AN agency launched to help social enterprises in Sunderland has been asked to help boost job opportunities in hard-pressed areas in Japan.
In a case of Far East meets West, a group of top officials from Japan travelled to Wearside on a fact-finding mission to find out how worker-owned businesses – social enterprises – can help create employment.
The group of 19 – made of up local government officials and business and community leaders from across Japan – arrived at SES in Hendon, keen to learn more.
SES is already well-known among Japanese academics for its expertise in starting and supporting social enterprises (employee-owned businesses) in hard-pressed areas in Sunderland and the North-East over the past 24 years, and has even been featured in publications produced by Tokyo University.
And the Japanese delegates spent half a day talking to staff at SES to learn more about setting up social enterprises and community enterprises, to help local regeneration across Japan.
Prof Ichiro Tsukamoto, from Meiji University in Japan, said: “SES is very well known in Japan for all the successful work it has achieved with social enterprises. Research groups from Japan have already been over to visit SES and published articles about what they have learned and we wanted to come back and learn more. In many ways, we face similar problems in Japan to what you have faced in Sunderland – we have jobless people in areas where there is not a major employer and we want to create new opportunities for people there. We want to learn more about the role of social enterprises in building strong, safe and prosperous communities in downtown areas of social exclusion in Japan, but on a partnership basis with the people who live there.”
The Japanese trip was organised by the Centre for Development of Power Supply Regions in Tokyo, which has a close relationship with government agencies in Japan. SES operations director Kevin Marquis said: “The relationship between Japan and SES goes back years now, ever since a Japanese academic got in touch to see how we boost grass-roots enterprise and tackle unemployment.
“For all our cultural differences, there are similarities between the North-East and parts of Japan in that in the past we have traditionally relied on major employers, whereas recently this has changed.
“At a community level, parts of Japan have issues similar to what we encountered in our recent industrial past and they are interested to learn from our experiences.”
After their sessions in Sunderland, the group went on to visit social enterprise organisations in Cumbria and London before returning to Japan.
SES director Mark Heskett-Saddington said: “We have built up quite a partnership over the years and some of our work in Sunderland and the North-East is used as case study material in Japan.”