JICA Ogata Research Institute

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【JICA-RI Focus Vol.20】 Interview with Research Associate Yessica Chung

March 22, 2012

Engaging in Empirical Studies Concerning Industry Integration in Africa: JICA-RI Research Associate Yessica Chung Speaks on Research Activities and Next Themes

Yessica Chung is a Research Associate from Taiwan. Dr. Chung's research activities focus on the themes of Africa and the analysis of corporate trends, centering on her specialty of econometrics since her university days. JICA-RI asked her about the status of her soon-to-be-completed "Empirical Studies Concerning Industry Accumulation in Africa," her next research topics, and her thoughts about research activities.

Putting to use experience of working in the Taiwanese executive branch

After you completed your master’s program at National Taiwan University, you worked in the executive branch of the government in Taiwan. What kind of work were you doing?

In the executive branch, I mainly engaged in compiling and analyzing price indexes and creating related reports. The operations are the same as in Japan. We announce price indexes on a monthly basis, make telephone calls to major companies in Taiwan and ask questions about costs and so forth, and compile the results. I worked for the Taiwanese executive branch for about two and a half years. I was able to improve my skills in analyzing vast amounts of data and software skills, and I feel that it was a good experience. I like to think about things from a variety of angles, so it was around that time that I thought that I might have what it takes to be a researcher.

After that, I took the government-sponsored foreign student examination and entered a doctoral program at the Hitotsubashi University Department of Economics. My specialty was econometrics, and econometrics with a focus on data analysis has been at the basis of my work from the time of the doctoral program until today.

After you completed your doctoral program, you worked for while at the Research Institute for Development and Finance of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

One of my seniors at Hitotsubashi University was working at JBIC Research Institute. This person was looking for an assistant to carry out statistical analysis, and called me and asked me to help. At JBIC Research Institute, I was mainly doing data analysis regarding the balance sheets of financial institutions in Southeast Asian countries, which was a very valuable experience. After JICA merged with JBIC, JICA-RI was recruiting in January 2009, and I applied because I wanted to make use of my experience up to that time.

Aiming to change the consciousness of managers of ultra-small companies in Africa

At JICA-RI, you are currently engaging in an empirical study concerning industry integration in Africa. What got you interested in Africa?

More than the regional aspects, I have been interested in industry trends centering on econometrics. At first I only studied balance sheets and so forth and wasn’t able to actually go to Africa. In my research on industry integration, I was able to conduct surveys on ultra-small companies locally in Tanzania, and have become acutely aware of the importance of field studies. As for the content of the study, we did a follow-up on training aimed at the managers of ultra-small companies carried out by JICA from March 2009, looked at how the behavior and consciousness of managers had changed, and attempted to identify the effects of the training. In doing this study, we created a questionnaire and investigated how the consciousness of the managers of approximately 30 companies who received the training had changed.

As for what we learned in the study, we confirmed changes in behavior such as making an effort regarding cleanliness, orderliness and keeping things organized, and precisely recording the inflow and outflow of money, etc. In a follow-up study that we carried out later, we frequently heard the Japanese word for improvement, kaizen. I think the analysis of the performance (business results) of individual companies will take a bit more time, but I intend to keep an eye on the targets of small-scale companies in Africa and watch the potential of these companies for growth in the future. This is particularly of interest to me because this study was my first research activity at the Research Institute. I am currently writing a thesis regarding the effects of training, and I plan on publishing a number of working papers (WP).

What is the theme of your next research project?

I have not decided on a project yet, but I have a strong interest in trends regarding Chinese companies in Africa. Unlike Japanese companies, etc., Chinese companies are proactively entering Africa and are working to develop their operations over a wide scale. In many cases, these companies have achieved success. Why is this? I think a big part of it is of course the fact that the companies are closely tied in with the assistance strategies of the Chinese government. Nevertheless, I would really like to investigate the Africa strategies of the Chinese companies. I believe that there is a very strong need for research in this area.

I am currently engaging in activities related to empirically researching the impact of the development of infrastructure such as roads in Mozambique, and am about to start analysis work in this regard. Once this work has settled, I intend to start analyzing trends regarding Chinese companies.

Importance of developing the advantages of onsite workplaces and research

What are your thoughts on the strengths and advantages of JICA-RI?

The biggest advantage is the fact that it has onsite workplaces. I think it is wonderful that not only the practitioners but also the academics are active in a wide range of areas, so it is possible to obtain and analyze information from them that is closely connected to the real situation. I am not a practitioner, so there are definitely times when I feel a bit strange talking with the JICA personnel. There seem to be topics on which we have different opinions. I think in order to overcome these barriers, it is essential to gather real-time information and opinions from onsite workplaces, create hypotheses based on these, go into the field, integrate our strong points, and formulate policies and methods in order to achieve growth. I believe that jumpstarting these initiatives will further improve the JICA-RI.

What will be your next step?

Ultimately I would like to return to Taiwan and teach at my alma mater, National Taiwan University. But I am currently engrossed in projects at JICA-RI, and there are two or three themes regarding, for example, the Africa strategies of Chinese companies that I would like to address, so I intend to continue to devote myself to working at the JICA-RI for a while longer.

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