By Irfan Shariff
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Kensuke Kondo and Jun Kato are third-year students at Japanís prestigious Rikkyo University. During the month of August, Kondo, Kato and nine of their peers immersed themselves in the Seattle corporate world through iLEAP: The Center for Critical Service, at Antioch University.
But they arenít interning at just any Microsoft or Boeing. Instead the group of global business students find themselves engaged in social entrepreneurship at institutions like the Northwest Center, Interra or Feet First. Their days revolve around classroom time, internships, lectures and site visits to REI, Tullyís or the Nikkei Manor.
Britt Yamamoto, executive director for iLEAP, helped create the organization two years ago while abroad. The initiative with Rikkyo University marks the launch of the Engaged English program.
According to Yamamoto, ìengagedî carries a double meaning: engagement in English conversation and ìeffective community, civic and social engagement … itís English with a greater purpose.î
ì(iLEAP) isnít about just creating a livelihood or crafting income but about how future work can effectively make the community a better place,î said Yamamoto. ìThis is a great opportunity to introduce new ways of thinking about business and the future.î What sets social enterprise companies apart from nonprofits or corporations is the fact that they use a corporate business model to implement social change and donít rely entirely on government or grant funding to run their organization.
ìAll the businesses involved have a social purpose to their mission,î said Yamamoto. Currently Yamamoto is working with Washington stateís Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to identify schools throughout East Asia to continue with the Engaged English program.
Yamamoto thinks the internship relationships will last so ìstudents will go back and shift the course of their careersî because the nonprofit sector in places like Japan is significantly smaller than in the United States.
Kondo also noticed that Japan has fewer nonprofit organizations than the U.S. He was surprised to find that nonprofits in America are much larger endeavors than he expected. He walked into his internship at Solid Ground thinking it would be a small room that was rented by the organization instead of the large institution it is.
ìNPOs are huge here,î said Kondo. He hopes to bring the business models heís learned along the way back to Japan to effect change.
Likewise, Kato was surprised by the functionality of REI, the mountain gear retailer based in Kent, Wash.
ìThey donít have shareholders,î he noticed, ìbut can still run their company.î
ìSocial enterprise … is a growing field and we are particularly fortunate in Seattle to have a number of exemplary businesses for others to learn from,î said Yamamoto.
For Kato, this learning experience helped solidify where he wants to go in life. Although he came into the program unsure of his career goals, he now knows he needs to work for a place aligned to his belief systems, not just for money.
Citing his experience on a Tullyís site visit, he noticed that the company had a social effort and a mission statement in place. When he compared these to Starbucks, they were not the same.
ìThanks to these lectures, (I believe that) to work is to do something good for society,î said Kato.
To learn more about iLEAP and the Engaged English program, visit www.ileap.org.
Irfan Shariff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.