The JOCV Program Promotes Development Cooperation and Constitutes an Opportunity for Nurturing Young People


On November 27, 2015, JICA Research Institute held a public symposium at the JICA Ichigaya Building to share the results of a research project, "Interdisciplinary Study of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers." With its 50th anniversary this year, the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) program was discussed from various perspectives.

The JOCV program is aimed at nurturing Japan's youth, fostering mutual understanding between Japan and developing countries, and promoting development cooperation. Volunteers generally serve for two years in a developing country. Since the program was launched, more than 40,000 volunteers have been dispatched to 88 countries.

Some findings from this research project have already been made public in the past at seminars covering specific topics such as the program's history and the program as viewed from an anthropological perspective. A book scheduled to be published in spring 2016 (available only in Japanese) provided the content for this symposium. The symposium featured three sessions. Session 1, "Knowing JOCVs," reported on youth development, particularly from the perspective of global human resources development and JOCV experience. Session 2, "JOCV Systems," reported on systems and international comparisons, while Session 3, "Changes Brought by Volunteers - the Implementers of Development Cooperation," reported from the perspective of development cooperation.

Yasunobu Okabe

Lead researcher Yasunobu Okabe
gives a presentation

At the opening session, JICA-RI Director Ichiro Tambo explained that "Although the program has a long history and well known, not enough analyses had been done on the JOCV program as a whole." According to Lead researcher, Professor Yasunobu Okabe from Tohoku University, a JICA-RI visiting fellow, "Each of the 40,000 volunteers has their own story, so I realized how difficult it is to find a way of analyzing them scientifically. Our research employed approaches from a variety of disciplines and methodologies, and we took a small step toward understanding the big picture." He also pointed out that looking back over the 50-year history of the program, one of the reasons for its success may have been the fact that it has had a broad range of objectives.

Questions and comments were made from the floor

Questions and comments were made
from the floor

At Session 1, Mine Sato, an associate professor at Yokohama National University, a former JICA-RI researcher, and a former JOCV, gave a presentation entitled "Where Does the ‘Energy to Overcome Great Difficulties Come from?' - An Analysis Based on Panel Data and Interviews." The presentation was based on the results of a questionnaire survey of JOCVs that she conducted before, during, and after their assignments. According to her analysis, the "energy to overcome great difficulties" is heavily influenced by conditions where they are assigned (the presence or absence of counterparts, the budget available, etc.), the presence or absence of assistance from colleagues or from other JOCVs, and so on. She found that "people with the energy to overcome great difficulties" possessed a number of channels for consultation and assistance, were able to take mental breaks, to enjoy life there, for example, and did not allow stress to accumulate.

After that, Kazuya Suda, a former JICA-RI research assistant, gave a presentation called "Categorization of JOCVs - Volunteers as Viewed through Their Motives for Joining." During the presentation, he described how he had categorized the diverse variety of JOCVs into six groups based on their motives for participating, and then explained the characteristics of each category. JICA-RI Research Fellow Mayuko Onuki conducted an investigation into whether JOCV experience allows participants, as global human resources, to obtain the basic skills to function as members of society. She told the audience that volunteers saw a particularly marked improvement in their ability to work in teams, and that they also became more persuasive and creative.

In Session 2, Yoko Fujikake, a professor at Yokohama National University Graduate School, gave a presentation on short-term JOCVs from the perspective of global human resources development. Koji Yamada, an advisor to the JICA's planning department, gave a presentation on the role of overseas JICA offices in the JOCV program, while Kumiko Kawachi, an administrator in the International Section of the International Department at Yokohama National University gave a presentation on the U.S. Peace Corps.

Session 3 featured presentations of examples of how JOCVs serve as facilitators in development cooperation.

JICA-RI Senior Research Advisor Akio Hosono used examples such as a math project in Central America's Dominican Republic to analyze the contributions made by JOCVs from a capacity development perspective. He explained how they learn from each other and create brand new problem-solving methods together. Naoko Ueda, director of the Asia and Pacific Division in the JOCV Secretariat at JICA, used the examples of immunization programs in Bangladesh and measures to fight Chagas disease in Central America. She pointed out that the biggest contribution that JOCVs have made is to appeal to the "hearts" (emotions, norms, trust, motives, desires, etc.) of people in the government and in the community. She analyzed JOCVs as facilitators of development cooperation.

Presenters of the symposium

Presenters of the symposium

Takuya Baba, a professor at Hiroshima University, discussed the contribution by JOCVs in improving science and mathematics education at state primary schools in Bangladesh. He explained that JOCVs have played a role in establishing "classroom research" as a teaching methodology at actual schools.

Following researchers' presentations, Seiji Utsumi, a professor at Kyoto Women's University, Toshio Ogawa, director general of Secretariat of JOCV, and Takeshi Takano, director general of the JICA's Latin America and the Caribbean Department, made comments in Session 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

Okabe summarized and said that many people had mentioned the importance of the roles played by the JICA and its overseas offices, but expressed concern that this left little room for creativity and ingenuity, and could reduce the program's effectiveness from a youth development perspective. During the question-and-answer session, there were discussions about the program from a human resources development perspective. For example, one issue that was discussed was the paths that JOCVs followed after they had completed their assignments.

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