Monday, October 1, 2007

Comparing the non-profit sector.

With organizations such as Peace Corps and Teach For America getting a lot of attention nationwide, I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the non-profit sector has grown to become one big industry in the United States. Over 1.6 million non-profit organizations (NPOs)... now that's an amazing number.

How about in Japan? Um, not so close. Well... not close at all.

Of course, comparing the numbers directly is unfair and incorrect, since the term "non-profit organization" varies between countries. For example, in the US, hospitals, universities, and religious groups are also categorized as NPOs by the laws over there. But even considering that, there's a vast difference.

Why? Well, I've come up with 3 major reasons.

One, there's no Bill Gates in Japan. Many people in Japan have been complaining of economic disparity in recent years, and though it is true that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, the difference is still minute compared to other so-called developed countries. After all, Japan has a tendency of giving equality priority over fairness, but this leads to another story so I'll stop with this here... Anyway, when I say there's no Bill Gates, I mean by there are no billionaires in Japan. So compared to the US, there is much less money people can give away.

Two, there's a big difference in law. While I've already pointed out that the definition of NPO covers a more extensive area in the US, there's another big difference: tax. In the US, if you donate to an NPO, you're exempt from paying tax for the amount that you donated. In Japan you're not. Actually, a similar law exists, but has only been applied to about 30 NPOs so far. Simple, but big difference. No wonder big companies and billionaires in the US give off a lot of money to foundations and other NPOs if they don't have any big business plans for the near term.

Three, the culture and values of the people are different. I can list many examples here... One example is, in Japan, though many people are often angered by the way the government handles its responsibilities, the people still put a lot of trust on them. For instance, in the US, the majority of people would prefer to cooperate with NPOs than a government-affiliated organization such as USAID, but in Japan, many would prefer to work with JICA (the Japanese counterpart of USAID) than NPOs. Same with the regular private, business sector. For example for cellphones, the majority of people still prefer to use NTT, the successor to the communications arm of the government.

The religion is different. Donations and charities play a key role in religious activities in the US such as in Christianity, and religion also remains a big part in one's life, or at least bigger than in Japan. Here, the majority of people don't care too much, which can obviously be seen from the fact that there are as many Buddhist temples as Shinto ones and many people don't have preferences about which to go to. Of course, this is more complicated than I've said, but I won't get off track for now. People donate to temples, but the money flow stops there. The temples don't do charity kind of work. I also feel something like a natural "charity culture" in Christians.

Then there are differences in values. I think more people care about being socially responsible in the US than in Japan. Again, this is just a comparison and I don't mean everyone in the US does and everyone in Japan doesn't. But, here in Japan, more people are concerned about how to make their own lives better. However, this is starting to change though... which is the good news. An increasing number of companies are teaming up with NPOs and publishing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. Of course, some do this for the sake of building a better corporate image, but nonetheless, when few companies start, others will have to follow... :-)

No comments: