The world of civil society is a big puzzle in any country – my vocational day at the Foreign Correspondents Club Japan and Japan Center for International Exchange.

My very full day of learning began at 9:30am at Kawaguchi Station where I met Mr. Ueno, a very, very wonderful member of the GSE Committee in Saitama. We arrived in Yurakucho and were joined by a Rotary scholarship recipient studying Social Anthropology and interested in broadcasting and documentaries.

Our 10:30am meeting at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan (FCCJ) began with the Membership Marking Coordinator for the club. Established in 1945, during the U.S Occupation, the FCCJ was a place for correspondents from abroad who were covering news from Japan to live, work, and play.

On the 20th floor of the Yurakucho Denki Building, the view of Tokyo is amazing, and General McArthur’s former officer is insight – as well as the Imperial Palace. The FCCJ is a non profit association gathering all of its funding from its membership dues and activity fees.

Offering three types of memberships, regular foreign press members who are associated with a news bureau, Japanese press members, and freelance writers/’stringers’, the FCCJ has 2200 members, 60% Japanese and 40% Foreign. All of the activities – and there are many, from lectures and professional activities to publishing a monthly newsletter (this month on the Comfort Women issue) to editing the lunch menu, are conducted by volunteer committee members.

One of the biggest challenges for the FCCJ and other FCC organizations is the changing nature of reporting the news. News bureaus around the world are feeling the effects of the Internet and ‘bloggers’. Many have released staff journalists and now use more freelancers to capture the news.

This is particularly relevant in Japan because of the changing American interest in China. Some news bureaus have closed and have refocused their resources on Beijing or Shanghai. It was my opinion that this is quite short sighted due to the huge international business connections between China and Japan that will affect the U.S. – but nevertheless it is happening, and it is affecting the membership and funding of the FCCJ.

Additionally, we spoke about the Japanese Kisha Clubs. These are unique to Japan and while there is ‘freedom of the press’ in Japan, there are some interesting rules and invitations. Each government ministry has a Kisha Club and you must be on the list in order to be invited to the Press Conference. Which essentially means if you aren’t invited, you don’t get the first hand information from that ministry. There is also the risk of asking the wrong question or publishing the wrong information, and being banned from that Club.

It is an interesting line between censorship and freedom of information.

I also met with a Tokyo Correspondent for the Prothom Alo, the leading national daily of Bangladesh. A 25 year veteran of journalism, our conversation was focused very much on Bangladesh’s connection with Japan, which turned out to be much more extensive than I previously imagined. A few interesting points:

1) For Bangladesh, Japan is the largest contributor of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Much money is sent to Bangladesh for development and to offer educational assistance. Interestingly, some of the critiques from Bangladesh in regards to this ODA from Japan is that it never reaches its intended target – the people. Instead, much of the ODA is lost in the corruption within the government and/or it stays within NGOs – to keep them alive.

2) Another critique is that Japanese ODA is used to sponsor students to study in Japan. However, no agreement is signed by the students and Japan requiring them to return to Bangladesh when they complete their degree. Instead, 80% of these students remain in Japan and are contributing to the economic success of Japan – not Bangladesh, under funding given for ODA.

3) Many of the Bangladeshi residents in Japan are ‘overstay-ers’ – people who have overstayed the limits of their legal visa and are usually employed in factories or other manual labor. Critics point out the possibility for maltreatment from Japanese employers paying low wages or not providing health care, but also point to recruiters in Bangladesh who charge high fees to get people work in Japan – all through underground networks. However, there are rumors of MOFA corruption in bribing Visa Officers in Bangladesh for valid Japanese visas. This issue has been pointed out by the media as a rumor, was asked by the MOFA to retract the statement that it was a rumor, was rejected, and continues to persist.

4) We spoke a bit about the current development spotlight on Bangladesh due to the success of the Grameen Foundation and the popularity of micro credit and microfinance loans. There was an interesting critique which I had never considered – some NGOs see the influx of funding as easy money, and are delivering misinformation to keep it coming. One of the examples stemmed from a presentation from a woman from the Philippines working on water development. She presented a number of statistics about the privatization of water in Bangladesh. Afterwards, surprised at her disinformation, the newspaper correspondent learned that her research had come from NGOs – who were simply trying to spin the information favorably for their goals. Thus, highlighting the dark side of the NGO sector.

As part of my visit to the FCCJ, I attended a luncheon lecture with Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO, The Gallup Organization. Mr. Clifton focused most of his time on describing the importance of Gallup’s new World Poll (http://www.gallupworldpoll.com/). Under the assumption that “if you can quantify it, you can manage it”, Gallup has set out to ask 100 questions to the population of the world for 100 years. Currently, they have reached out to 135 countries – including Saudi Arabia (it’s first foreign poll) and will soon reach to China (but has not been able to reach North Korea or Syria).

Under the title of Six Billion Voices for Global Leadership – Clifton explained the algorithm that Gallup developed to explain a rise in a country’s GDP:

Law and Order: Security is a basic need
Food and Shelter: Basic Health and disease prevention
Work: This is a main concern – where as family and peace used to be
Economics: The practice of moving around money
Health: 1) pain and 2) no sleep – put a person in the most torture
Well being: Hope is the key (when it dies leaders have troubles managing)
Engaged Citizens: get their life done and live outside themselves (what you are doing for others)

Brain Gain: Where talent shows up next is where economic growth occurs, talent matters
The goal of the poll is to give voice to people in the world on what they actually want and what they are really thinking about – with the hopes that leadership will listen and plan policy accordingly.
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