We were welcomed by Mr. ARAKI Satoshi at the headquarters of Mitsubishi Research Institute (MRI), a Think Tank dedicated to research and consulting in various areas of knowledge in Japan and abroad. For this opportunity, Mr. ARAKI kindly prepared a presentation addressing the main concerns expressed by the participants prior to the meeting.
Mr. ARAKI graduated from The University of Tokyo with a degree in Sociology of Education and Comparative Education. Later on he continued his studies in the Graduate School of Education at the same university. During his studies he had the opportunity to specialize and work directly with the education system in Nepal, experience that led him to recently start his own NPO in collaboration with other professionals. Currently, Mr. ARAKI works as a researcher and consultant at MRI, where he has had the chance to participate to date in over 50 projects mainly dealing with Education and Human Resource Development.
During the interview session we had an exciting conversation regarding the work of MRI, the core abilities required for research and consultancy work, the trade-offs of the job, rewards and difficulties of working as a consultant, and a discussion about what makes a successful education. Finally, we could learn about Sarthak Shiksha, MR. ARAKI’s NPO that leads educational projects in Nepal.
Mr. Araki: Welcome to Mitsubishi Research Institute! I would first like to start with the background of myself: I graduated from University of Tokyo, the faculty of education. My research topic is education development, especially in developing countries. I focused on Nepal then, because it’s one of the countries, which have a lot of difficulties in developing their education system. I continued my study and entered into graduate school of education. I again majored in the same research topic, Education for Allspecialized in Nepal. Right after my graduation, I entered this company. My job position is a researcher/consultant and I am specialized in education and human resource development. Since I joined in Mitsubishi Research Institution, or MRI, I have conducted near 50 or 60 projects, related to education and human resource development. Our clients for such research are mainly ministries of education/economy/sometimes universities.
Student: May I ask why you chose to come to this company?
Mr. Satoshi Araki: That is a good question! Well, for my career, I wanted to contribute to policy, as well as practice. I really like academia, especially academic and scientific approaches. But at the same time, I also wanted to contribute more to policy and practice. So I thought think tank is one of the best career choices. Amongst many think tanks, MRI is very rare in focusing its efforts on education. Usually the market of education and human resource development is considered to be not so big, which means private company cannot earn so much through this domain. But my company believes that education is very important although it’s not so good to increase our profits. That’s why I thought this, MRI, is the best place for me to pursue my career. In the think tank, we have a lot of experts, not only in the field of education, but also in other fields. For example, people who are specialized in economics, engineering, ICT, etc. I thought I can get a lot experience and knowledge efficiently and effectively through working with these kinds of experts. This, diversity of experts in the company, is also a big reason for me to choose it.
Student: What are the most important qualities to work for think tank?
Mr.Araki: There are indeed a lot of qualities. I think qualities can be divided into hard-skills and soft-skills. For hard-skills, for example, the skill for social research, or questionnaires, quantitative analysis is similar to social research, also drafting. These qualities are essential because you have to write a report, as a result of your projects. Of course language is important as well. Japanese is essential in this company: you have to read and write Japanese to do various jobs in this company. Recently there are a lot of assignments in other countries, so other languages, especially English, Chinese, are getting important for researchers. And also knowledge in a specific field is important, for example, for me, its education, for you, it’s engineering or something else. You are expected to contribute as a specialist. For Soft skills, perseverance is really important: when you are doing various jobs in various fields, we are required to conduct each projects, as a team, not only by ourselves, but with other members. And also great communication skills are the must, as you will be communicating with the clients as well as other team members a lot. Fundamentally, we should respect each other, and cooperation and self-esteem are important.
Student: so there is no training provided to new members? People have to have this skill set before they enter MRI?
Student: So for our university students, how can we get this kind of research skills? How can we train ourselves by what kind of methods?
Mr. Araki: In your University, there must be some lectures or classes on social research. Taking these specific classes will be helpful. I myself took several of such classes to improve my social research skills.
Student: Does everyone in MRI have masters or PHD degree?
Mr. Araki: Not necessarily. I would say 50% have master degree, and 20% are PhD. Recently, the number of people who do not have master or PhD is increasing, because the company is trying to employ a lot of people with diverse backgrounds, not only in a specific field, but also in other fields. In other words, rather than your degree, your potential is really important.
