Some thoughts to share…

Jim Gannon headshotJim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) has served as the Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA) in New York since 2002, the US affiliate of one of the leading nongovernmental institutions in the field of international affairs in Japan. JCIE works to build international cooperation on pressing regional and global challenges, and it plays a leading role in linking the Japanese nonprofit sector with American nonprofits and the US philanthropic community. JCIE has more than three decades of experience in running  grant-making funds in Japan, and it has been helping to coordinate the US nonprofit sectors’ disaster response including by managing initiatives that have raised several million dollars so far.

It is so encouraging to see JET alumni around the country and around the world mobilizing to give back to Japan. In addition to the very real aid this will provide, this also sends an important message of encouragement in these difficult times. This crisis gives us a rare opportunity to provide desperately needed help as well as to demonstrate the strength of the ties that have been forged through the JET Program. That is why it is important to think deliberately how to maximize the impact of our contribution. All of the options shortlisted are very good ones, but the following questions might help us think through how to identify which is the best fit for JETAA given it’s unique position.

  1. Impact – “How much will this activity help?” is the first question to ask It should be followed up with “How well aligned is this activity with JETAA’s mission?” JETAA is a special organization with a special connection to Japan, so it is important to consider how JETAA’s mission and expertise can magnify the impact of the donation or activity.
  2. Meaningfulness of JETAA’s Contribution – As of 10 days ago, over $161 million in funding had been raised in the United States, and the total is probably double that now.  So, in the grand scheme of things, how much of a difference will JETAA’s $50,000 or $100,000 make if other groups are giving in $2 million and $3 million chunks to the same organization or cause? It is important to pick an organization that is doing vital work and spends wisely, but it’s also important to maximize the financial impact of JETAA’s donation.
  3. Visibility/PR – At a critical time for the JET Program, I’d assume we also want to use this contribution to do good for the JET Program while doing good for affected communities, which is of course our first priority. This type of strategic approach argues more for discrete projects than for dumping funds into a large pool. Unlike other groups, we have the capacity to do this skillfully, considering how well we know Japan and given our broad network, including with CLAIR and MOFA. If publicized properly in the Japanese media, the news that things have come full circle and JETs are now giving back to the country that gave them so much can have a real impact on morale and, in some small way, help with healing.
  4. Timing– Everyone in this field is under intense pressures to move quickly and to show that funds are being disbursed, but one thing that I’ve noticed is that the smart money waits.  People will forgive a more deliberate pace if the end-results are effective. The real needs in Japan are going to be in the recovery and reconstruction stage and this is where JETAA can have a great impact. However, it will take a few months as needs get more accurately assessed to start identifying the best individual projects to be funded. Therefore, if JETAA USA can be patient now in assessing their options, and then finalize things a few months down the road, it may lead to a more meaningful use of the funds. This is particularly true of the Community Project as well as the Direct Donations to Prefectures options. One additional thought–any donation given now or in the next month will get lost in the shuffle. Waiting a few months to present the funds will heighten the likelihood of good publicity in the Japanese press, which will be eager for stories like this in a few months once the initial sense of crisis has started to wane.
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