September 2022

Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.

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Interviews organizations and people about their activities and initiatives in support of foreigners, international exchange and interculturalism.

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace

~ Solving Social Issues Through Three Projects Aimed at Equal Opportunities ~

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
Ms. Yiqun Gong is the second co-president of Living in Peace. She works for an IT company during the day.

Assembling Japan's first microfinance fund, supporting the future of children in difficult living conditions, and accompanying refugees with their children who have fled to Japan from their home countries to seize hope for their lives and a chance for the future. The certified nonprofit organization Living in Peace (hereafter: Living in Peace) is involved in a wide variety of activities. We interviewed Ms. Yiqun Gong, president of this organization where ordinary urban workers get together and aim to make a difference in society while continuing to do their day jobs.

Through a Microfinance Fund in Southeast Asia and Other Regions Supporting Poverty Reduction and Stable Livelihoods in Southeast Asia and Other Regions

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
Since all members of staff have jobs, the office is located in a shared office in the center of Tokyo, where everyone can easily gather.

Living in Peace currently has about 170 staff members. It began as a study group of about 10 members. As they held monthly study sessions on Jeffrey Sachs' famous book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, they realized that microfinance methods could lead to poverty reduction. Then, in 2009, they launched their Microfinance Project, the first investment fund in Japan to support microfinance institutions. Living in Peace works to provide small loans, savings, and other services to people who are in poverty and do not have access to financial services such as deposits or loans; helping them to live on their own and ultimately to reduce poverty and solve poverty issues. Starting from there, they expanded their operations to Children's Projects and Refugee Projects. And, they now continue to engage in a wide range of activities in Japan and abroad with these three pillars; including microfinance projects. Although the three projects may seem disconnected, they share a common thread of “inequality of opportunity” that cannot be changed through the efforts of the individuals concerned. With the vision of “opportunity for all,” Living in Peace is committed to eliminating “inequality of opportunity” in the world, and proactively approaches issues that need to be addressed.

Children Project Providing "Equal Opportunities" For All Children

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
Lip-Kitchen, a children's cafeteria run by Living in Peace, was held in June 2022, for the first time in about a year and a half.

Children Project offers a wide range of generous programs, including scholarship programs to support higher education, career programs for children's future, recovery support for both abused children and abusive parents, a children's cafeteria, support for children who grew up in foster families, support for single-parent families, and support for the rebuilding of children's care facilities. “There are many children in Japan, including those in social care, who are exposed to unequal opportunities. The project was launched by members who wanted to work on solving such social issues. And, through their volunteer activities at children’s facilities, they thought of ways to provide the support that they could provide even while they were working.” Since the start of the project, the staff members have discussed matters and flexibly adapted their activities to the changing social situation. Children Project also encompasses the thoughts and feelings of each staff member.
“The issue of children is connected to our vision of ‘opportunity for all.’ The founder, Taejun Shin, is a third-generation Korean resident in Japan, and I am an immigrant who was born in Shanghai, then raised in Japan. No one can choose their birthplace or parents, can they? The same goes for children in social care. That's why we want to provide equal opportunities (for children) in terms of education and choices for their future careers.”

Refugees in Hardship in Japan

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
Living in Peace is offering “LIP-Learning,” which provides employment assistance to refugees - and skill support such as Japanese language abilities - to realize “equal opportunities for refugees”.

Living in Peace has been researching domestic issues since 2016 as part of its microfinance project. They found that one of the types of people who have the most difficulty borrowing money from Japanese banks are refugees who have fled to Japan, especially those who are in the process of applying for refugee status.
The rate of people being accepted for refugee status in Japan has always been quite low, with only about 15,000 people, including Indochinese refugees, recognized so far. People applying for refugee status must continue to live on their 6-month designated activities visa. If they are recognized as refugees, settlement is possible, and then a program of language study - as well as a work environment - can be established. However, employment is also difficult for those applying for refugee status - as they may not be in Japan six months from now - thus, getting a job is the biggest challenge for them.
“Many refugees have a strong desire to get a secure job. Many organizations work on getting recognition for refugee status from a legal standpoint, but there have been very few that support employment.”
This is how Living in Peace launched its Refugee Project in 2018, which focuses on providing employment support to help refugees become self-reliant, and also includes support to improve their Japanese language skills, as well as other skills. Since 2020, Living in Peace has also been conducting joint research with the University of Tokyo on the employment of refugees and second-generation immigrants, as well as the challenges that companies face in hiring them. Ms. Gong says that refugees and their children, who are exposed to cultural diversity with daily challenges, have the potential of significant value. Living in Peace would like to create benchmarks for companies to understand their value.
Ms. Gong also feels that recently there has been an increase in awareness of, and interest in, the term “refugee” in Japan. Similarly to many Japanese, Ms. Gong herself used to know very little about refugees. She feels that both the government and the administration have been motivated by the growing public interest in “refugees,” who until now have not been encountered or well-known, due to the low recognition rate of refugee status. This, she says, has led to the extensive support given to Ukrainian evacuees.

Pro Bono Organization Where None of the Staff Members are Paid

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
Weekly meetings are also held on each project, sometimes lasting until midnight or so.

Living in Peace has another significant feature. With the hope of changing society as they work, all staff members, including the president, have other main jobs. And, there are no full-time staff or employees. Their activities take place on weekday evenings - and weekends - when members have days off. Ms. Gong says that there are social contributions that can be made while working.
“Like, for example, in the days of Napoleon, when there was one hero who changed something in a revolutionary way…we no longer live in a time when that kind of thing would be created.”
It is not someone special who changes society, but we who constitute society. It is each of us who works in an ordinary way that will change it together. This concept has been maintained since the establishment of Living in Peace. Ms. Gong is herself an IT-related company employee. Other diverse staff members include consultants, doctors, mothers raising children, university students, and retirees; all of whom are able to utilize their strengths and participate in the NPO’s activities.
“If more and more people would use their time for the good of society, even if it is only 1% or 2%, society would change drastically. Living in Peace would like to be a platform to consolidate such small thoughts of people and turn them into a great power.”
Ms. Gong says that she will be in a meeting remotely from 9:00 p.m. today, as well. Each member of the team is strongly committed to donating their time to help solve social issues.

Living in Peace - Evolving According to Changes in Society

Certified NPO organization Living in Peace
On the walls of this room, hang photographs of the activities of microfinance institutions that Living in Peace supports in Myanmar.

“Our strength at Living in Peace is that no one is hired, so we can take risks. We can take on challenges and make up-front investments in projects which we would be the first to undertake in Japan. We would like to take advantage of our strengths, take on the challenge of projects that each of us wants to do, and solve social issues.”
Ms. Gong says that Living in Peace intends to continue to ambitiously launch and revise its operations according to given social situations. However, she also feels that there is a limit to what a single organization can do. “There have been a lot of talks recently about the creation of consortiums, and collective impact, but we are thinking about working with various organizations and companies - rather than just Living in Peace - for any given project,” says Ms. Gong.
Lastly, we asked Living in Peace where we should start when we think we want to make a difference in our society.
“Instead of just being critical of our realizations - formative experiences - in our own lives, (we should) try to take action to change the current situation. I think it is very important to find people who are working on similar issues, read articles, and try to face (those realizations).”
Motivated by their awareness, kindred spirits have gathered at Living in Peace. The activities that are being produced by this group are steadily making a difference in society.
Society is something that "we" change, not "someone else". What kind of society would you like Japan to be in the future?

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