Staff Interview: Hiroshi TANIYAMA (President*)

[Original by Yuka WATANABE & Haruka SHIMIZU, 2015 Public Relations Intern (October 15, 2015); Translated by Y. Nakamura/K. Takemura]

[*Mr. Taniyama retired the President of JVC in June 2018 and is now a member of the Board of Directors.]

Mr. Hiroshi Taniyama, JVC's president. He has written several books: "An Age of NGOs" (a joint author), "What will 'Proactive Contribution to Peace' bring about in the place of conflicts?" (editor and an author) and others.

Mr. Hiroshi Taniyama, JVC’s president. He has written several books: “An Age of NGOs” (a joint author), “What will ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’ bring about in the place of conflicts?” (editor and an author) and others.

How do you do, everybody? We are Haruka Shimizu and Yuka Watanabe, JVC public relations (PR) interns in 2015. We are helping the PR team from April, 2015 to March, 2016 and also simultaneously learning about international cooperation. There are many experienced and ardent staff in JVC for which we are working as interns. We have decided to post interview reports of staff on our blog, compiling their career up to now, the reasons why they joined JVC, and their character which only their close colleagues know. We would be very happy if you would read this report and understand persons working in NGOs.

The first memorable person to be interviewed is Mr. Hiroshi Taniyama, JVC’s president. He has been involved in various NGOs for many years. When he graduated from a postgraduate course, the name “NGO” was not very popular in Japan. He took contact with a number of NGOs, and after getting well informed, he had plunged into JVC.

He plays an absolutely active role as the face of JVC in Japan, and has a long experience as local staff in foreign countries. He spent one and a half year near the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Thereafter, he worked in Laos for three and a half years, returned to Thailand, stayed in Bangkok for one year, and then worked in Cambodia for two years. He returned back to Tokyo and took the position of General Secretary for eight years. Thereafter, he moved to Afghanistan and worked for four and a half years. After coming back to Tokyo, he has been appointed as JVC’s president. He is a man who has spent a long period (twelve years in total) at local scenes overseas.

What was your first opportunity for getting involved in international cooperation?

The first and direct opportunity was that I was affected by the misery of the situation when reading articles and books about Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees at the beginning of 1980’s.

I had heard, in various forms, of the situation that Cambodian refugees ran away to Thailand across a field of land mines to avoid a civil war, and also the shocking incidents that Vietnamese boat people escaped to the sea but their ships were wrecked or attacked by pirates. After knowing them, I wondered if I could do something.

I was most shocked at a news image that a Japanese tanker was passing by boat people, who escaped to the sea, drifted and asked for help. The tanker took no action to it! At that time, Japanese people were criticized for being “Economic animals”, because they were said to be only interested in money-making. I had been thinking that, even though neither the government nor corporations had been doing any assistance, a citizen must have something possible to do. Five years later, a serious famine in Africa became an international issue. I stopped hesitating and plunged into the world of NGO.

You have a long career, Mr. Taniyama. What do you think gives you the greatest satisfaction?

There are various people in the world, who have different nationalities, races, religions, cultures, and backgrounds. When I can have a real feeling of sharing sympathy with them in deep part of humanity, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. If you could have the same purpose, you can work together to accomplish it and have a feeling of “cooperating with each other”.

I had acknowledged at overseas sites that, however hard the living situation is, the human beings have a power of surviving. If we were able to cooperate with them and take full advantage of their powers, we could change the situation. Every staff in JVC have went through such experiences, and I think this really holds out hope to us. We can tell JVC’s experiences to many people with reality.

Please highlight a characteristic of what “no one but JVC can do” among many NGOs?

Mr. Taniyama talks with a mild expression, which relieves me of tension. (Watanabe)

Mr. Taniyama talks with a mild expression, which relieves me of tension. (Watanabe)

It is the primary core that we are not involved in doing a unilateral assistance from outside or top. We are strongly concerned about a form of involvement that is “working together and handling together”.
How could we deal with it together so that local residents concerned could solve problems? We would like to consistently hold on our stance of “handling together” in such trustworthy relationship that we could have an awareness of the same issue and a feeling of sympathy. That is why I think our activities at local scenes would go well.

Villagers in a local area are not wholly responsible for their problems or could not easily solve them solely by their efforts. All the problems have been not only caused locally, but also in relation to various things and incidents.
We are watching a problem together from a point near to its local scene and dealing with its solution together with local people. And also anytime we would not fail to take efforts in recognizing and securing a fundamental issue at its background. “Our attitude consistently concerned about the root of problems” is especially the characteristics that no one but JVC could have.

