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Japanese International Cooperation NGOs: Facts and Practices

Understanding Japanese NGOs from Facts and Practices, from which this summary is derived, was compiled by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in cooperation with the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC). The aim of the report is to better equip individuals working on the frontlines of JICA-NGO collaboration with an overview of Japanese NGOs, as well as providing an overview for overseas practitioners and researchers.

History and Background

It is generally agreed on that the beginning of Japanese international cooperation NGOs*1 can be traced back to a medical mission of Christian doctors and medical students sent to China in 1938. The mission, which provided care to refugees, was sent in response to damage caused by the Japanese military invasion. For the next 20 years or so, this work was disrupted because of the intensifying war and, in the post-war period, the need to reconstruct Japan itself.

At the end of the 1950s the participation of Japanese citizens in international voluntary aid was taken up again. The 1960s saw the birth of organizations that are still active today. During this same decade, many citizens’ groups were formed to address serious social issues that were emerging, namely labor, pollution, atomic/hydrogen bombs and security/military issues.

The 1970s saw continuing growth in the number of international cooperation NGOs, including some that undertook pioneering work in the areas of development and advocacy.*2 From this time through the late 1980s, the number of NGOs continued to increase rapidly, spurred in part by responses to the large number of refugees from Cambodia and Indochina during this period. Initially the focus of NGO activity was on emergency relief and the provision of goods, but later shifted to reconstruction, expanding to include support for self-reliance/self-help activities, facilitation of repatriation and assistance to internally displaced people. As NGOs expanded their areas of activity, their understanding of the structures of poverty in the South and affluence in the North deepened, spurring a rapid expansion in development education.

Throughout the 1980s, public interest in international issues grew, due in large part to media reports on events during this time that attracted worldwide attention, such as the famine in Africa and the beginning of international debates on global environmental issues. During this time many NGOs were established, including those specializing in collecting donations and providing financial support to NGOs working in social development, environment and conservation, and human rights. It was also during this decade that Japanese branches or partner organizations of international NGOs began to increase in number.

In the late 1980s, the need to share information and experience among NGOs grew as the number of such organizations increased. The Japanese NGO Center for International Cooperation (currently the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation - JANIC), the Kansai NGO Council and the Nagoya and the Third World Exchange Center (currently the Nagoya NGO Center) were established to develop wide networks bridging different fields. Since the late 1980s, network-type NGOs grouped by country/region or by area of activity have also emerged.

The 1990s saw the greatest number of newly established organizations. This growth occurred against a backdrop of world-shaking events that generated greater interest among citizens in world affairs and a sense of the need for international cooperation. Public opinion also began to increasingly support giving civic organizations juridical person status. The end of 1998 saw the Law to Promote Specified Non-Profit Activities put into effect, enabling many organizations to achieve greater social recognition as non-profit organizations.

Despite advancements made in the 1990s, the decade was also a difficult one as income from membership fees and donations, which had been steadily rising, stagnated as a result of the stalled economy. In the latter half of the 1990s, various governmental funds to support NGO work began to be made available as many NGOs experienced deteriorating financial conditions.

During the latter half of the 1990s, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began to strengthen its cooperation with NGOs. While cooperation between the government and NGOs has continued to develop, NGOs have also begun to revisit their relationship with government. This has included critical engagement towards ODA (Official Development Assistance), the strengthening of advocacy, and the presentation of alternatives to government and the business sector. In 1996, regular NGO-MOFA (Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs) meetings began, followed by regular NGO-JICA meetings and the NGO-JICA Reciprocal Training Program, which started in 1998. Japanese NGOs also began to take part in NGO networks that extend worldwide.

Since 2000, the number of new NGOs has been decreasing, due mostly to the fact that existing organizations have expanded to fill new areas of need. The scope of work done by NGOs continues to grow, as evidenced by increasing coordination and collaboration between the government, NGOs and international agencies, and the Hottokenai Sekai no Mazushisa (Don’t Let it Be ? World Poverty) campaign launched in 2005 in close coordination with GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

Program Characteristics

The fields of activity for international cooperation NGOs in Japan vary widely but can be roughly classified into four areas: development, environment, human rights, and peace. Among these areas, education/children, health care, vocational training, gender/women and reforestation are especially actively pursued, while areas such as democracy/good governance and peacebuilding are gaining greater attention.

The overwhelming majority of overseas activities are conducted in the field of education, followed by health care, vocational training, rural development and reforestation/forest conservation. The top target group is children, followed by women.

The top two overseas activities of the major programs of NGOs are financial assistance and the sending of personnel. For organizations of all budget sizes, these two areas comprise a large percentage of the budget. The ratio of financial assistance, however, is higher in organizations with budgets of less than 50 million yen (USD 472,000; EUR 298,000)*3 , while sending personnel is higher in those with budgets of 50 million yen or more. The reason for this is presumed to be that limited budgets make it difficult to send personnel overseas and that cooperation is therefore limited to providing financial assistance.

Emergency relief also represents a high percentage in organizations with budgets of 100 million yen or more, indicating that for organizations working with smaller budgets it may be difficult to engage in such activities. In general, the larger the budget size, the more diversified are the types of activity. Among the activities not limited to overseas or domestic activities, fair trade, advocacy and networking have an equal share of funding although for such programs it is very low.

