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This discussion, which included government and NGO representatives, covered the possibility of energy solutions for electricity-less areas, centering on the Panasonic Group's activities in Africa.
Mr. Satoru Koyama, Director, Trade Finance and Economic Cooperation Division,
Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Ms. Kaori Kuroda, Co-Director, CSO Network Japan
Hiroyuki Shiozawa, Manager, Global Sales Promotion Group,
Corporate Division for Promoting Systems & Equipment Business, Panasonic Corporation
Hiroyuki Kakuchi, Manager, Solar Smart Energy CRM Management Division,
International Sales & Marketing H.Q., SANYO Electric Co., Ltd.
Ms. Satoko Ekberg, Director, E-Square Inc. October 8, 2010
Ekberg: Currently, the number of people living in electricity-less areas worldwide is estimated to be about 1.5 billion. It's extremely difficult for these people to escape from poverty because they don't have access to electricity. In order to change the situation, it's important for groups such as governments, NGOs and private companies to work together. So, for the first half of this session, I'd like to ask members of each of these sectors to talk about their efforts to address this challenge in developing countries and electricity-less areas.
Koyama:BOP (Base of the Economic Pyramid)* businesses are defined as sustainable businesses that primarily include the low-income earners of developing countries. The BOP demographic is estimated at 4 billion people worldwide, but BOP businesses are expected to help solve various social problems that these people face, including poverty and healthcare. For example, a company located in Switzerland has developed a device called the LifeStraw®, which enables people to drink water from ponds and lakes without becoming ill. Unilever is also recruiting local women as salespeople to sell hygienic products. As examples of the efforts of Japanese companies, Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd. has developed a mosquito net as a countermeasure against malaria, and manufactures and sells the product in Africa. Nippon Poly-Glu Co., Ltd. operates a water purification business that changes raw water taken from ponds and lakes into drinking water. We feel that BOP business that provides solutions for social problems in developing countries while linking it to ordinary business also represents a new frontier for Japan.
One of the problems for BOP business is that companies cannot obtain all the information they need about it. So, last year, efforts to promote and expand information through BOP business forums, promotional instruction seminars, international symposiums and surveys of latent needs were implemented by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Current plans also call for a platform, called the "BOP Business Promotion Platform" (a tentative name), to be established and begin operation. This will unite related government agencies, assistance organizations, private companies and NGOs. The platform was scheduled to begin on October 13 of this year. Membership registration is free. Please access the following website if you're interested. (-- Japan Inclusive Business Support Center: http://www.bop.go.jp/)
(* BOP, an abbreviation for Base of the Economic Pyramid, refers to sectors in developing countries with comparatively weak purchasing power.)
Kuroda: In the world that we live in, there are over 1 billion people who suffer from severe poverty, 12 million children who cannot attend elementary school, 1.5 billion people who live without electricity, and over 900 million people who do not have access to safe water. As these types of global problems escalate, the need for companies and NGOs to work together to create sustainable societies continues to increase.
For example, SANYO Electric Co., Ltd. has joined with an NGO in Uganda called "Ashinaga Uganda" to donate Solar Lanterns to the "Ashinaga Rainbow House," a care center for children who have lost their parents to AIDS. This was made possible by the support of members of the SANYO Electric portal site, and is an example of how people living in Japan are able to cross borders and connect with children from Africa.
Shiozawa:Panasonic Corporation developed a Life Innovation Container as a package business, rather than a standalone product. By combining solar cells and storage batteries in a transport container, it is able to provide a power supply to areas, such as in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, that have no power supply. Panasonic has produced and sold dry cell batteries in Tanzania for more than 42 years. After conducting a survey about people's living conditions in Tanzania, and in neighboring Uganda and Zambia, we discovered that young girls who were busy helping their mothers with household chores and taking care of kids due to poverty were not even able to receive primary education. We also learned that electricity could improve people's lives and help them escape from poverty. Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, once said, "The mission of a manufacturer is to overcome poverty." His "Tap Water Philosophy" urged manufacturers to create material abundance by providing goods as plentifully and inexpensively as tap water. Just as lives were improved in Japan by using electronic products, we think we can contribute to the improvement of people's lives while remaining environmentally conscious in the electricity-less areas in Africa by providing an affordable and plentiful supply of electricity from solar power. In other words, we can carry out a present-day "Tap Water Philosophy." We also believe that the Life Innovation Container project can help to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which call for the reduction of poverty.