Student I would like to ask you about your view of value of education. For example, some of my friends are debating weather they should go to PhD or post graduate. What do think the value of these choices are, at this particular point? Like is it good for us to go to the graduate school or not?
Mr.Araki: Talking about think tank only, although I said that there are people working here without Master or PhD degrees, still degree can be useful. Clients may admire us more, if you have a degree of master or PhD.But again it depends. There are a lot of great experts without masters or PhD degree. As long as you can show your specialty without degree, that is fine too.
Student: We understand that you have conducted the projects, especially on education. We would like to ask you if there is any past project that you particularly liked.
Mr. Araki: One of the projects that I got very excited was the research on Official Development Assistance, or ODA. Every year, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan commissions companies or institutions like us to conduct some evaluation study. Through that research we clarified what kind of outcomes are created through ODA, or the ODA is used properly regarding to the way of using it. Several years ago, as a part of this research, I visited Malawi, a country in Africa. There I conducted a research by interview survey with some administers, NGO experts or people who want to get medical care or something like that. Our research team listened to their voices, and then we put their voices into report. I really enjoyed that project.
Mr. Araki: Well, in fact, most of the projects related to education and human resource development are conducted in domestic Japan. But sometimes, for example, Ministry of Education wants to know what kind of system are there in other countries, then we are assigned to conduct the research for other countries, sometimes even go to other countries such as UK, US, Australia and Nordic countries as well as Asian countries.
Student: So is it like there are two teams, one is in charge of domestic projects, and another one is in charge of overseas projects?
Mr.Araki: Well, it is more like two functions, it is you to choose whether you want to focus only on Japan or are willing to go abroad. It really depends on each one of us.
Student: Each project has the same team, or a new team?
Mr.Araki: Each project has its own teams. Like myself, on average, I belong to 10 to 15 projects here. But of course, the level of commitment is different from project to project. For example, for the cost-benefit analysis of educational investment, I am fully committed. On the other hand, I am not necessarily specialized in ICT education, I conduct a part of a research which I was assigned to while others do most parts.
Student: Do you have to get all knowledge on different areas when you join the company? Sounds like having different knowledge’s and many specialties will help your promotion in this company.
Mr. Araki: Well, that is not very true. What is important is to have your own specialty, because each project team will be consist of different experts. For example, there is a project related to environmental education, in this case, we create a team with members from education domain, engineering domain, and also environment domain. You don’t need to know everything yourself.
Student: so all of these different members are gathered together if necessary?
Mr. Araki: yes.
Student: I have a question, would you say that related to all of these different projects, you deal more with public sectors or private companies?
Mr. Araki: it depends on the research group, as for education, most of the projects belong to public sectors such as Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
Student: You said you are connected with the ministry of foreign affairs, and you did a project in Africa. Does that project come from the government of Japan? Or do you sometimes get research request from government of other countries?
Mr. Araki: currently there is no direct connection with other countries’ government with exceptions of Malaysia and Brunei. Why Malaysia and Brunei, well, this is because there is a famous researcher in MRI, his nationality is Malay, and had supported Malaysia’s Look East Policy. And for Brunei, it is because of the country’s strong commitment to develop more environment-friendly system. Brunei earns a lot of money from oil, and historically they did not care too much about their environment. Recently they noticed that it’s really important to protect environment. The chairman of our institute is Dr.KOMIYAMA, the former president of University of Tokyo; he is an expert in the field of environment. This way, the Brunei government asked him to support them, so some members in our institute are connected with Brunei government. In addition, recently we have supported Qatar as a project management office since the country had decided to establish a fund for recovery from Great East Japan Earthquake.
Student: So, you have to not only cultivate your normal hard skills and soft skills like research skills, but also the skills of how to cooperate with public relations, right?
Mr. Araki: Yes. it is. When we work for public sectors, we tend to feel tremendous pressure, as they want us to show the evidence, which will be used to evaluate their policy. If we cannot clearly show the policy is correct or not, they will ask us to create this kind of evidence. Showing clear evidence may not be easy task all the time. We are required to show the evidence, but sometimes although we try our best, we may not be able to find any evidence to prove it. So in this case, what will you do? (Asking the participants)
Student: To create special titles for different projects…?
