an illustration conveying the importance of investing in emerging markets

Confirmation Bias

We all subconsciously collect information that reinforces our preconceptions. It's natural . . . but it does lead to a kind of flawed decision-making called confirmation bias. To become more objective and impartial, check out this course from GLOBIS Unlimited!

An Investor's Lesson to Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs have the power to transform societies for the better. But how do you attract investors to start or grow a business? Or to sell one? Check out this seminar for the answers to these and more, straight from a master venture capitalist!

Managerial Accounting

Managerial accounting is a powerful way to measure progress, identify problems, and meet your goals. Check out this course to learn how data-backed decisions can help you run your business.

Finance Basics: 1

For a healthy mix of quantitative planning, evaluation, and management, you need solid decision-making. And finance is the secret sauce! Get the essentials of finance in this two-part course from GLOBIS Unlimited.

Basic Accounting: Financial Analysis

Want to compare your performance vs. a competitor? Or evaluate a potential vendor? Then you'll need to conduct a financial analysis. This course will teach you how to use three financial statements and evaluate financial performance in terms of profitability, efficiency, soundness, growth, and overall strength.

Career Anchors

What drives you to be good at your job?

Career anchors are based on your values, desires, motivations, and abilities. They are the immovable parts of your professional self-image that guide you throughout your career journey.

Try this short GLOBIS Unlimited course to identify which of the eight career anchors is yours!

Digital Marketing Psychology to Transform Your Business

How does digital marketing really differ from traditional marketing? How is social media changing things really? And what's going on in Asia?

Pyramid Structure

Having the pyramid structure in your communication toolkit can not only help you approach a problem, but convince others that your solution is valid. Break away from linear thinking and test your logical thinking with this course from GLOBIS Unlimited!

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

AI First Companies – Implementation and Impact

AI is changing the way companies operate. How do you structure teams to increase efficiency?

Technovate in the Era of Industry 4.0

Is Industry 4.0 is the next step of human evolution human civilization? Dr. Jorge Calvo seems to think so. Join him to learn how the past can help you set goals for an exciting future of digital innovation.

Technovate Thinking

Business leaders of tomorrow need to harness the power of technology and innovation. That means understanding algorithms and how they drive business results. Discover opportunities to make technology work for your competitive edge.

Product Life Cycle

Every product takes a natural course through the market—there's a how, when, and why customers adopt products at different stages. Check out this course from GLOBIS Unlimited to find out how a product you use every day is part of this cycle.

Logic Tree

Logical thinking is the most valuable asset any business professional can have. That's why logic trees are such a valuable tool—they can help you identify a problem, break it down, and build it back up to a solution.

MECE Principle

Using the MECE principle can help ensure you categorize without gaps or overlaps. Check out this course from GLOBIS Unlimited for a practical demonstration of how it works!

It’s Friday afternoon. You’re just finishing up your work for the day and already looking forward to the weekend. The radio suddenly crackles beside you—an incoming message from a colleague in the field.

A frantic voice calls out to you. Followed by gunshots.

This might sound like the opening sequence to a Hollywood film, but for Tomohiro Kuwabara, it really happened—in fact, it’s what he signed up for.

While traveling the Middle East during college, Kuwabara, now a deputy director of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), discovered his personal mission to support emerging markets in some of the world’s most turbulent environments. War, famine, and failing infrastructure were just a few obstacles he would face.

We spoke to him about how he turns career challenges, a passion for education, and even a GLOBIS MBA into meaningful global impact.

Tomohiro Kuwabara and Sadako Ogata, two important figures in the development and support of emerging markets.
Mr. Tomohiro Kuwabara and Ms. Sadako Ogata

Learning Trust from a Military Coup

Insights: You’ve had some harrowing experiences in your career with JICA. Could you tell us about that?

Kuwabara: Absolutely. After five years of working in JICA’s Tokyo office, I had just taken my first foreign assignment in South Sudan. At around 5:00pm on Friday, July 8, 2016, I received a frantic message from a consultant over the radio reporting that they were hearing “gunshot-like sounds.” The next thing I knew, gunfire was roaring into my ears.

That was the beginning of large-scale conflict between the government of South Sudan and its opposition. It broke out suddenly and simultaneously in the center of Juba, the capital. Local mobile networks went down. The only evacuation route, Juba Airport, was quickly closed. Our office didn’t have much: just two bullet-proof vehicles, satellite phones, radios, and a few (unarmed) guards.

Over the next five days, under the supervision of our director, my five colleagues and I worked to ensure the safety of the ninety JICA-contracted personnel scattered across the country.

Insights: That sounds terrifying. Did the experience impact your desire to work overseas? 

Kuwabara: It was indeed terrifying. Our vehicle was shot as we made our escape. It was a close call–but we survived thanks to the quick thinking of my security advisor.

After that, I did decide to relocate and be with my wife, who also works for JICA. I took a year off to join her in Bolivia, where she was assigned. I actually completed about half of my GLOBIS MBA during that time.

That said, I never considered leaving JICA because I always knew these things could happen. Even right before my assignment, some of my colleagues evacuated South Sudan due to violence. But I wanted to work in the most challenging overseas JICA office, and that was South Sudan.

Insights: What did you take away from that experience?

Kuwabara: The importance of trusting people with their boots on the ground. In a life-threatening emergency, what we really needed was trust and encouragement from Tokyo—but we couldn’t get that. In that moment, there was nothing management could do except trust their people.

