The second General Meeting of the Kenjin Tatsujin International Advisory Council took place in Tokyo over the 27th and 28th of February 2017. Following the first General Meeting which was held in Washington DC in June 2015, this was the first time that the General Meeting occurred in Tokyo, which is where Ashinaga’s main offices are located. The Kenjin Tatsujin International Advisory Council functions as a support mechanism for the Ashinaga Africa Initiative and is made up of members who are representatives and leaders in their respective fields, as well as being held in high regard in their home countries. During the Second General Meeting, 35 council members from 19 different countries attended.
The night prior to the General Meeting, a Reception Dinner was held at the New Otani Hotel Tokyo. Prime Minister Abe’s wife Akie gave a brief address to the assembled guests, which was followed by an introduction of Ashinaga scholars studying in Japan and Japanese students involved in fundraising. Three of the council members also gave brief speeches; Mr. Akito Arima (Former Minister of Education and Former President of University of Tokyo), Mr. Yuichiro Anzai (President of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Former President of Keio University) and Mr. John Caird (two times recipient of the Tony Award for Best Director). A toast was given by former Deputy UN Director Akashi Yasushi. Famous TV announcer Noriko Baba was MC, and 4 council members who are also internationally renowned artists, Ms. Coumba Gawlo (Senegal), Mr. Keko Yunge (Chili), Mr. Lucho Quequezana (Peru) and Ms. Yvonne Chaka Chaka Mhinga (South Africa), also gave live musical performances.
The meeting was opened by chairperson Louis Schweitzer and President Tamai gave some opening remarks, Director Okazaki and Council Secretary General Tominaga gave a presentation of the AAI’s activities and concrete examples of support by members of the council. This was followed by a lively discussion that was led by Louis Schweitzer on how to encourage students to return to and contribute to their home countries upon graduation, and how to ensure the AAI’s financial sustainability. At the close of the session, chairperson Schweitzer thanked participants for their “insightful and useful remarks,” which “all show a great confidence in the future of Africa.” In his conclusion he also made reference to remarks from President Tamai’s opening remarks that “contributing to Africa is to help save the world,” and resolved that he would like to invite other council members to join him in ensuring that Ashinaga can continue to progress and be successful in its endeavors.” The president also gave some closing words, remarking that “for 50 years I have been working for the sake of orphaned children. That has been at the top of my mind and all of my activities but this morning…I feel like I have received more than a lifetime’s worth of wonderful insight and proposals. We will try very hard to absorb and digest all of this valuable input that you have bestowed on us. I would like to use the rest of my life to create a system that is even better and that can benefit even more of our students. Thank you so very much.”
One of the themes of this general meeting proposed was the fusion of Kenjin Tatsujin Council members’ knowledge with the energy of Ashinaga youth. Following a presentation by a former intern and current staff member, a luncheon was also held on this theme. The young people supporting the Ashinaga Africa Initiative (Ashinaga Youth) had lunch with council members so that both groups had the opportunity to discuss this collaboration. Ashinaga scholar Najma (a 1st year undergraduate of Ritsumeikan University) also gave a speech, and the luncheon ended with the following message from the Former Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary and current Ashinaga Vice-President Mr. Fujimura: “The pro-active and lively debate held today was something not often seen even in the Diet. I was impressed.
The final item in the itinerary was a tour of the Kokoro Juku facility, organized and led by Kokoro Juku staff as well as the students themselves. It began with a talk for the students by Dr. Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University on the art of choosing. This was a chance for the students to learn about “choice” analyzed from various interesting angles. After an explanation of the Kokoro Juku by its director Mr. Kudo, students had the chance to break into small groups of 10 for groups discussions with individual council members, during which the students discussed their aspirations for their futures. Finally, council members were given a tour of the facilities by the students themselves. The warm interaction between students and council members was testament to the potential for combining the knowledge and experience of council members with the energy of Ashinaga youth.
All four of these events concluded successfully and council members returned safely to their respective countries. The general meeting will surely be a significant leap forward for the AAI, and the challenge for staff is now to harness the success of the general meeting to further improve the Initiative. Taking the concluding remarks of the meeting that “contributing to Africa is to help save the world” to heart, Ashinaga will continue on its mission.