Japan: a life changing visit

In February 2014 I was in Japan. Everyday since I have relived yet another amazing moment.

The reason I was invited to Japan in the first place was because of the National Centre for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), which kindly acted as  the cooperative organization of UK for promotion, recruitment and selection, etc. The organizer of the programme was the International Youth Exchange Organisation (IYEO) and the Cabinet Office of Japan. They were involved in an international exchange program between the UK, New Zealand, Denmark and Japan. It was for people working in the Not-for-Profit (NPO) sectors, to share and learn best practice. Our trip to Tokyo and beyond was kindly arranged and funded by the Japanese government.

Martyn chatting

The schedule we faced was very gruelling. We arrived on Tuesday 25th February, and tried to sleep off the jetlag. Then from Wednesday to Sunday we attended an NPO management forum about ‘volunteering’. On Monday the 3rd of March we had our free day in Tokyo. Afterwards, on the Tuesday, we went to Hiroshima by bullet train for the ‘Local Program’ (my topic was disability). We finally came back to Tokyo on Sunday the 10th March, received our certificates on the Monday and flew home on the Tuesday.

Hectic but thrilling!

The NPO management forum

After visiting a couple of Tokyo based services working toward social cohesion, and who were excelling with their volunteering strategy; we were assigned to one of 3 seminar groups.

1) Volunteer leaders
2) Building volunteer networks and collaborating with other networks
3) Recruiting and retaining volunteers

I was in group 2 and had the most amazing conversations with awesome people from differing countries and professional fields (including disability, elderly and youth).

Following our discussions, we created a presentation and statement of our conclusions. All three groups presented their findings, and so we all gained new knowledge in each area.

The Local Program on Disability

This whole program focused on the policy, services and challenges for disabled people to ‘learn, work and live’ as they choose.

We spent a few days visiting disability schools, employment centres, rehabilitation hubs and other Hiroshima initiatives. On the last day we (the UK), NZ and Denmark presented to a rather large audience. This was followed by a seminar on the three areas mentioned. I was in the group on ‘working’ as one chooses to.

As with the management forum, we fed back our conclusions and learned from the other groups. We met yet more brilliant professionals and debated so many cool things.

My Learnings (L) and Actions (A)

It’s impossible to share every little thing I took away from Japan. However, I did learn and action the following things:

L. That I’m already a volunteer leader for Disability Horizons, and didn’t even realise it.

A. Improve the way I lead; by speaking to and learning from another volunteer leaders in the UK.

L. One of the most important things for an NPO is a strong and simple vision.

A. I’ve been working on new visions for my blog, Disability Horizons and health blog.

L. A network of volunteers can and will help you do amazing things. They just need to understand the mission and have a tangible action or role.

A. I’m working with Srin on how Disability Horizons recruits and retains volunteers.

L. There’s a limit to your organisation’s impact, and collaboration with similar (or different) organisations has many benefits.

A. We’re going to stop trying to do everything alone, and collaborate with our fellow world changers.

L. Disabled people face the same barriers in all countries. Some countries do certain things well, but are behind on other matters.

A. I want to continue contact with the people I met, and make new contacts elsewhere, to help improving life for disabled people here in the UK.

L. For disabled people to be fully included in society; society needs to understand the barriers in our way. Unfortunately ‘angry’ educating doesn’t work, but silence doesn’t either.

A. I will carry on travelling, innovating, questioning and making my little dent on the universe until the day I die!

If you have any specific questions whatsoever on these matters, please reach out and ask. I’m always happy to hear from you :-)