Japan‚Äôs economic recovery efforts following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami involves all kinds of investment projects and infrastructure rebuilding programs. But there‚Äôs also one called ‚ÄúInnovation Tohoku‚Äù that focuses on people and the Internet to accelerate economic development.
This program was initiated by Google Japan a year ago. The Innovation Tohoku project brought together volunteer Internet experts known as ‚ÄúSupporters‚Äù with entrepreneurs and businesses in the Tohoku region to figure out how the Internet could be used to fuel growth.
Ko Fujii, Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Google Japan, explained in a¬†blog post¬†how the program is driving sustainable development.
Some of the Supporters met with the First Lady of Japan, Akie Abe, and shared their experiences of how they used the Internet to help businesses grow even in a harsh business environment.
On the¬†innovationtohoku.com¬†website, there are more than 100 cases listed of businesses that have sought help from supporters for Internet-based growth. There are 35 businesses actively seeking supporters, another 26 that have already been matched with supporters and their projects are currently in progress, and 42 more that have already achieved their goals.
The projects listed include everything from rebuilding as a smart city with a better communication system to revitalizing communities by globally branding local crafts and tourism promotion, and even a crowdfunding platform to support small- and medium-sized businesses in the affected areas.
In the blog post, Ko Fujii highlights the example of Konno Konpou, a family-owned packaging-material company that makes wooden pallets in Miyagi Prefecture. The owner, Hideki Konno, branched out into creative design by making furniture and art installations using corrugated cardboard.
But the market for cardboard dinosaurs and robots in the fishing town where the company is based was limited, until Konno Konpou was matched up with a supporter under the Innovation Tohoku project.
They figured out how to market and sell the products on the Internet to urban audiences using eCommerce, and now Konno Konpou is not just a box-maker, but also an innovative creative design company that attracts customers from far beyond its own town.
Ko Fujii says the Innovation Tohoku approach is scalable, and the lessons learned can be applied to other rural areas in Japan and beyond.