Feature: Sumitomo Group’s Initiatives
The Feature section focuses on a particular theme in order to present the Sumitomo Group’s latest initiatives addressing social issues.
We all share a desire to see children grow up happy and healthy. Companies can contribute to children’s sound development through various educational activities, for instance by sending employees to schools to share their knowledge and experience with students, or by organizing school tours of factories or other sites.
Sumitomo Group companies enthusiastically engage in a wide range of creative educational activities devoted to the next generation.
Sumitomo Forestry has been organizing volunteers to help replant the forest at the base of Mt. Fuji that had sustained damage in a typhoon in 1996. The replanted area along with the natural forest and the plantation forest has been christened “The Forest of Learning” and is the venue for an environmental education support project. Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma organizes a program aimed at encouraging secondary and high school students to develop critical thinking skills by using genetic diagnosis as an example of “a topic where there are no definitive right answers.” As part of celebrating its 120th anniversary, Meidensha has donated school buildings and library facilities to villages in Thailand. Indeed, Meidensha has a long history of contributing to communities through education.
The activities of these three companies illustrate the positive benefits of educating children for firms committed to contributing to a more sustainable society. They are consistent with the aspect of the Sumitomo business philosophy concerning "Benefit for self and others, private and public interests are one and the same", which holds that, besides the company itself, business activities should also benefit the nation and society.
Tracts of forest at the southern foot of Mt. Fuji were severely damaged by a typhoon in 1996, including parts of the state-owned Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. As part of activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company's establishment, Sumitomo Forestry leased around 90ha of this national forest from the government, christening it the “Forest of Learning,” and started an afforestation project in 1998.
The sustainable logging, planting and growing of trees as a business is nothing new to Sumitomo, which was engaged in such activities long before the term “corporate social responsibility (CSR)” was invented. For example, the company’s 320-plus years of corporate history included the Great Afforestation Plan of 1894 to restore the forests surrounding the former Besshi Copper Mines.
Tree planting in the Forest of Learning continued with the help of volunteers. In 2006, the next phase of forest development began when Sumitomo Forestry initiated an environmental education support project for elementary and junior high school students in Fujinomiya City, where the Forest is located, in Shizuoka Prefecture. The concept behind the project was that forest cultivation is a longterm project that cannot be accomplished by a single generation, meaning the importance of the forests must be communicated to the next generation.
Fujinomiya-based NPO Institute of Whole Earth is partnering on the project. The area is divided into three roughly equal sections of natural, plantation and replanted forest. Students experience the forest with all five senses from various perspectives. For example, they touch the tree trunks, listen to the native birds or the sounds made by the leaves and observe the differences between natural and plantation forest. The children’s eyes reportedly sparkle as they experience the forest in all its beauty and abundance.
The area is part of a national park, and there is no power or piped water. It also includes the Forest Ark, a wooden activity base that utilizes solar and wind power, recycles rain water, and is fitted with composting toilets. By showcasing eco-friendly living, the facility provides an opportunity to feel how wood is useful in daily lives and envision the future use of wood, such as fuel for biomass power generation. Demonstrating that cutting down trees is not necessarily destructive, it also communicates the cycle of logging, planting and growing that contributes to many healthy plantation forests across Japan.
Over 7,000 children have taken part in this project to date. In March 2017, it received an award from the MEXT* in recognition of a decade spent providing a valuable educational experience to youngsters. Looking ahead, Sumitomo Forestry plans to develop a project by sending employees to schools to talk about the links between forests and society, and also by providing opportunities to learn about not only the trees, but also animals, insects and other aspects of local biodiversity.
Many of the most interesting and important questions have no definitive right answer. They are ethical questions, often concerning human life, as opposed to questions of fact. As a consequence of the rapid progress of science and technology, we are confronted with new questions, not least in the field of medical ethics. For example, genetic diagnosis can determine susceptibility to certain diseases and conditions. The question as to whether such knowledge obtained by genetic diagnosis is beneficial to the individuals concerned is by no means simple.
As there is no definitive right answer to this question, it is a suitable theme for education dealing with ethical issues. Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma has developed an educational program on ethics for junior high schools and high schools entitled “Science, Technology and Human Happiness.” The aim is to encourage youngsters to develop their own views, reach conclusions and make decisions while appreciating the views of others.
