Japanese alumni networks for knowledge exchange and business interests

AOTS Alumni Society Convention 2009. Photo: AOTS

By Annette Skovsted Hansen

Japan has since 1954 offered technical and management courses for professionals in the private and public sector.

So far more than one million highly educated professionals from the Global South have attended the courses in Japan. They have all been invited to stay in touch with their Japanese hosts and other alumni through formal alumni networks. Read about AOTS Alumni Societies

Alumni since 1965
Alumni, who first organized national alumni networks in their home countries – since 1965 – and later connected the national alumni societies to the host institution in Japan, established the formal networks.

Alumni newsletters originally in print and since 2008 electronically distributed, a Facebook group especially used by the younger alumni, and alumni conventions have offered formal channels for communication among alumni from different countries. See an example of the e-newsletter click here 

The fact that the alumni have formal channels through which they can communicate has enhanced the communication flow among them. In addition, it has enabled researchers and other stakeholders to easily connect to the Japanese alumni.

The knowledge exchange through the alumni networks focuses mainly on three areas: potential business collaboration, and concrete career opportunities  and education of family members.  

Business collaboration and career opportunities
For professional advancements the alumni networks have proved to be assets for the alumni and for their employers.

The professionals who have attended the same courses in Japan have a common understanding of specific subjects. This can for example be in Japanese technology and its maintenance, which inspire an export market. It can also be Japanese quality management, which prepares the ground for Japanese company investments and reliance on subcontractors in the home companies of the alumni. Read some of the success stories, click here 

For Japanese companies operating in numerous countries the benefits of having employees who share the same understanding of for example specific Japanese technologies or ways of managing quality is an advantage. It means that across national borders the employees have a common understanding on which to build cooperation interests. Furthermore, new ideas for cooperation can be easily and quickly shared through the network.

Personal advantages 
The alumni also often draw on the network for personal reasons such as looking for guidance for their children’s study-stay abroad or visiting other alumni’s home countries. In both cases, the alumni seek invaluable advice from other alumni in the countries of interest.

Taking the idea of alumni even further several of the national alumni societies have created a World Network of Friends (WNF) to conduct training courses for alumni from other countries.

Japan has since 1954 offered courses to professionals in 143 countries through its Official Development Assistance, ODA first through the Colombo Plan and later bilaterally through different ministries. Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, MeTI Japan has offered private sector technical and management courses since 1959. Japanese International Cooperation Agency, JICA and its forerunner has offered public management courses since 1962.

Annette Skovsted Hansen is an Associate Professor of Japanese and Global History at Aarhus University in Denmark. One of her current research topics is “Knowledge networks in Danish and Japanese development assistance. Email: ostash@cas.au.dk

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