Asia Center Seminar Recap: Community Organizing in Japan and China

December 5, 2016
Iris Hu

On November 4, the Asia Center presented a seminar, "Community Organizing in Japan and China," with presentations by Dr. Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center; Kanoko Kamata, Executive Director, Community Organizing Japan; and Iris Hu, Leadership Trainer and Coach, Harvard SEED for Social Innovation.

Dr. Marshall Ganz led this talk and reflected on the value of community organizing in Japan and China, with his teaching, research and practice all converging on supporting leadership development and organizing collective actions. Dr. Ganz has 20 years of experience as an organizer in civil rights and other social movements, eight years of scholarship and 16 years of teaching full time at Harvard Kennedy School with the opportunity to integrate his experience in social science, community development and pedagogy of practice. The practice Dr. Ganz teaches is for leadership organizing and action.

According to Dr. Ganz, the definition of leadership can be understood from three questions posed by Rabbi Hillel, a first century Jeruisalem scholar on how to engage with life. First question is, “If I am not for myself, who would be for me?” It is not meant to be a selfish question but a self-regarding one about what values, resources and expectiations one brings to leadeship. . The second question is, “If I am for myself alone, what am I?” Because the question of “who” and not “what” reminds  people that we exiost in  relationship with others and that efforts to achieve our goals are inevitably intertwined with those of others. And the final question is, “if not now, when?”  In order to learn how to do well what we want to do we have to begin to do it: understanding flows from action not the opposite. And action requires risk, risks require courage, and it takes courage to learn. Leadership is about the interaction of these three: self, other, and action. And the domain of leadership  is not one of certainthy, but of uncertaint - those moments when people have to deal with  contradictions, problems and doubts.  We thus define leadeship as “accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under condtions of uncertaintyh. “ Leadership is also far more about learning than knowing. And more about practice than position.

Organizing is a form of leadership that asks first not what is the problem but who are my people. The second question is what challenges do they face in their lived experience. And the third question is how to enable them to use their resources to build the power they need to achieve their goals.

Leadership practice is more important than leadership personalities. There are five key practices – relationship building, storytelling, strategy, structure and action. Relationship building in the form of intentional, horizontal and public relationship building is the source of capacity. One of the challenges of the internet is that while it mobilizes individuals very effectively, it is less effective about organizing and forming connections across people so that they can learn and develop capacity together. The second practice, storytelling or public narrative, is about accessing the emotional resources on our values for the capacity or experience of self-efficacy, solidarity, hopefulness to counter self-doubt, isolation and fear that causes us to react to disruptions as opposed to respond to that. It is about developing an emotional capacity and sometimes to draw on challenge, anger and urgency to create moments of choice. Public narrative is a leadership practice of  linking a story of self (why do I care), a story of us (why do we care), and a story of now (what choices must we make to access the hope to confront urgent challenges now). The third practice is strategizing  taught as a verb rather than noun. It is about turning the resources that you have into the power you need to achieve the change you want. The fourth practice is structure: organizing ourselves to do the work and continue learning how to do it well: actually do the work: collaborative leadership in which people are encouraged to cascading leadership outwards and downward into a community, where people can work together in an organized and structure way to carry out change. The last practice is action – about how to actually make things happen on the ground and make commitment real.

After Dr. Ganz, Kanoko Kamata introduced her organization, Community Organizing Japan (COJ).  After studying community organization at Harvard Kennedy School, Ms. Kamata decided to bring the practice back to Japan. She organized the first community organizing workshop in December 2013 and founded COJ in 2014. Since there were no textbooks and materials on community organizing in Japanese, one of her initial tasks was to translate the guide into Japanese and train local trainers in Japanese. After overcoming the language barrier, the first community organizing workshop by Japanese trainers was conducted in April 2014 and more coaches and staff members have been recruited since then. In the past three years, COJ has conducted about 50 workshops all over Japan. In 2014, COJ started to expand in local areas and conducted their first workshop in Tohoku, the area struck by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They have also conducted work, study circle and organizer peer coaching in Iwate and created a structure in which organizers can coach each other.

Currently, COJ has nine board members, three full-time staffs and six fellows. During the past three years, over 1000 people in Japan have learned about community organizing with the help of 70 workshop coaches. Ms. Kamata also evaluated the current community organizing practices in Japan.  What works for community organizing now is that it creates a sense of community and enhances the sense of agency as people are inspired by the importance of constituency. However, there are still challenges. For example, because of cultural reasons, not many Japanese people are willing to take actions and openly express themselves. In addition, since the text materials involve many English words that do not have direct Japanese translations, it is difficult to teach local people about certain theoretical concepts. Therefore, the next step for Ms. Kamata’s organizing is to localize teaching materials and encourage people to take actions by modeling organizing campaigns.

Iris Hu then introduced her organization called Harvard SEED for Social Innovation, which conducts community organizing workshops at Harvard each summer for social innovators from all around China since 2012. The projects that she has been highly involved include conducting Peking University Anping Organizing workshop, starting the ‘Telling Your Story’ initiative in China, developing SEED coach online training team and story sharing trainings. Their organization collaborated with many foundations in China such as Tencent Foundation, Dunhe Foundation, Narada Foundation and China Social Assistance Foundation to organize workshops across many cities in China in the past few years. One of the star trainers who is a SEED fellow in the organization, Mo Ran, started the story telling initiative and engaged with more than 400 participants in workshops and seminars. He also developed training and organizing campaigns with the LGBT groups in China. Ms. Hu concluded that because of cultural reasons, Chinese people are also not used to speaking up and therefore conduct narratives. Her coaching team is trying to collaborate with leading foundations and universities and also work with the government to empower people to achieve shared goals in uncertain situations.

Watch the seminar video.