In the class, students watch a short movie about a person who had a genetic diagnosis, knowing in advance that he was genetically predisposed to contract an incurable disease, and who has to take a momentous decision in light of the result. Then, the students note down their views together with supporting grounds on specially designed worksheets. Based on the worksheets, they discuss their views in groups. Finally, each group makes a presentation summarizing the views of its members. Students will derive an “answer” through discussion in which they are exposed to the views of their fellow students.
They can change their ideas in light of the views expressed by other students, always bearing in mind that no definitive right answer exists. This program is not about whether genetic diagnosis itself is good or bad, but is designed to encourage students to grapple with ethical questions that have important implications for individuals and society. A student who participated in the program commented that it helped him appreciate the value of listening attentively to the views expressed by others and endeavoring to empathize with them, rather than just sticking unquestioningly to his own ideas. Another student commented that although it was sometimes initially difficult to understand the views of others, if they provided context in the form of new information, she was usually able to grasp what they were trying to express.
One of the characteristics of this program is that a teacher and a Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma employee collaborate to give each class. In education programs offered by companies, employees usually serve as instructors and give lessons. However, in Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma’s program, a teacher leads the lesson and the employee only fulfills a supporting role, providing an introductory explanation and advice from the perspective of a specialist. This collaborative approach has proven effective in encouraging youngsters to vigorously express their views as they address questions with profound implications in a limited time.
The program was launched in 2011 as part of Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma’s social contribution supporting education of the next generation. Having conducted lessons at 20 schools in fiscal 2016, the company aims to do so at 30 schools this year.
The program is an excellent fit with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma’s corporate mission: To broadly contribute to society through value creation based on innovative research and development activities for the betterment of healthcare and fuller lives of people worldwide. This mission inspires the company’s continuing initiatives to encourage youngsters to cultivate abilities that promise to expand their horizons as active, informed citizens in a vibrant society.
Meidensha will celebrate its 120th anniversary in December 2017. As part of its anniversary projects in Thailand, Meidensha donated a library room and water storage tanks to Kalayaniwattana Secondary School and a new school building for the Mae Cam’s Baan Thung Yao Primary School. A ceremony was held in January this year at each school in which the children, teachers and school administrators, local government officials, and local residents participated.
Despite rapid economic growth, public infrastructure, including water utilities, is often rudimentary in the provinces. Educational facilities are frequently insufficient, too. Meidensha jointly with Thai Meidensha, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016, in cooperation with an NPO, launched this anniversary project.
In a mountainous area about a two hour drive from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where the schools are located, there are few schools. Having schools with good facilities would attract people and eventually lead to development of the area. Water storage tanks were also donated because this part of Thailand usually has virtually no rain in the dry season, making it difficult to secure enough water. Meidensha envisaged contributing to regional development by supporting education in Thailand where Meidensha established its first overseas subsidiary and has been doing business for half a century. In Thailand Meidensha had already launched another initiative in which specialists from the company give some lectures to students studying electrical engineering at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, a university. The donation project expanded the scope of Meidensha’s contribution to education in Thailand, which now extends from primary to tertiary education.
This anniversary project is inspired by the story of Hosui Shigemune, the founder of Meidensha. In 1913, Meidensha relocated its factory to Osaki in Tokyo, 16 years after the company’s foundation. In those days, there were no schools in Osaki and children of the employees working at the factory had to go to a school far from their homes. Hosui thought there should be a school near the factory. After he passed away, his wife, Take Shigemune, became the president of Meidensha and she shared his aspirations for the local community. At her own expense, Take established a school in 1918. This school was later donated to the local government and exists to this day as Hosui Elementary School of Shinagawa Ward. The school will celebrate its centenary next year.
When Meidensha employees thought about what they would like to do to mark the 120th anniversary, they recalled this episode. The aspiration to contribute to education and thus to a vibrant local community is bearing fruit also in Thailand.
Meidensha employees visit Hosui Elementary School annually and give classes to children in the sixth grade. As befits a manufacturer of electrical equipment, Meidensha offers classes in which youngsters have a chance to find out how an electrical motor works and use it in projects. Meidensha is thinking to launch similar programs under the initiative of Thai Meidensha at the schools in Thailand to which they donated facilities.
The Meidensha philosophy of contributing to the world through electrical engineering is being communicated to children in Thailand and Meidensha hopes to continue the relationship with them far into the future.
Reprinted from SUMITOMO QUARTERLY NO.149