Kakuchi: I'd like to talk about disseminating Solar Lanterns. In 2007, a letter from a Ugandan government minister was received at the SANYO Electric Gifu Plant. In the letter, he asked for help, as many people in Uganda live without electricity and use kerosene lamps for light, creating many problems such as people developing bronchitis and houses being burned down. As Ms. Kuroda explained earlier, the Solar Lantern was an idea that was developed as a result of this letter. This lantern is able to generate electricity with a solar cell, store the electricity with a storage battery, and provide light with an energy-saving LED lamp. It's our smallest energy solution product.
So far, we have donated 250 Solar Lanterns each to three schools in Uganda and one school in Kenya. We have also been conducting feedback surveys on their use, and we've been told that in Kenya, after about a month of using the lanterns, the children's academic abilities have improved. We were extremely happy to hear this. As members of the Panasonic Group, we have the comprehensive technology to provide this kind of lighting with our solar cell, storage battery and LED technologies. We plan to continue helping society with new business ideas in the future.
Ekberg: Listening to you all speak, I've received some ideas that show me a glimpse of the future. Based on your discussions, can you give us some keywords for energy solutions in electricity-less areas?
Kuroda: My keyword is "coordinator." In order to connect people living in villages in Uganda, whom we have never met, with Japanese companies, we need to have a coordinator to present each side's opinions. The platform businesses that provide the infrastructure could play this role, or it could be done by individuals, by the United Nations, or by companies.
Koyama: My keyword is "win-win-win." The expression "a win-win situation" is often heard, but here we see a 3-way plus for companies, governments and local people, so I prefer to call it "a win-win-win situation." In order to do it, though, we have to try things that we've never done before.
Kakuchi: I'd like to suggest the word "sales route." Naturally, we've never sold electronic appliances in electricity-less areas, so opening up new sales routes is a major challenge. By offering energy solutions through new sales routes, the local people who have lived without electricity will be happy, and companies will be able to generate profits through new business. Of course, collecting fees is an important topic for local sales activities.
Shiozawa: My keyword is "partnership." In studying and promoting business in unfamiliar areas such as Africa, we were able to receive a great deal of support from the Japanese Embassies in African countries, international organizations and NGOs. This made me realize once again that in order to do business in developing nations and electricity-less areas, partnerships with public organizations and NGOs are essential.
Ekberg: Partnerships are indeed important. Specifically, what kind of collaboration do you think is possible?
Kuroda: For example, NGOs can help companies grasp the needs of the local people. With BOP business, the main emphasis is on local people. I think NGOs need to realize that they can be coordinators between the local people and the companies as they conduct their activities.
Koyama: Speaking for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, I think it's important that we organize the necessary information related to BOP business in one location and make it easily accessible to both companies and NGOs.
Shiozawa: When I visited Africa, I rarely saw any Panasonic products, but I did see products by Samsung, the South Korean brand. In order to develop African markets, where Japanese companies haven't yet entered, I think it's important for Japanese companies to share information with each other.
Ekberg: In closing, please tell us your goals and leave us with a message for the future.
Shiozawa: Our Life Innovation Container business is finally getting started. If there's anyone who is interested in this, please contact us. It's a business that'll surely succeed if it's accepted by the local people. Definitely, let's be partners.
Kakuchi: First of all, we want to bring light to electricity-less areas. After that, we want to provide electricity, and when people are able to earn an income, we hope they'll purchase home appliances from SANYO and Panasonic.
Kuroda: The other day, I met a person from a European company. He was extremely knowledgeable about the environment, and when I asked why, it turned out that he used to work for an environmental group. Recently, people are starting to transition from NGOs to companies and vice versa. In the same way, if people who are familiar with the situation in Africa enter companies, the resulting diversity of people can help to create a better future.
Koyama: With BOP business, it eventually depends on "people." I think the key to growth in BOP business lies in finding ways to increase the number of people who are capable of challenging the future. I hope that Japanese companies will send people to these emerging and developing countries and regions, which are essentially responsible for the future, and train local people to develop business with the necessary speed.