Countries/Regions of Activities

Asia is the principal region where Japanese international cooperation NGOs work (200 organizations, or 70% of the total). This is followed by Africa (54 organizations), Latin America (23 organizations), the former Soviet Union/Eastern Europe (14 organizations) and Oceania (5). In Asia, many organizations work in the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, India and Thailand. In Africa the target regions are widely distributed rather than concentrated on certain regions with the major countries being Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and Ethiopia. The number of organizations working for Afghanistan has also significantly increased.

Citizens’ Participation

Of 277 organizations, 249 have individual membership systems. Members are divided into two broad categories. The first, referred to as members, are those who take varied but more active roles in the organization they support. Of this category, approximately half of the organizations surveyed have 300 or fewer members. The second category is individual donors or supporters, whose actions are limited primarily to financial support. Of these, ten NGOs represent 80 percent of the individual supporters/donors. Organizations with a large number of supporters/donors share the characteristics of having juridical person status and a Western NGO as their parent body. Many also have a foster parent program.


Overall income by NGOs for fiscal year 2009 was 27,501,109,751 yen. (approx. US $275,507,515 / US$ 1 = \99.8). The average was 122.7 million yen, and 18% of the total NGOs had budgets of 100 million yen or more, while those of 10 million yen or less were about 32%.

The combined budgets of the biggest 10 NGOs comprised more than half, or 57 percent, of the total budget of NGO sectors in 2009.

The largest source of revenue for NGOs in 2009 came from donations, which was about 60%. The breakdown of overall revenue was membership fees (6%), profits from fund management (0.4%), profits from independent programs (7%), revenue from commissioned programs (15%), revenue from funding agencies (9%), and other income (3%)

Sources of government funding were from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and local governments. Of MOFA funding sources, 24 NGOs received funding from “NGO Project Subsidy” in 2009, with a median of 14.9 million yen. Other governmental sources were the Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects by MOFA and the JICA Partnership Program, with amounts ranging from a few hundred thousand to 150 million yen received by over 10% of NGOs surveyed. Additionally, about 48 NGOs (or 17%) received funding from local governments. Such funds comprised 1% in terms of the total amount of funding.

Approximately 60% of the total budget expenditure was used for overseas programs in 2009, while 23% for domestic programs. Administrative expenses were 10% of the total.

Collaboration Between JICA and Japanese NGOs

JICA has worked to build better partnerships with Japanese NGOs since the launch of specific collaboration schemes in 1998. This has occurred through local projects in developing countries as well as through periodic meetings, trainings, and joint project evaluation.

JICA and Japanese NGOs hold regular NGO-JICA meetings every three months, with the aim of facilitating information exchange and enhancing mutual understanding. These meetings began in 1998 and continued after JICA became an independent administrative institution in 2002. Meeting participants include representatives of JANIC, the Nagoya NGO Center, and the Kansai NGO Council, as well as related sections from JICA and observers from MOFA, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and relevant NGOs.

An NGO-JICA Japan Desk is currently being set up. The main functions of the Desk will be support for in-country activities of Japanese NGOs and Japanese nationals, promotion of collaboration between Japanese and local NGOs, and promotion of collaboration between local NGOs and JICA programs.

For example cases of cooperation between Japanese NGOs and donor agencies, and for a more detailed account of the information in this summary, please reference the full report at:

Directory of Japanese NGOs

JANIC has servey Japanese NGOs since early beginnings of establishment. It contains poverty reduction, educational support, medical and healthcare services, environmental protection, relief and emergency assistance for refugees etc of their activities. Latest report of it inserted in JANIC's Japanese Website;
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We are hoping to see the widespread of some linkages and networks among Japanese NGOs and NGOs around the world through the use of this directory.

*1 In this document an “international cooperation NGO” is defined as a non-governmental, non-profit civic organization. “International cooperation” is defined as a set of activities to address global issues, whether within or outside of Japan. Also, similar to NGO is the term NPO (Non-Profit Organization). In Japan, the term NGO tends to be used to refer to civic organizations working in the field of international cooperation, while NPO describes organizations working at the community level inside the country.

*2 Such organizations include: Help Bangladesh Committee, later called Shapla Neer (Citizens’ Committee in Japan for Overseas Support), which undertook pioneering development work. The Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC), established in 1973, began pioneering advocacy-type work in Japan. Additionally, a Japanese branch of Amnesty International was established in 1970.

*3 Based on the exchange rate as of July 1-2, 2008.

*4 5 million yen equivalent to $47,200/?30,000; 10 million yen equivalent to $95,000/?60,000; 100 million yen equivalent to $945,000/?598,000 (July 2, 2008).

*5 The top ten organizations according to budget size in 2004 were: 1) Plan Japan, 2) World Vision Japan, 3) Medecins Sans Frontieres Japon, 4) Peace Winds Japan, 5) Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement, 6) WWF Japan, 7) Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning, 8) National Federation of UNESCO Associations in JAPAN, 9) Shanti Volunteer Association, and 10) Peshawar-kai.

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