Giving back: Eight innovative philanthropists around the world

6. Helping orphans of the storm

Takehiko Kambayashi
Chikara Funabashi, Japanese philanthropist, is pictured.

Chikara Funabashi, Japan

It was only three days after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami had devastated northeastern Japan in one of the nation's worst natural disasters. Chikara Funabashi, an education consultant, was on a Skype call with three business leaders about what they could do. It was midnight.

Within 90 minutes, the group decided to establish a charity to help young people in the disaster-stricken areas to become future global leaders. The charity, Beyond Tomorrow, provides mentors, leadership training, and scholarships for up to four years for high school and university students orphaned or seriously affected by the calamity.

Since its inception in June 2011, the program has also sent some students to meetings and study tours in China and cities in the United States.

"These young people learn like a sponge," says Mr. Funabashi, one of Beyond Tomorrow's four co-chairpersons and founder and chairman of the education consultancy WiLL Seed in Tokyo. "We can see them grow and change in a matter of a few days."

Funabashi also spent the first two weeks after the disaster fundraising for the region. "I was fully aware the company [WiLL Seed] was also in a difficult situation soon after the disaster," says Funabashi. "But it would not go under and our employees were not going to die. In the disaster-hit region, however, many people might die without relief supplies."

Funabashi's charitable impulses are rooted in his upbringing. He was influenced by the teachings of his parents, devout Roman Catholics, who hoped he would become a teacher or priest.

"My parents were very strict and frugal, despite their affluence, and used to tell me to do things that benefit society," he says.

Funabashi spent his childhood in Buenos Aires and his high school years in São Paulo, Brazil. His parents counseled him to be independent and always aware of the world around him. He was involved in volunteer activities in some impoverished areas while living abroad.

He encountered some prejudice at home and abroad, which has also shaped his outlook. His family's religious background and years of living overseas made him feel out of place in Japan. Because of such experiences, he tends to feel empathy for minorities, he says.

His time living abroad has made Funabashi keenly aware of the need to bring changes to Japan's educational system, which puts more emphasis on rote memorization than discussion and critical thinking. After working at trading house ITOCHU Corp for six years, he established WiLL Seed in 2000, which provides experience-centered education to elementary and middle schools and human resources development programs to companies.

Funabashi also has been involved in other charitable organizations, such as Table For Two (helping resolve world hunger and obesity), Sweet Treat 311 (providing food and education in disaster-afflicted areas), and Gift (nurturing internationally oriented human resources).

The consultant says Japan is an affluent country, but few people are interested in social issues and world poverty. While hoping more people will become involved in giving, Funabashi says his involvement has enriched him. "I've learned a great deal," he says, "and I'm still learning."

Others are, too. Hiromi Meguro is a first-year student at Tohoku University of Community Service and Science in Sakata, Yamagata. Her family's house in Fukushima was swept away by the tsunami, and her father lost his job.

"I wouldn't have made it to a university without support from Beyond Tomorrow," says Ms. Meguro, a scholarship recipient. "As many of its mentors work at home and abroad, how they look at the world is so different. They have inspired me."

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