What is JICA

Fifty years ago - in October 1955 - Japan joined the Colombo Plan and began its official development aid. At the same time, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), founded in 1974, has been operating as an independent public corporation in a new guise for a year now.
We asked the President of JICA, Sadako Ogata, about the reform of her organization and about developments to date and the future of Japan's international cooperation.

International cooperation as part of Japanese culture - Half a century of Japanese development aid

New momentum and new form through the reform of the JICA
JICA has been an independent corporation under public law for a year now. At the same time, you have been President since then. How do you see your organization now?
Ogata: Time goes by really quickly. When I was in front of aYear started here, the JICA was comprehensively reformed as part of its restructuring. She was inspired by the ambition to achieve even more than before. I think it has now got new momentum and a shape.
In order for us as an independent body under public law to be able to provide development aid in developing countries, it is our most important task to design our projects in such a way that we precisely meet the needs of the states and people concerned. JICA has to ask itself how to act in the face of constantly changing societies. For this, eyes on site, the right knowledge and the ability to transform this knowledge into concrete projects are very important. The reform under the slogan "Top priority for local needs" represents an attempt in this direction. By relinquishing more personnel, financial resources and powers to the individual JICA offices abroad, we were able to implement a system of project management that is characterized by high quality.

New challenge
question: From October 2005, concrete projects will be implemented for the first time under the leadership of the JICA offices abroad.
Ogata: Initially, eight local offices will be entrusted with the development and implementation of projects on their own. In addition, there are another thirty offices that are considered funding priorities. Five of them will have the ability to support these activities at the regional level. In Africa these are our branches in Kenya and Senegal, while in Asia the JICA office in Thailand takes on this task. Latin America is covered by the office in Mexico and the Oceania region by the office in Fiji. The specialists who are familiar with the areas required are stationed in these regional centers. They are then used to develop the program in all branches in their region and provide advice at the same time. In addition, our office in South Africa has material procurement and administration capabilities for a larger region. I made this decision after looking at three branches in Africa in May. Next I'll be flying to Mexico and then to Thailand towards the end of the year. For me it is a new challenge to see whether this new form of organization works.

question: What will you consider in the context of the second year of the reform in relation to the implementation of the projects?
Ogata: We need to pinpoint our course for projects that are planned and implemented from Japan. These are an essential part of our development aid. We have to think about how we can combine the admission of trainees in Japan with the expansion of our capacities abroad. I think that we should adapt the content and methods of these training programs more closely to our focus regions and their development tasks. The individual institutions, each covering a wide range of training content, could focus on specific areas in which they have outstanding skills.

Use knowledge on site for project implementation
question: If the "highest priority for local needs" is actually implemented - what expectations are placed on the specialists and the participants in the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and the Senior Volunteers Program on site?
Ogata: Have a lot of skilled workers and volunteershave excellent knowledge of the local situation. Perhaps not all of them rated their work in such a way that they could appropriately apply this knowledge to our projects.
With the on-site offices taking the lead, the basis of this knowledge is now also sent directly to the site. I would like to ask our employees to express their own views there and also to exchange ideas. I am convinced that we will then be able to address the advantages and disadvantages of the societies with which we work and to find out exactly what their needs are.

Communities in the focus of development
question: The three pillars of the JICA reform are “Top priority of local needs”, “Efficiency and high speed” and “Human Security”. It is your job to shape these principles into concrete projects. The concept of “Human Security” covers a very broad spectrum and partially overlaps with the projects that JICA has implemented so far. Doesn't this also lead to confusion when it comes to the actual implementation?
Ogata: Yes, that can be. The core of the "Human Security" concept consists of strengthening the skills of the communities, i.e. it is development from below. JICA is now beginning - if we look at the development of communities in the form of people or entire groups - to think about how we can assess our previous projects. We have created the "Seven Aspects of Human Security" and are now starting to evaluate the projects so far from these aspects. In doing so, we focus on human security, on strengthening the skills of communities. At the same time, “human security” also has a positive effect on the capabilities of the governments - the question here is how this can be linked to the development of the capabilities of the communities. It is important not only to have the concept in mind, but also to bring it together with the projects on site. For all employees on site, when analyzing their previous activities, it is important not to think that “everything I have done so far falls within the scope of human security”, but to consider how they include their activities and projects Be able to further develop consideration of the aspects of "Human Security".

Back to the spirit of the Colombo Plan
question: This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Japan's international cooperation. Over the past ten years, international cooperation has changed along with the international community. What is the significance of official development aid for Japan in the 21st century?
Ogata: Fifty years ago, Japan became a donor country under the Colombo Plan. At that time Japan still received help itself; But because it was clear that prosperity can only be achieved together, our country began to provide help itself back then. I think it is important that we return to that spirit. There is probably no country that has benefited more from the blessings of the international community in both economic and security areas than Japan. Today we are the second largest economy in the world, and if we ask ourselves what future prosperity and security will depend on, then these are still the interdependencies at the international level. It is also important for ourselves that we work together with the other countries to ensure that every country realizes its desire for prosperity and security. We need to realize again that a very important means of doing this is through development aid.

question: As a new trend in aid, support for peace building is becoming increasingly important.
Ogata: Today there are more and more regions and states in which a conflict is ended by a ceasefire and the path to peace is taken. Here we have to provide help with the reconstruction even faster than before. Where peace is within reach, there must be no relapse; real peace must be achieved as quickly as possible. Since the real world is now more complicated, on the other hand, the fight against poverty and the elimination of injustices are also very important. Wherever serious differences, tyranny and exploitation persist, the seeds for human rights violations, injustice, dissatisfaction and conflict are sown. It is very important that all those involved recognize this and consciously contribute to the fact that all people can live together peacefully.
Due to the bitter experiences of the last war and the resulting strong desire for peace, Japan has made its way over the past sixty years as a country in which the people are sovereign. That is why Japan is now recognized by others and asked for help itself.

No introversion
question: You once said when you returned to Japan it was a shock to see how introverted Japanese society had become.
Ogata: All industrialized countries tend to be introverted. However, a change is now noticeable. It has been recognized that terrorism cannot be defeated with introversion. The United States has now increased its development aid, which was temporarily reduced. In European countries people are now beginning to understand that their own long-term security is only possible if one actively combats poverty in the developing countries. Today there is a global debate about how social justice can contribute to stability and security. When I returned to Japan, I realized that this awareness is not yet well developed in this country.
In the 1990s, when I was mainly working abroad, the international contribution was a clear “sign” of Japan in the world. When the Japanese economy fell into crisis, official development aid was cut for three years in a row. I think now is the time to ponder whether this was really true.

question: What role can JICA play in conveying the importance of development aid?
Ogata: One means is certainly to show good performance. We can only do a good job if the people of Japan recognize and support our achievements. The efforts of many individuals are of great importance for this. This is precisely why the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers are so important. Young people from Japan and other countries are active around the world who want to make a difference. I have known these volunteers for many years. Even longer than JICA (laughs). Then there is the Senior Volunteers Program, whose participants have more years of life and experience and who want to take on a task again. I would like to use the experiences that result from these Japanese-designed activities and the activities of JICA to disseminate knowledge about development cooperation. In particular, the voluntary activities of trainers who are still active are extremely efficient, and I would like to expand them further.
Many employees who return to Japan after a few years are working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and we should continue to promote these activities on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of ODA.
The desire to do something for other people, to build a community with others, has existed in Japanese society since ancient times. I once coined the phrase “International cooperation as part of Japanese culture”, but in fact international cooperation is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese culture.
(Source: "Frontier", October 2004)

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