Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Junko Edihiro, A One Person Sustainability Extension System

I have long been interested in processes that begin with scientific discovery, move from scientific discovery to practical applications, package those applications so that they are accessible to non-specialists who can use them, ‘market’ them so that the non specialists are aware of their potential usefulness, distribute the packaged applications to the potential users and, finally, coach users in effective implementation. Two organizations with which I and other some other Balaton members worked, the Club of Rome and The Hunger Project, had agendas that emphasized such processes. Dana Meadow’s Global Citizen columns, were motivated by a similar agenda.

Note the complexity of the chain and how many steps are involved. Scientists and academics who seek to make their work ‘relevant’ to ‘policy makers,’ to ‘concerned citizens’ and to ‘the general public’ are often disappointed. They underestimate the complexity of the outreach process. They believe their work is mostly done when they have made a discovery. They may bemoan their failure to put ideas into action and even blame intended recipients of their wisdom for failing to recognize value in the pearls that have been cast before them. Balaton group members are less prone to this pathology than most, but not immune.

Agricultural extension may represent the best institutionalized example of an effective-discovery >> application >> packaging >> outreach >> dissemination >> coaching process. (Sustainability advocates may differ with some messages of agricultural extension, but that is not my point). Interestingly Japan has one of the world’s most effective agricultural extension systems.

This morning, Balaton Group members were awed and inspired by a report from one of their relatively new members, Junko Edahiro. She has taken ideas from group members, combined them with her own and created a wide reaching outreach for sustainability and systems thinking in Japan. When she attended her first meeting, in 2002, this modest, apparently low key woman already had strong credentials. She had trained herself to become a simultaneous English-Japanese translator in two years. She had created a new system for translation that speeded up the process, five-fold. She had created a widely read environmental newsletter and an effective organization, Japan for Sustainability.

In the ensuing three years, as her report made clear, Junko has come to embody the vision of an effective network member that Dennis Meadows described at the first Balaton Group meeting and has reiterated at every subsequent one. For her, concepts of systems thinking were transformative and empowering. They provided a framework for expressing ideas that were already deeply rooted in her own thinking and in Japanese culture. It was not long before she was putting them to use and making them widely accessible in Japan. She translated Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update into Japanese and then wrote a simpler, more accessible version, in Japanese, to broaden its outreach. These were two of more than 25 books she had written or translated. She invited Balaton members to speak in Japan on systems thinking. She organized training workshops with facilitators from outside Japan to lead them. Soon, the same workshops were being conducted in Japan by Japanese trainers. She has founded four organizations, one not-for-profit NGO and three for profit companies.

This is just a sampling of her recent accomplishments. She has, through her initiative, and focused energy, including her ability to draw effectively on Balaton group resources, created a sustainability extension system in Japan. I have little doubt that, soon, it will be global. She has become an active member of the Balaton Group Steering Committee and we are fortunate that she has agreed to play that role.

The words I chose to describe reactions to this morning’s presentation, ‘awed’ and ‘inspired’ were not exaggerations. And the Balaton group is heavily populated with world class overachievers. Follow-up questions mostly emphasized a single theme: ‘to what do you attribute your successes.’ Here are some of Junko’s responses I noted. They will be posted on my kitchen wall, for periodic reading.

1. I am always for something, never against.

2. To effect change, one needs visioning and systems thinking, but also marketing, communication and networking. Communication, in particular, must be a priority.

3. Anyone who thinks there can be change can do something about it.

4. You can’t do everything yourself. Give others the opportunity share your vision, carry forward your ideas and take credit for your successes.

5. If you do all your work with one hand, you will always have a hand free to grasp new opportunities.

6. I wanted to be part of my own organization, not to work for others. However in each organization, I have a strong co-founder.

I will be putting some of these ideas into practice. I look forward to learning of Junko’s accomplishments in the coming year and learning from them. Hereafter, I will number her among my role-models.


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