And everything turned out all right because they did just that.

Graduate students from South Sudan after arriving in Tokyo as part of an emerging markets support program.
Students from South Sudan after arriving in Japan.

Building Bridges of Trust

Insights: Did you always envision yourself working with emerging markets?

Kuwabara: Yes, I’ve always dreamt of working in the realm of international development. There are two major reasons.

First, I’m passionate about assisting emerging markets around the world that are affected by complex issues like hunger, poverty, conflict, or inequality.

Second, I was inspired by Ms. Sadako Ogata, the eight high commissioner for refugees in UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. I first discovered her work while I was traveling throughout the Middle East in college. After I read her book, she quickly became my role model. She has made great humanitarian contributions, and it’s thanks to her that I’m now working at JICA myself.       

Insights: Can you give us a rundown on the work you’re doing now?

Kuwabara: I’m back in Tokyo, working on building partnerships with Japanese firms to make an impact on emerging countries. More specifically, with JICA, I help companies conduct feasibility studies in target markets to enhance the product-market-fit.

Insights: Can you give us an example?

Kuwabara: Sure. One of my clients is Aster, a start-up founded by Tokyo University alumni. They invented an earthquake-resistant paint called Power Coating with the goal to build a safer world against natural disasters.

Aster’s target market, the Philippines, is susceptible to catastrophic earthquakes, and many buildings are formed with masonry construction. So clearly, the need for this product is quite high. But neither the effectiveness of Power Coating nor its verification by Tokyo University research was enough to gain the trust of the target customer: the Philippine government.

This is where we come in. We, of course, provide financial support—but we’re also able to leverage JICA’s reputation. Emerging markets know us, so we can help garner trust and encourage cooperation between Japanese businesses and government bodies.

Bringing a Future to Emerging Markets through Education

Insights: You’ve had quite an eventful career. What do you consider to be your biggest success so far?

Kuwabara: Together with my local staff and under the supervision of my country director, I brought a JICA scholarship program to South Sudan. The program is called the African Business Education Initiative for Youth. It aims to strengthen business ties between Japan and African countries by providing a thousand young Africans with the opportunity to earn a post-graduate degree in Japan over ten years.

Even after the civil war in 2016, when the country was still very much in a state of emergency, eleven bright youths from South Sudan were sent to Japanese graduate schools through this program.

Insights: A civil war and state of emergency are pretty big obstacles. Why didn’t you decide to wait until things calmed down?

Kuwabara: I was passionate about starting and managing this program because the business environment in South Sudan was extremely challenging. For example, the literacy rate when we started was 27%—one of the lowest in the world. Now, the World Bank puts the literacy rate among adults at 35%.

Insights: So how did you approach such a challenging project?

Kuwabara: When working with my two South Sudanese staff members, I always made sure we shared the same goal. Our day-to-day work entailed wrestling with endless paperwork and ringing phones, but I made sure to encourage them: “This work will improve the future of South Sudan!”

I also always made sure to listen to their opinions before making important decisions. When they proposed relevant ideas, we moved on them. When our ideas clashed, we exchanged opinions until we reached a mutual conclusion. I believe this approach helped to build a trusting relationship and a strong team.

And eventually, in September 2016, those eleven youths from South Sudan arrived in Tokyo.

Next Article

The Cross-Culture Competency Quiz: Are You Ready to Join the Global Community?

Cross-cultural awareness is shaping up to be one of the most important skills for future leaders and global citizens. Test your competency!
Illustration of a man sitting on a smartphone looking up at a projection of cross-cultural flags

3 Ways to Globalize Your Career Impact from Anywhere

Want to globalize your career impact? It IS possible, as long as you commit to these 3 things.
Young man holds a globe of the world with a sun flare across his arm and a green field in the background

After Searching the Globe, Star Educator Finds Purpose at Home

Early in our career, we often find ourselves doing jobs we never envisioned in places we never imagined. This is how one man learned his career experiences were all connected.
6 Saturday Kids employees smile for the camera

Finding Purpose in a Turbulent World

Insights: How did you get from being one of those “boots on the ground” in Africa to your current role?

Kuwabara: One day in Tokyo in May 2017, after I evacuated from South Sudan, my supervisor told me, “Ms. Sadako Ogata is worried about the situation in South Sudan and wants to hear stories from younger staff. Can you do it?”

I accepted the offer immediately and presented what I’d witnessed. Afterward, she said something that really stuck with me: “To do something meaningful, organizations need to understand the changing times. If they can’t do that, they are unnecessary.”

To me, it seemed she was not only talking about organizations, but also about individuals. I asked myself, “Am I aware of changes in society?” I felt like she’d given me a gentle push and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone. From there, I pivoted my career direction to public-private partnerships. And for that, I decided I needed an MBA.

Insights: What were your goals while studying at GLOBIS?

Kuwabara: GLOBIS was absolutely the right choice for my new career journey. There were three main reasons.

First, I wanted to get a generalized experience and learn how the private sector designs a business from scratch.

Second, I wanted to equip myself with the ability to create something from zero. While I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be, I knew I wanted to work on my own passion project. I didn’t want to continue working for someone else.

Finally, I wanted to boil down my long-term goals into one clear vision.

Insights: And were you able to achieve those goals?

Kuwabara: The experience at GLOBIS was just what I expected. Ultimately, my business plans did not change. It is now up to me whether I apply what I gained.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here