Photo: G1 Summit 2011

Quiet revolutions can change society through the sheer force of ideas. Movements like the G1 Summit multi-stakeholder forum allow ideas and leaders to help revitalize Japan.

But how do ideas like G1 come about? How did the project evolve and grow in size and influence over the last few years?

Let’s start with why I set up the G1 Summit.

That’s easy. I can pinpoint G1’s origins to the World Economic Forum’s first-ever “Summer Davos” in Dalian, China, in September 2007.

In a small meeting, I asked Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, a very straightforward question. “The WEF hosts a China summit and an India summit. But how come there’s no Japan summit?

Professor Schwab’s answer was equally to the point. As I recall, he said something to the effect that the WEF did not have the resources to host another annual event. “Why don’t you start one in Japan?” he then suggested.

As I respect Prof. Klous Schwab greatly, I took his words literally, and in February 2009, we held the first-ever three-day G1 Summit in Fukushima, Japan. (The name “G1,” standing for “Globe is One,” expresses the idea of the world being a united whole in contrast to narrow and exclusive groupings like the G8 or the G20.)

Just like Davos, we took care to include a wide variety of stakeholders.

Over the last five years, G1 participants have included:

Leading figures from politics and government. These include current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and two members of his cabinet, plus eight mayors, eight prefectural governors and civil servants from numerous ministries

The CEOs of the new generation of Japanese digital companies—Rakuten, GREE and DeNA

Social entrepreneurs from NPOs

Great athletes like Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima

Cultural figures from fields as diverse as tea ceremony, acting and museum management

Opinion makers from newspapers, TV, magazines etc.

Star academics, such as Shinya Yamanaka, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and Heizo Takenaka, architect of Abe’s structural reform drive.

Over the five years of its existence, the G1 Summit has also evolved from a conference to a fully fledged movement for change covering a constellation of events: G1 Global (an English-language conference), G1 Executive (a conference for business leaders), and the G1 New Leaders Summit. From this year, we will be launching G1 Region and G1 Venture.

To keep the momentum for change at a high pitch even outside these fixed events, G1 participants have formed six specialized communities (comprising parliamentarians, civil servants, academics, etc). These communities meet independently twice a year to develop and implement action programs for their respective fields.

The parliamentarians, for example, drew up the following action program with five clear goals.

1. To have online political campaigning made legal
2. To change the antiquated law that prevents ministers, including the prime minister, from going abroad when the Diet is in session, hobbling Japan’s international diplomacy
3. To break the deadlock resulting from the upper house and lower house being under the control of different parties
4. To correct Japan’s skewed voting system, which gives more weight to rural voters, despite modern Japan being an overwhelmingly urban society
5. To get more individual politicians to originate laws, as is common in the US

I’m proud to say that the first three of the parliamentarians’ five goals have already been realized.

If the other groups’ action programs can be equally successful, the G1 communities will make a very real difference to Japan.

Other areas of focus that the communities are focusing on include developing Japan’s international “soft power” and boosting diversity, particularly getting more women into leadership positions.

In “soft power” terms, securing the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo counts as a major national success. So too was the government’s establishment of a $500 million Cool Japan Fund to improve the export performance of Japan’s creative industries—an idea first floated at the G1 Summit.

To achieve similarly impressive results in diversity, G1 member organizations are aiming to hit a target of 30% women in leadership positions by 2016. This is more ambitious than the government’s goal, which is 30% by 2020.

The G1 movement is also prompting individuals to disrupt their own lives. After attending G1, Ryuta Ibaraki, fifth-generation director of a family-owned department store business, was inspired to run for prefectural governor of Okayama. Having been elected to the post in October 2012, Ibaraki is now directly helping to change Japan for the better.

The G1 multi-stakeholder forum is fostering a new generation of leaders who will play—or are already playing—a major role both in Japan and on the world stage.

That’s why I say, forget G20. Forget G8. Think G1.

Group of One, Globe is One.