Lessons from Japan: A story about IATSS Forum Leadership Training


Being selected as one of the participants from Indonesia in the leadership training held by IATSS Forum Japan was one of my proudest moments. This program has been conducted since 1985 and was initiated by Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor. I joined the 56th IATSS Forum Training Program back in 2016 and here’s my story.

There were a total of 19 young professionals from Japan and respected ASEAN countries who had the chance to learn in Japan for 55 days (September – November 2016). We spent most of our training days in Suzuka city – Mie Prefecture, although we also had a chance to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Iga and Toba to learn different topics and themes.

The forum provided opportunities for participants to understand each other’s countries through seminars, field studies, group study, and cultural exchange, as well as to make efforts to solve current issues in Asia and Japan, under the motto “Thinking and Learning Together.”

The selection for IATSS Forum was held in Jakarta in December 2015. There were 20 candidates from different provinces in Indonesia who passed the first screening and were invited to an interview. Before the interview, there was a role play and group work where all the candidates were closely observed by 9 assessors. They were the representative of Embassy of Japan, IATSS Forum Japan, Indonesia IATSS Forum Alumni, Astra Honda Motor, academic professor, and psychologist. The role play was designed to match the training in Japan.

The main theme of the training was Sustainable Community Design, in which all the participants learned the basic of sustainable communities. There was also introduction to different sustainable community design projects. Not only that, but we also learned about general themes, such as modernization, politics, urban planning, education, environment, and One Village One Product (OVOP). I loved the discussion and study about OVOP.

OVOP is a concept where the community help themselves to produce one competitive product in their own village as a business to gain sales revenue to improve the standard of living and prosperity in their community, while also preserving the environment. The community needs to be independent and creative in finding products with high added value.

What I remember the most about the lecture was the quote from former Oita Prefecture Governor, Morihiko Hiramatsu who said: “local government helps those who help themselves.” I think this is an important quote because he emphasized how important it was for the community to help themselves and change their living situation, instead of wishing for the government to help them have a better life.

The important issue of OVOP Implementation in Indonesia is the lack of understanding of OVOP philosophy. The characteristic of programs in Indonesia is the top-down policy (where the government initiates the project), in contrary to OVOP concept, which is bottom-up.

Working for the government, I notice that many of our programs were not successful in reaching the goals and helping the people in a community. Many times, we made a policy that was aimed to improve the life of people, but ended up failing in the process. From the program, I realize that creating a successful program for a community requires active participation and involvement of the community in the particular area.

Many Indonesians expect the government to make a ‘miraculous policy’ to help them overcome difficulties in life (poverty, employment, traffic, drugs, pollution). It will not work that way though. The government may have an initiative, however, the success and the failure of it would depend on the support of the community. The community plays an important part to run and oversee the process. They need to feel like they belong to the program. When the community has a sense of pride of what they are doing, they will work really hard to reach the goals. Now, the challenge is to make the people/ community aware of the role.

I learned so much from the IATSS Forum staffs and some Japanese people I met during my training, I admire their hard work, dedication and commitment to help nurture human resources for ASEAN region’s sustainable development. I learn about the value of time, the importance of planning, the prioritization of group harmony and the idea of respecting the nature and the people. The lesson I learned and the friendship I made with other Japanese and ASEAN participants in Japan will forever be engraved in my heart. I am also grateful for all the support I got from BAPPEBTI as well.

For more information about the program, please visit https://www.iatssforum.jp/en/