It means that we are being directly involved in local scenes and simultaneously trying to change the surrounding environments and conduct advocacies together with local activities. We are trying to collect small voices from local scene, which otherwise could hardly reach us, and conveying them to the society. There is something that a third party could do because they are not parties concerned. JVC will continue to take efforts to conduct advocacies from now on, and, if necessary, will like to act with an attitude of making a proposition to the society.

I heard recently that JVC had made a slogan that “Let us remove the center from the world”. What kind of role are you playing under this slogan, Mr. Taniyama?

This slogan has a very deep meaning. I think that this is a catch phrase best appropriate to the introduction of things that JVC is currently dealing with and will conduct from now on.

All the areas, where people are living in and fostering their lives, are considered as “centers of the world”. Any area in the world has a center, and, above all, we like to make centers all over the world. In today’s society, superiority, inferiority, or richness is measured with a single rule, and all the worlds are competing with each other for it. Whichever in a country, or in a company, they are deceiving or competing with each other across borders, and occasionally it has caused conflicts. It is the times that someone having wealth and authority becomes a center of the world.

There might have been a time when people felt it happy to compete for wealth and authority under a single rule. But now it has surely come to limits, because, for example, resources have been exhausted. The exhaustion of resources, the destruction of the environment, and the climate change are so serious that it is improbable that the world will continue to grow smoothly. In order to solve these problems, we should not scramble for resources towards one center, but we should think about the richness of securing resources in respective places (= centers). Otherwise, the earth would not survive, and conflicts would not cease.

We are sure that this slogan, “Let us remove the center from the world”, shall be best applicable to the themes of our activities: real richness, pride for building our future, abandonment of the thought of concentrating on a focus, and independence in each area. How could we make up our respective place of living to a center of the world? It is our role to think the way and practice it.

Would you give some advice to persons who want to do international cooperation?

First of all, you are advised not to narrowly consider international cooperation. When thinking about international cooperation, we are inclined to conjure up the images of going overseas to undertake direct assistance or participating in staff of assisting organizations like NGOs. However, there are various ways of involvement such as backing up its activities by becoming a volunteer or a member of organization. The direct assistance is not the only way for international cooperation. For example, there is advocacy to the government and corporations in order to remove causes of problems. There are also the development education and the education for global citizen, to think about the reasons why those overseas problems emerged. You are not advised to definitely say that overseas people are pitiful. You had better understand the facts that society, economy, politics, consumption, and life are mutually correlated. You can also organize occasions to learn these things together with other people. These are surely other kinds of international cooperation. It could be done easily in Japan without going overseas. You are advised to think about what kind of international cooperation would fit you, and what is the best way of involvement for you. Reading this blog and getting knowledge are also an international cooperation. (laughing) Learn and, if possible, tell it to persons around you.

If you would like to actually conduct activities at overseas scenes after thinking in many ways, you are better to jump in a scene by taking advantage of every chance. Don’t think that you can change something even if you jump in. It is impossible to do something helpful without knowing local people and areas. It is most important to have a stance of learning from people living at local sites. Otherwise, it would become “a nuisance”.

Finally, please share your very best photo!

South Africa (2009). Mr. Taniyama’s delightful face was impressive when he explained the photo. (Watanabe)

South Africa (2009). Mr. Taniyama’s delightful face was impressive when he explained the photo. (Watanabe)

When I went to investigate the JVC’s project of protecting and enlightening activities about HIV/AIDs in the state of Limpopo, South Africa, and having a meal at a restaurant in a village, many children gathered around. Carefree faces of children always help me.

[Our impression after interview]

Mr. Taniyama is always busy working, and his gallant impression is strong in events and the like. I could see his various expressions, such as a severe expression at talking about actual situations at local scenes, a serious look at giving advice, and a mild and gentle smile at introducing the very best photo. I felt his eagerness on work when he zealously talked about international cooperation, in which he has long been involved. (YW)

His title of president probably made me feel awesome, but Mr. Taniyama always talked to me frankly. After interviewing him, I found his pride and eagerness on international cooperation and JVC. Also, I could acknowledge that he was not only “nice-looking” like ordinary, but gentle and mild. (HS)

[Notice for next time!]

Mr. Taniyama draws this portrait of "someone". Who do you guess?

Mr. Taniyama draws this portrait of “someone”. Who do you guess?

Next time, we are interviewing a staff member, who, as Mr. Taniyama explained, is extraordinarily patient and has pride endorsed with faith. Don’t miss it!

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