Video Volunteers honored in Japan by Junior Chamber International

This is a post by Jessica Mayberry, the Founding Director of Video Volunteers, who was recently honored as an 'Outstanding Young Leader' by Junior Chamber International, Japan. Ms Mayberry traveled to Japan to accept the award. In this blog she recollects the event and her experience.

I am writing from the Tokyo airport after a wonderful week here in the land of the technology companies that VV uses. I was invited here by the Junior Chamber International Osaka for a small tour of Japan after they selected me as an “Outstanding Young Person” along with four other activists and social entrepreneurs. The Junior Chamber is a global membership organization of over 200,000 entrepreneurs aged 25-40. Their Osaka chapter has been running the Outstanding Young People’s program every year for over 30 years now and lots of people who became future ministers, corporate leaders, etc. got introduced to Japan as honorees. They learned about VV because we were featured in a popular book here called “Changemakers-2.”

I was joined by a doctor from a Cambodian children’s hospital, a woman from Niger working on hunger relief, a lawyer for the poor in Delhi, and the communications director for Gorbachev’s organization Global Green. We interacted with lots of interesting people, including the mayor of Osaka, the US consul, the head of CSR for Panasonic whom they’d invited to meet me, and even the Crown Prince of Japan.

Japan gives a huge amount of money to India and other developing countries, but there are very few young people traveling to the developing world to volunteer for social change or start their own social ventures. Young people here don’t necessarily pursue unconventional career paths or put themselves forward as potential changemakers. I think that’s why the chance to hear personal stories of social entrepreneurs would be interesting and new here and why more than 1000 people came to hear our presentations. From the moment I was met at the plane by ten people with a banner, to the boozy dinners where they wouldn’t let us leave until the speeches were over, I loved the combination of ceremony and fun in Japan. They know how to honor people in Japan, and this was an honor I will never forget. And it will have a real impact on our organization, to introduce to a whole new country Video Volunteers' work empowering communities with a voice.

Here are some photos from a week of fun and hard work:

[caption id="attachment_1505" align="alignnone" width="300"] our whole group[/caption]

The honorees  were (from left to right) myself, Aaron Aronin of Global Green USA, Ajay Verma of International Bridges to Justice India, Nana Souera Tchiemago from Amurt International in Niger, and Varun Kumar, a doctor at the Angkor Hospital for Children in Cambodia. In the middle is one of the JCI members after having a little too much to drink and dressing up like a samurai.

[caption id="attachment_1507" align="alignnone" width="300"] Speaking to the Pre-Conference for Youth[/caption]

We all gave short speeches to students about our work. In November, JCI-Osaka will host the Junior Chamber International World Congress, and 40,000 people will be attending. 35 college students were selected to organize certain events around world peace for the big event. The theme for our "Outstanding Young People's Program" was also world peace, an idealistic subject we rarely see people discussing with such seriousness. That was wonderful.

[caption id="attachment_1508" align="alignnone" width="300"] students attending the conference[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1509" align="alignnone" width="300"] talking with the students[/caption]

After the speeches we broke into small groups and helped the students come up with action plans for working on peace issues. A young man talked about his experience as an afghan in Japan, a country which doesn't have many immigrants. Some of the young people wanted to work on issues of disarmament given the experience of their elders with the atomic bomb. The organizer of this conference was a fascinating professor of International Relations who was now running UNHCR's publicity and fundraising campaign in Japan, who also felt issues of refugees resonate with the Japanese because of the a-bomb.

Nana from Amurt giving her presentation. About 1000 of JCI Osaka's 8000 members came to hear us speak.

Saying goodbye to our new friends from Osaka as we boarded the bullet train to travel to Tokyo for our audience with the Crown Prince. (Unfortunately no photos were allowed of that!) There were around 20 JCI members who were with us from the time we got off the plane till we left, and though language was an issue, we had great connections with everyone. Most of the members of JCI are young businessmen (only ten percent are women) working in or running small businesses, and they join JCI for the great networking.

The lovely young family who hosted me in Osaka. He was a lawyer, she was a former flight attendant. And their baby made me miss my own little one a little less.

Karaoke on our last night, on a river boat in Tokyo. How could one come to Japan and not do karaoke? We sang cringe-worthy peace-inspired Karaoke of course, such we "Heal the World" and "we are the world."

[caption id="attachment_1516" align="alignnone" width="300"] Nippon Poly-Glu Company Chair[/caption]

JCI organized a site visit to a Japanese water treatment company that has developed a natural way to purify dirty water in the developing world using soybean. Their chairman was advocating for the Japanese government to promote more small-sized social businesses than it currently does. He talked about how a lot of Japanese aid is going to huge Japanese companies to do infrastructure projects. He felt Japan needs to reconnect with the days when the huge companies like Toyota, Sony and others were small ventures.

Another side trip was to a "sample factory" where we made plastic ice cream sundaes! Many Japanese restaurants have plastic food displays in their windows so a customer can see what they'll be getting, and this is where they are made. At the factory, there were sushi key chains for sale, sashimi cell phone straps, and other highly useful items.

Talking with Mr. Kikuchi of Panasonic. We used Panasonic GS 180s almost exclusively in the first few years and there are probably 50-70 Panasonic cameras in use by the different Community Video Units. We've been reaching out to Panasonic -- and other tech companies, many of them Japanese -- for several years and JCI Osaka helped get their head of CSR to come to the Outstanding Young Person's conference. We'd love to have Panasonic as an official sponsor and think we have something to offer them as a bridge to the world of rural India and of Indian NGOs who are more and more interested in media as a tool for change. We shall see what comes of it!

This trip was a chance to build a whole new group of supporters for Video Volunteers in a new country; to learn about Japan, a very important country in global development work; and to make new friends with the JCI Members and with the other organizations being honored. I often wish it wasn't me or Stalin or other VV staff who are invited on these trips, but rather the community producers to whom the chance to go abroad would mean so much. But we also do need these international exchanges to recharge, to be inspired again by other changemakers and other communities, and to put our work back into a bigger picture by talking about it to people from an entirely different culture. For these and other reasons, I am hugely grateful to JCI Osaka for this incredible honor and opportunity.

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