Every year, the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance brings together top young entrepreneurs from around the world to a summit to share their ideas for change with the B20 and G20 leaders. This May, I was one of 35 entrepreneurs selected to represent Canada at the Summit in Fukuoka, Japan.
Since my personal work with Crescendo and Trendy Techie revolves around empowering underrepresented individuals, I knew it was important for me to bring more than just my own perspective to this global stage. In the months leading up to the Summit I visited schools to talk to young innovators about their ideas for youth entrepreneurship, and worked with Randstad Canada to host a Twitter chat in which Canadian tech and HR professionals discussed global innovation and a human-forward future of work. I was eager to bring the Canadian perspective forward and learn about the state of people and innovation in other G20 jurisdictions. Here’s my experience at the 2019 G20 YEA Summit.
Japan’s Key Priorities
Hearing from prominent leaders and artists in Japan, a few themes emerged that added new facets to my understanding of the country. The biggest surprise for me was the amount of conversation about what needs to change in Japan. Leaders in government, corporate, and art alike are all thinking critically about the betterment of Japanese society, and they invited us to do the same.
Small by Japanese standards but growing rapidly, Fukuoka is the startup hub of Japan. Located on the northern shore of Kyushu, Fukuoka is close to other major East Asian cities including Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai. In 2014, it was selected as a National Strategic Special Zone for global startups and job creation, and has since become a home of domestic and international innovation in Japan. “I believe that flexible young entrepreneurs around the world will shape industry,” said Soichiro Takashima, Mayor of Fukuoka, who first pitched Fukuoka as a startup hub in 2012. “There’s little room for global practice to be applied in Japanese society, but I intend to change this.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the presentations from Japanese speakers; Japan is in an era of change, in more ways than one – just this month the country entered the new Reiwa era, marked by a change in emperor.
Throughout the summit we heard from inspiring speakers including Ray Hatoyama, a VC who was formerly responsible for turning Hello Kitty into a global brand, and Takato Utsunomiya, current COO of The Pokémon Company. They shared their advice for entrepreneurs looking to break beyond their own country’s borders, from identifying the core universal value of your offering through to their strategies for localizing to different cultures. “Globalization depends on localization,” said Hatoyama, “foster the team and foster diversity, that’s the key to success.”
A recurring theme in almost every session was the responsibility that companies have to make a positive social impact. “We need to make the world a better place, and maybe as a result we can make money,” says Masa Fukata, Director of the Game Changer Catapault at Panasonic. He’s currently on a mission to foster the intrapreneurial spirit in Japan. Japan’s “corporate warrior” culture has been incongruous to the intrapreneurial model, but he plans to change that by showcasing case studies of intrapreneurs within Panasonic around the world and encouraging the innovation back home in Japan. When asked about his advice for entrepreneurs, he cited social innovation, empathy, and engagement as the three key things elements of an energized business.
AI and virtual/augmented reality researcher Yoichi Ochiai uses cutting edge technology and art to increase awareness of Japan’s aging population and propose solutions for inclusivity and accessibility. His Transforming Orchestra and Holographic Whispers projects tackle hearing loss, and his latest project, inspired by the fermentation process, aims to create a new era of “digitally fermented” infrastructure (for this, he says, he has a 60-year plan).
Similarly, Ai Hasegawa uses her high-tech art to make deep commentary on gender roles in Japanese society. Her highly controversial work addresses gender, race, family structure, sexuality, and what it truly means to be human.
Meeting of the Minds
The talks were not the only source of inspiration at the Summit. Having a few hundred of the world’s top young entrepreneurs under the same roof led to some fantastic idea exchange. I learned about different trends in innovation in different countries, and heard entrepreneurs debating their different approaches to the same problem. Climate change and sustainability were big areas of focus, with many entrepreneurs offering waste reducing products and creating circular economies. There were also quite a few entrepreneurs fostering opportunities in developing countries and challenging the stereotypes that the western media tells about the rest of the world.
Our gracious hosts at JCI Japan did an incredible job of honouring Japanese culture throughout the summit. Our opening night party featured lively performances by local groups, and the summit itself kicked off with an invigorating and passionate calligraphy tribute to the G20 YEA by nationally renowned artist Koki Sugita.
At the end of the Summit, we reviewed the communiqué, which was then signed by the leader of each delegation and presented to the Japanese Finance Minister to be brought to the G20 leaders summit in June. We hope the leaders will hear our call to action and take the perspectives of young entrepreneurs into account when discussing world matters this year and in the future.
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As part of our larger investigation into global future of work trends, I partnered with Randstad Canada to fund my stay in Japan. I choose my partners very carefully, and what I love about Randstad is the team’s commitment to listening to the community and highlighting people, especially underrepresented people, who are doing great work to make the future more #humanforward.
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