When Japan strode into the international community in the 1950’s as a contributor to reducing worldwide poverty and hunger, it signaled the country’s transformation from that of aid recipient into that of a recognized aid donor. In order to give its overseas aid a more streamlined form, the Japanese government created the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 1974 to give its aid programs and efforts a more streamlined form. Today, JICA works actively to help developing countries in various regions, such as Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Southwest Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
As JICA’s President, Ms. Sadako Ogata represents and leads the whole agency in implementing its aid programs in the most efficient fashion. Ms. Ogata is also responsible for ensuring better coordination and relations between the Japanese government and other development partners and organizations, as well as for paving the way towards the provision of fruitful assistance to developing countries all over the world.
Occupying the highest position for the agency brings about a host of pressing challenges for Ms. Ogata, one of which involves Japan’s tenuous economic standing and its effects on the country’s official development assistance (ODA). In a speech that Ms. Ogata delivered at Oxford University in June 2007, she recognized how Japan’s aid to other countries had declined, and how it was and urgent concern that needed immediate attention. “While countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European nations increased their official assistance – partly in response to the attacks of 9/11 to ensure that developing countries do not become breeding grounds for future terrorists – Japan’s ODA has fallen 40 percent because of a prolonged economic recession and the need for fiscal reform. Last year, in overall terms, Japan’s development assistance fell behind both the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Ms. Ogata, however, believes that JICA is ready to step into newer and broader territory in 2008, despite the challenges that the agency has so far run into. Among the agency’s resolutions for the coming years is to focus on interacting more with communities that receive JICA’s assistance, to gain a better understanding of their problems as they try to overcome poverty, and to discover more effective ways of encouraging economic self-sufficiency in these areas. “I want to emphasize the importance of undertaking programs that are ‘field’ based and directly linked to the people we are trying to help. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I felt keenly that to protect people, it was necessary not only to implement International Refugee Law but also to stay with the refugees, helping to train and educate them, leading to their eventual self-sufficiency.”
Before assuming her role as JICA’s President in 2003, Ms. Ogata served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 until 2001, and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California in Berkeley.
As Japan vaults forward into the coming years, Ms. Ogata is positive that the country can do much more for the developing world than it has in the last decade, especially with the agency’s impending merger with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). “The fall in Japan’s overall ODA volume has been personally disappointing but I am hopeful that the forthcoming merger between JICA and JBIC will result in a new ‘value added’ element to Japan’s development assistance and that ‘value added’ will even produce a new mathematical equation where one plus one will equal not just two, but three or more.”