Mr. Araki: I see. Well the truth is, our projects are conducted academically and scientifically, so sometimes we cannot change the truth. But sometimes we can modify our slides as much as we can. For example, cost-benefit analysis of public expenditure on education chart of our project (on the slide), you calculate the cost, and the benefit can be created by the public expenditure, and of course the client of this project is the ministry of education, and the client wanted us to show how benefit is much bigger than cost, and of course, our team want to show that the benefit is really high. These numbers are our results of analysis. As I said we cannot change the number, but we can modify the shape, length, and width of the chart of each items. This kind of modification is one of the ways that we can choose to make the result as close to what the clients want to see.
Student: You are involved in so many projects, can you choose them? Or management assigns those?
Mr.Araki: We can choose our research topics by ourselves but only as long as we commit with a specific target. MRI fixes a target profit level for the fiscal year to each of us. This depends on your position and the department you are part of.
Student: Could you tell us which are the other departments MRI is working on now?
Mr.Araki: We have people working in many fields. Environment, engineering, ICT, energy, science and technology, nuclear… and even in defense force. This is a unique department. They have to work in a locked room without window. Nobody except them is allowed to enter, and they are not allowed to bring out any document.
Student: Can you choose from the group? Or only in education?
Mr.Araki: Up to today, we have been stuck in one department. But recently the executives want the members to experience various fields. They believe that based on those experiences we all can do the best from various fields of knowledge. So, now, if you want to change the group you can apply for it.
Student: Could you talk us about your NPO?
Mr.Araki: Sure thanks for asking! I would love to share! Our NPO is called “Sarthak Shiksha”, what in Nepali means like quality education (http://www.sarthakshiksha.org/). Our slogan is “quality learning for all”. As you know there a lot of children who cannot get the opportunity of quality learning, specially based on the socio-economic status. We want to change that situation. You may know about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Universal primary education is one of them. Access to education, especially in primary level has increased dramatically. It is said that around 90% of children can go to primary school in the world. However, quality of learning of education is still not enough. So, even though they can go to school they are illiterate, or they cannot go to secondary school, or the amount of books is not enough, or student/teacher ratio is too big. One teacher has to take car of 50 students. So the quality is not enough. That is the situation we want to change. We are eager to deliver all the people with the learning opportunities. That is our motivation.
All: How did you start your NPO?
Mr.Araki: How we started: The roots of our NPO are back from Kobe University, where two of our founders met for the first time, a Japanese and a Nepali. The Japanese was also graduated from school of education at University of Tokyo, where he and other NPO members including me had held study sessions on educational development, and the Nepali who was doing his PhD there. After they finished studies at Kobe, one worked for World Bank and now for UNICEF in New York and the Nepali is now working at UNICEF Nepal. They both started talking about creating this organization 2 or 3 years ago. Finally we formally established “Sarthak Shiksha” last year. We are around 10 active members, but actually we all have other jobs and not the time we would like for the organization. That’s why we are looking for motivated students who can help us to move forward.
Student: What kind of activities do you do?
Mr.Araki: Currently are concentrated on three:
(i) Support reading: according to various research studies across the world, reading skills and cultures are important as a basis of children’s developments, and reading aloud is one of effective ways to cultivate them. So Sarthak’s experts train Nepali students who have motivations to contribute to quality learning for all, and they read aloud picture books to children after school.
(ii) Support mothers: especially in developing countries the role of mothers is very important in terms of children because if they do not know the value of study the children cannot continue. In addition once mothers are empowered with certain knowledge and skills, they will accelerate economic activities. Therefore we provide them with learning opportunities in collaboration with another NGO.
(iii) Concept of learning center: for people with lower economic status. One of the problems for cihldren’s learning is that they cannot keep studying during long time vacations, so we want to establish the learning center so they can continue studying. They can also use that during the year after school time.
Student: Thank you so much for sharing about your work in MRI and your exciting work of NPO!! We feel very grateful to have this opportunity!