CSR initiative exceeds goals, promotes young people’s career development
- Books for Smiles has raised over ¥8.5mn since campaign start
- More than 50 BCCJ member companies donated
- Four care-leavers supported in multi-year programmes
The Books for Smiles programme has proved a brilliant success since its inception at the end of 2012, as the brainchild of former British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s (BCCJ) executive committee member Yayoi Sogo.
More than 50 member companies and individuals have pledged support, and the total amount raised is now more than 14 times the original target.
The programme invites firms of all sizes across all industry sectors to support the professional development of Japan’s disadvantaged youth by donating books. All proceeds from the sale of second-hand books are used to provide tuition for young people leaving welfare facilities in Japan.
Books for Smiles is run by the BCCJ in partnership with Bridge for Smile (www.b4s.jp/en/), a certified non-profit organisation that teaches care-leavers how to build social skills, manage a budget, find accommodation and get a job.
Oakwood Tokyo was a key contributor to the campaign.
“When I introduced this project to all of Oakwood’s eight properties in Tokyo, I was not expecting that we would receive and donate so many books, not just from our residents, but from our staff as well. I realised that many of our employees wanted to do something for charity. We were always concerned about throwing away books guests had left in their apartments, so some of our employees suggested this would be a great opportunity to recycle these items”, said Executive Assistant Manager Tamaki Okoshi.
After putting up posters about the project, Oakwood received a strong response from residents. Many of them commented on how they were happy to lend non-monetary support to those in need, even in a small way.
The most significant outcome has been “helping give positive career opportunities and a brighter future to children and teenagers”, Okoshi said.
David Bickle, a director at Deloitte and member of the BCCJ Community Taskforce, said, “By involving as many BCCJ member firms and supporters as possible—especially those with limited access to corporate social responsibility [CSR] opportunities—Books for Smiles leverages our combined effort to reinforce the position of British business as a stable and committed partner of the local community in Japan”.
BCCJ member firms have also contributed resourceful ideas and boosted project funding by matching book donations with cash from staff, donating gift vouchers that have lain dormant at their offices, and hosting fundraising events.Such events have included a book rally at an art gallery in March 2013, a Drinks Night at the residence of Unilever Japan CEO Ray Bremner in June 2013, as well as Walk For Smiles, a tour run by Walk Japan this March.
Paul Christie, CEO of Walk Japan, commented, “We became involved because we could use our skills to do something interesting for participants, while also allowing the BCCJ to raise money for its charity.
“Walk Japan has it own CSR programme [the Community Project in Kunisaki, Oita Prefecture], where we are helping to revive a hamlet suffering from the two serious problems of a declining and an ageing society. Walk for Smiles has allowed us to contribute to society outside our usual CSR activities”.
The day out raised ¥170,000 to benefit Books for Smiles.
“I hope we have also proved that Tokyo is a much more interesting city than most residents of the capital may realise”, Christie added.
The original Books for Smiles target was ¥600,000. Now, the total exceeds ¥8.5mn, with sufficient funds to cover three to four years of higher education expenses for at least four care-leavers.
Pearson Japan K.K. has also been an exceptionally generous supporter of the project. In line with its mission to help people make measurable progress in their lives through learning, Pearson donated over 200,000 books to Books for Smiles. This alone helped generate ¥6.5mn in funding, helping to facilitate vocational training for the recipient care-leavers.
When choosing projects with which to become involved, Pearson looks to work with organisations that have a strong focus on educational outcomes.
“As the Books for Smiles programme has very clear goals with regard to helping disadvantaged youth improve their lives through education, we felt that this was an initiative to which we should give our full support”, said Brendan Delahunty, president and representative director.
The CSR programme has been extended to support care-leavers in not only Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, but also the Tohoku region.
Atsushi Kamata of Bridge for Smile said, “Books for Smiles donations from BCCJ members enable us to focus on not solely fundraising, but also prioritising our core mission: supporting those leaving care to establish independent living and working arrangements”.
Books for Smiles has proved to be a springboard for BCCJ members to customise their own CSR initiatives in line with their business.
Grand Hyatt Tokyo organised an internship for Sara, who came from one of the care-homes supported by the programme. The hotel was happy to help by providing hands-on training and experience.
During her internship, Sara learned the basics of hotel operations, including daily briefings, the Hyatt mission and vision, the importance of personal grooming, interacting with guests, and housekeeping standards.
Christiane Ferger, executive assistant manager, rooms division, said, “[Sara] was particularly interested in seeing how we organise the back-of-house operation. For Grand Hyatt Tokyo, it is important to assist young people with figuring out what career they would like”.
Ferger believes the experience and relationships developed, as well as the exposure to a working hotel to gain a wider understanding of its structure and organisation, were significant outcomes of the internship.
As Books for Smiles continues to grow, special thanks go out to Yayoi Sogo for her devoted efforts as the catalyst for this initiative. In her words, “The key to the long-term success of this project is to garner support from as wide a base as possible—it’s easy to participate, and a steady stream of small and large donations from individuals, SMEs and large enterprises will provide the stable pool of funds needed to support tuition fees going forward”.