UNDP and Citi Foundation Mark Fifth Year of Empowering Japan's Youth through Youth Co:Lab


Tokyo - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation held Youth Co:Lab events in Japan for the fifth consecutive year in 2023; supporting young social entrepreneurs, with the aim of accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

The year-around Youth Co:Lab activities in Japan centered on the theme 'Youth-led Innovation: Acceleration and Nurturing'. As this year marks the halfway point to the deadline for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, these activities emphasized the need for even greater change to realize a world where 'no one is left behind'.  

Mainly, two types of events were delivered online. The first was Japan Dialogues: symposiums where experts and young entrepreneurs discussed ways to expand the involvement of government, civil society, and the private sector in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem.  The second event was the SDG entrepreneurship contest - Social Innovation Challenge Japan 2023, which aimed to support young people with innovative business ideas to solve social and environmental challenges.  

Japan Dialogues were held in September and October. The first Dialogue session, “For Social Entrepreneurs to Take the First Step - Let's Talk About the Future” focused on the phase of social entrepreneurship incubation. It discussed the topic of entrepreneurship education, drawing attention to the process of nurturing young entrepreneurs and innovators. 

The event was moderated by Nanoka Mizukado, a former participant and current operating member of StartupBase-U18, an entrepreneurship programme for high school students. At the event, Takuro Hamasaki from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) explained the government's initiatives and the definition of entrepreneurship education as "developing the ability to overcome challenges that lie ahead”. In addition, Himawari Motojima,  university student/ social entrepreneur, the founder of REF Project, and a winner of the Social Innovation Challenge Japan 2022 shared her business idea and her entrepreneurship journey from receiving entrepreneurship education since high school, Ayumi Fujimoto, the Representative Director of the Startup Ecosystem Association Japan and MEXT’s Ambassador for the Promotion of Entrepreneurial Education also shared her views on the current startup ecosystem in Japan and how to foster global entrepreneurs in Japan. As the first steps of becoming social entrepreneurs, the panellists discussed the importance of the ability to engage a wide range of people, taking advantage of opportunities that connect to the world and support that enables entrepreneurs to access the right information.  

The second Japan Dialogue session, " For Social Entrepreneurs to Spread Their Wings - Let’s Create the Future” was held in October. The event focused on the phases of starting their own businesses for social entrepreneurs. It focused on the perspectives of investors and the role of the government and the private sector.   

Sachiko Abe, Secretariat of the New Form of Capitalism Realization, the Cabinet Secretariat gave a short lecture on the Five-Year Startup Development Plan launched in 2022. The panel talk was followed and Yuka Tomizawa from the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry (METI) presented specific initiatives and policies for social entrepreneurs.  

Hayato Kano, the CEO of RelieFood Inc, a winner of the Social Innovation Challenge Japan 2022 and a high school student/social entrepreneur talked about the challenges and countermeasures when he started his business.
Daisuke Takatsuki, Principal of CVC Asia Pacific Japan (CVC), also shared his views on the important perspectives and actions for social entrepreneurs to grow. Moderated by Ms. Atsuko Inukai from Citi Group, various practical advice was shared for social entrepreneurs, which included the ability to communicate, to find the number two/teammates, and to take action by involving others.  

The final pitches for the Social Innovation Challenge Japan 2023 were held on 21 November. A total of around 30 national and international entries were received, and 8 finalists passed the first and second rounds.  

The finalists presented their SDG business ideas to the judges and an online audience of about 140 people. Based on this year's theme of 'Youth-led Innovation: Acceleration and Nurturing', a 'Youth Visionary Award’ was also presented, which focuses on young people's perspectives on the path to achieving the SDGs and beyond.  

The following six finalists, including a high school student, were selected as the winners of the Social Innovation Challenge Japan 2023.      

  • The Excellence Award & CVC Award: Moe Kaneko, Omohibito Co., Ltd, “Sylvernia: Providing Caregiver Support and Bringing Surprises and Hope to Careers.”  
  • The Scalability Award: Ken Tanaka, DelphiMed, “ChatGPT-based high-quality AI medical consultation system to overcome the shortage of healthcare providers and reduce global healthcare disparities”  
  • The Youth Visionary Award: 
    - Rihito Kotani,  “Glabel Japan” 
    - Hidemasa Takahashi, “HIM: Hydrogen Generation Project by Termites ~ Termites and Microorganisms Save Japan~”  
  • The Audience Award: Yuki Egawa, “Establishment of a sustainable marine plastic collection system using Marine Plastic MAP”  
  • The CVC Award: Tao Keitaro, TAO's NATIVE CHICKEN, “A native chicken restaurant that solves the poverty problem of Filipino farmers”        

Moe Kaneko, the Excellence Award and CVC Award winner, said: “I viewed these awards as recognition of society’s expectations concerning caregiving issues and will continue to work on this project so that carers can continue to support their loved ones positively.”    

The winners and finalists will have the opportunity to participate in an online pre-accelerator programme, the Springboard Programme (training), starting in February 2024, along with teams selected from 20 other countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. The teams who produce the best results in the programme will be able to showcase their business ideas at the Regional Youth Co:Lab Summit 2024 in the Philippines. 

About Youth Co:Lab:   
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship.  
https://www.youthcolab.org | Twitter: @YouthCoLab  | Facebook:@YouthCoLab   I Instagram: youthcolab | LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/youth-co-lab  

About UNDP:  
UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and the planet.   
www.undp.org | Facebook: @UNDP | Twitter: @UNDP   

About Citi: 
Citi is a preeminent banking partner for institutions with cross-border needs, a global leader in wealth management and a valued personal bank in its home market of the United States. Citi does business in nearly 160 countries and jurisdictions, providing corporations, governments, investors, institutions and individuals with a broad range of financial products and services.  
www.citigroup.jp | www.citigroup.com | Twitter: @Citi | YouTube: www.youtube.com/citi | Blog: http://blog.citigroup.com | Facebook: www.facebook.com/citi | LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/citi  

About Citi Foundation:    
The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant communities. The Citi Foundation's "More than Philanthropy" approach deploys the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit www.citifoundation.com.