Phillida Purvis MBE is Director of Links Japan, which she founded in 1998 to promote non-profit and non-governmental sector exchanges between the UK and Japan.
I did not choose to go to Japan – it was chosen for me. As a result of a language aptitude test (in Kurdish!) the FCO sent me to study Japanese, at SOAS and in Kamakura. After diplomatic postings in Tokyo and Singapore I returned to Japan to experience life as a teacher, of international relations at a private university and as a student again – at Tokyo University – of Japan’s role in the resolution of the Cambodia conflict. For the first time I met the original Japanese NGOs and understood their impact on Japanese aid policy. I also met a wide range of community organisations while trying to find residential placements for young British volunteers. On an informal basis, I started sharing information between these voluntary organisations and counterparts in the UK. Believing in the value of these links, and in the role of the non-governmental sector in addressing the needs of people facing the greatest social challenges both in our own societies and in the least developed countries, I organised more formal exchanges while running programmes at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. Finally, finding no other organisation or individual focusing solely on this field, I committed to it full time and set up Links Japan in 1998.
Over the years Links Japan has partnered with dozens of voluntary and community groups – national and local – all around the UK, the EU and Japan, bringing them together to share ideas and experiences on good practice and good strategy in meeting their charitable objectives, in ways which are beyond the scope or interest of government, businesses and families and, often, to engage in joint projects. It has been a fascinating journey encompassing an extraordinarily diverse range of issues, some in one-off projects, such as the voluntary sector Compact, management, special educational needs teaching in school, bullying, domestic violence, rights-based approaches to development. Others have been taken up over the longer term: governance, accountability, fundraising, community regeneration, building community based partnerships with developing countries, homelessness, citizenship education, volunteering, care of the aged and employment of people with disability. Predominant themes for Links Japan over the last few years have been: the development of social enterprise, social finance required to start such enterprises and, underlying both, social innovation across all sectors.I have had fifteen years of fun with so many inspirational ‘good people’ who are working to make a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged. To discover if the effort of those people has been worthwhile, ask any Japanese whether they would like to see NPOs or NGOs more involved in the delivery of public services. As for the effort of Links Japan – who can say? For my part, after a thirty year involvement, including ten years’ residence, I can say that I never cease to be surprised by Japan!
More information on the work of Links Japan here