?

As a representative of JICA Colombia, what skills do you consider the most important, given all the knowledge and abilities you've accumulated throughout your career?


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