With reporting in the media appearing to focus continuously on the negative elements of society, it is heartening to read a story of hope, friendship and success; a story that has undoubtedly cemented the kinship of two nations.
Nearly three years ago, on the 11th of March 2011, Japan witnessed the horrendous devastation of the Great East Earthquake and Massive Tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the eastern seaboard.
In just six minutes, entire communities were destroyed, buildings obliterated, and thousands of lives lost. The three east coast prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate were profoundly affected.
There is however light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Thanks to a strong friendship between Japan and Qatar that spans more than 40 years, a Fund was created to help the regeneration processes in those areas that suffered so badly.
Immediately following the disaster, H.H. the Emir Father, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, announced a US$ 100 million gift from Qatar to the Japanese people to assist relief efforts and accelerate the recovery of victims: Qatar Friendship Fund (QFF) was born. The Fund focuses on three key areas of child education, fisheries and healthcare that, in turn, will lead to sustainable economic growth.
Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is set to be at the forefront of three major educational projects due for completion in 2014. Qatar Science Campus is a project to renovate a section of the Graduate School of Engineering at Tohoku University and create an interactive learning-centre for visiting schoolchildren. The new facility, due to open by November 2014, aims to educate children and nurture much needed, next-generation engineers and researchers in the Tohoku region.
Elem is the name for two new facilities that will help foster work-readiness and financial literacy, also planned to open in 2014, one in Sendai and one in Iwaki City. The new buildings house experience-based educational programs, in partnership with Junior Achievement, in which visiting groups of school students undertake life lessons and gain skills on designing their future in simulated real-city environments.
The third is INTILAQ – Tohoku Innovators Hub.
The project, funded by QFF in partnership with IMPACT Foundation Japan, is designed to promote and encourage entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and innovators.
Expected to open by November 2014, it is hoped that over a five-year period nearly 150,000 people will benefit directly and indirectly. The devastation caused in 2011 has seen an increasingly older population in Tohoku, with a sluggish and struggling economy in need of more entrepreneurship and innovation.
The new Innovators Hub is set to connect the dots in the ecosystem and act as the focal point to develop and nurture entrepreneurs from all over Tohoku and Japan, many of whom can then move to other parts of the Tohoku region to help refuel the local economies through their entrepreneurial know how and new global connectivity. History has shown that entrepreneurs are the most valuable builders and creators in communities--and Silicon Valley has demonstrated that an ecosystem approach is needed to create the right conditions.
Small entrepreneurial companies often spark innovation that creates jobs that in turn facilitate economic sustainability. INTILAQ – Tohoku Innovators Hub is designed to give start-up entrepreneurs in Japan the tools necessary to positively impact their community, as well as help connect the dots in the ecosystem.
The project will bring together a diverse range of people to collaborate in prototyping ideas, launching organizations and companies, and implementing strategies to promote economic growth.
According to Tumblr founder David Karp: “An entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for something and a want to create.” From a man who has created one of the world’s most popular social media networks, sold last year for over US$ 1 billion, it would be wise to sit-up and take note.
David Karp’s ideology is without a doubt shared by Todd Porter and Haruko Nishida, co-founders of IMPACT Foundation Japan co-developers of INTILAQ – Tohoku Innovators Hub.
They are excited by the opportunities INTILAQ is set to create, and are confident the platform will deliver on its goals, and with it help catalyze economic prosperity in many parts of the region.
And because a critical dimension for entrepreneurship and open innovation is connecting Tohoku to the global flow of ideas and human networks beyond the region, INTILAQ also includes important infrastructure in Tokyo.
The ‘INTILAQ House’ is a guesthouse that can host visiting global innovators and key players from Tohoku and other parts of Japan, as well as curated salons, enabling powerful cross-fertilisation and relationship building that is at the core of entrepreneurship, open innovation and ecosystem building.
To complement the house, the INTILAQ Tokyo Centre will provide a valuable base for leveraging the extensive high quality resources of Tokyo and beyond, with space for gatherings of up to 50 people. The centre will promote Tohoku outreach, idea generation, and project support, as well as provide an environment for discussion with like-minded entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the ecosystem.
Even in the early stages of prototyping the first elements of INTILAQ in Tokyo, visiting global innovators from Asia, Europe and even Silicon Valley have told the team that it enabled them to plug into the local ecosystem in a way they had never experienced anywhere else. They see Japan as such a unique creative country and they want to be part of what’s going — including supporting INTILAQ’s important mission with their talent and networks.
Renowned players in the field of entrepreneurship such as Mark Hatch, Co-founder and CEO of Techshop and Kevin Langley, past Chairman of the global Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) have already begun sharing their wealth of experience with Tohoku through INTILAQ.
The aspiration underpinning all INTILAQ activities is to support the road to recovery for those most affected by the events of March 2011 by providing a leading edge platform for learning, prototyping, incubating, and ecosystem building.
It will empower those who attend with the necessary tools for development: “mentors; a state of the art curriculum; machines to prototype ideas; a like-minded peer community; and real world projects,” — these, say Haruko Nishida, are the fundamental keys to success in the new era.
The Qatar Friendship Fund is about empowerment, about hope and about long-term sustainable recovery. The projects already supported have been instrumental in creating jobs, homes and promoting economic growth. INTILAQ – Tohoku Innovators Hub will provide important infrastructure to support the next phase of development, and has the opportunity to create a lasting legacy by connecting Japan to likeminded collaborators from around the world in a truly unique and innovative initiative.