More than support: creating profitable businesses in Ishinomaki

Speaker: Takuya HASEGAWA

Yahoo Japan Recovery Support Office

Takuya Hasegawa

– Yahoo Japan is assisting in the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami in various ways, one being its involvement in an online department store ( products from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Yahoo Japan launched a site dedicated to assisting in the recovery on March 12, 2011, the day after the earthquake struck, and there were already moves to set it up the previous evening. Staff from various lines of service gathered after the earthquake and discussed what it was that we as an internet company could do.

We started off by auctioning goods donated by celebrities but I noticed a change after a while brought about by feedback from Yahoo Japan customers and people in the disaster-affected areas. Customers began to offer goods of their own for auction and so we started a system in which anyone could donate goods, with the proceeds going to those in affected areas.

The online department store, which is one of Yahoo Japan’s main support activities, was also developed in response to local feedback which indicated the need for support of local business and industry.

I’ve had a fondness for the Tohoku region that goes back quite some time. When the disaster struck I felt I had to do something and started to take action before planning things out. Before long I had met a lot of people, and arrived at where I am today. The change in CEO this April for Yahoo Japan was also a turning point. Manabu Miyasaka became the CEO and Yahoo Japan announced its new vision that it would become an engine for problem-solving. Afterwards we established a section that focuses on support of the recovery, which is a major issue facing Japan today.

– That section is the Recovery Support Office. What kind of work is it involved in exactly?

Basically it is a section which works on addressing the complex issue that is recovery, making use of our strength i.e. information technology. We aim to help businesses become sustainable, so that support is not short-term but continued, and does not end as a form of Corporate Social Responsibility. There is a general awareness of the need to build viable businesses in the affected areas. We believe we need to first assist support like the online department store to become profitable as a business, and create a successful example of such support. CEO Miyasaka tells us that if Yahoo Japan can’t make it profitable then no other company can, and tells us to get out there and lead the support from Japanese companies.

To realize this we opened the Yahoo Ishinomaki Recovery Base on July 30. By working more closely with the local community we want to make the office a base, in line with the name, for addressing the issues. We want to make it a communal working space where many locals and people from other areas can work on various issues together, leading to results.

– What kind of businesses do you plan on starting in Ishinomaki?

First we are focusing on two main areas of online retailing and information sharing, based on building local communities, branding of local products, improving IT literacy and so on.

With regard to online retailing, we hope to connect suppliers with consumers on a more individual level rather than employing a model of mass production and consumption. First we want shop staff to be aware of the differences of selling on the internet from selling in-store, and then we want to think together with them about new ways to sell products online. For example there are a lot of people in Ishinomaki who can talk passionately about seafood. We want to deliver their thoughts and knowledge together with the product. We feel we need to work together with suppliers on their branding strategy and product development from now on, rather than simply providing a platform for them to conduct online business. I’d like to see a service start soon that involves the telling of a story while seafood is delivered on a regular basis.

As for information sharing, the first thing we’d like to do is help other organizations with their releases of information. The Yahoo Ishinomaki Recovery Base is actually located on the first floor of the building in which the Kahoku Shimpo Newspaper has their Ishinomaki office. We think that working with them as well might produce results and we often discuss what could be done in a collaboration between the internet and newspapers. As I mentioned before we plan to make our office a communal working space where people from other areas can work and members of the local community can co-operate together. We will think about how information gathered there can be conveyed and put to use.

– What are your goals in terms of recovery?

Our section strives to create new business in the name of recovery. We are not attempting to “restore” things to how they were the day before the earthquake, but rather we aim to develop local communities by creating a model for sustainable business. I think one of our goals is to apply this successful model so that it can be used to address issues nationwide.


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