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【JICA-RI Focus Vol.7】Interview with Senior Research Fellow Takaaki Oiwa

December 11, 2009

Linking Research and Development Aid ? An Interview with JICA Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Takaaki Oiwa

Takaaki Oiwa

Takaaki Oiwa, Senior Research Fellow, has worked at JICA's regional departments and Indonesia Office as a JICA staff, dealing mainly with social development projects and macro-economic analyses. He has also long been involved in research studies at the former JICA Institute for International Cooperation. In this interview, he talks about his current research projects at JICA-RI, his roles in these projects, and the relationship between the research and JICA's projects

Research Projects and Roles

Tell us about the research projects in your charge.

Currently, I am in charge of four research projects. They are: “Mainstreaming Human Security in ASEAN Integration,” “Locating Islam in Southeast Asia,” and “Ethnic Diversity and Economic Instability in Africa.” The fourth, which is still in the preparatory stage, is “The Second East Asian Miracle? Political Economy of the Rapid Recovery from the 1997 Crisis.”

Research and JICA projects

Please tell us how your research ties in with JICA projects.

Let me explain with an example of one of my projects: “Mainstreaming Human Security in ASEAN Integration.”

At present, ASEAN upholds the concept of “comprehensive security” against internal and external threats based on the principle of political non-intervention. Comprehensive security includes “traditional security,” in which a country protects its land and people from external threats with military means, and “non-traditional security,” which addresses poverty, terrorism, environmental issues, and emerging threats such as the global financial crisis and the H1N1 swine flu outbreak through diversified actions including non-military measures. As a hybrid of both traditional and non-traditional security, comprehensive security is a concept that addresses not only military threats, but also various new types of threats among nations.

In contrast, the “human security” addressed in this research project breaks down the conventional, national-level concept of security and reconstructs it for individuals - the smallest constituent units of a nation. Specific study themes are raised such as poverty, terrorism, environmental issues, and emerging threats such as the financial crisis and H1N1 influenza. In this sense, human security addresses similar problems as non-traditional security. However, human security, which is centered on individuals rather than nations, seeks to tackle problems not only on a national level but also on local, regional, and global levels as the occasion demands, so the point of view is different from non-traditional security or comprehensive security.

This concept of human security has not taken root in ASEAN, although it is being recognized gradually. It can be said that here lies the value of this research project. This project is a collaborative research endeavor with ASEAN’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN ISIS). ASEAN ISIS is an organization that aims to achieve regional integration and demonstrates this initiative through a think tank-level framework. Through the partnership, ASEAN ISIS intends to mainstream the concept of human security throughout the ASEAN region. The cooperation of JICA-RI in endeavors like this will have important implications for future assistance to the region.

Japan has already adopted the concept of human security as one of basic principles in its Official Development Assistance (ODA) Charter. We hope to inspire ASEAN countries to adopt this development approach and values that focus on individuals while, at the same time, respecting countries and regions as holistic units. This will open further possibilities for developing more sophisticated cooperation in the region while addressing the extremely delicate issues such as human rights and democratization. Furthermore, putting ASEAN members on a common ground based on human security will possibly result in further integration within ASEAN itself.

As far as research results are concerned, we held a symposium in Tokyo entitled “Mainstreaming Human Security in ASEAN Integration: Possibilities and Prospects” in March of this year. This was followed by a presentation of interim results based on current research progress in a workshop focusing on maritime safety - one of the specific themes of this project - held in Jakarta, Indonesia in June.

Role in Projects

Please tell us more about your role in your work.

For the four research projects I work on, I write research papers and working papers based on my own in-the-field, practical experience and knowledge. I am also responsible for the overall coordination and execution of each project.

Coming back to the example of “Mainstreaming Human Security in ASEAN Integration,” this project is conducted by not only JICA-RI, but also by researchers from Japanese universities, ASEAN ISIS - which is led by the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) in the Philippines and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Indonesia - and researchers from universities within the ASEAN region. This research project, positioned as a regional cooperative project in Southeast Asia, is a prime example of networked research.

A broad array of coordination tasks were expected in this research project. For example, in the preparatory stage, we needed to determine the research framework through dialogue with researchers on the ASEAN side, and to secure the participation of the right researchers. After the project started, we needed to cooperate with various parties for quality control of the research, and in organizing and managing symposiums for sharing research results and issues.

In addition to writing research papers and working papers, my responsibilities are to ensure the smooth implementation of the projects, and to coordinate and manage each research project so that the results will contribute to improving the overall quality of JICA's activities.

What issues do you find particularly difficult when implementing research projects?

A demanding problem at the launch of a research project is whether to choose the theme based on the research personnel available, or assemble a team based on the theme at hand. I think either option is acceptable, but keeping a good balance between these two is important for the success of a project. Though easily said, this is actually very difficult in practice.

Another challenge is overcoming the fundamental “cultural” differences among members of an organization like JICA, and researchers from academic environments. Academic researchers, though they belong to such organizations like universities, generally make decisions as individuals, and research is conducted under such responsibility, including the contents of papers. In contrast, a person belonging to an organization like JICA is bound to the interests of the organization. These differences often arise in the specific actions of each party. Understanding and coordinating these differences is a challenge at times, but I believe this is an issue to be tackled in order to better-link research and front-line development aid.

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