Beyond the Border,
Create the Future

Crossing the Border to Laos, while Working in Japan – What Changes Happened in Three Months?

This time, we would like to report about the “Online Pro Bono” program. This is a program which participants allocate about 20% of their work time to tackle social issues in Asia remotely from Japan.

Moemi and Maya who are working in Astellas Pharma Inc., joined this program for three months from December 2020. The recipient organization was Laos Buffalo Dairy (LBD), which is a social enterprise working to improve the livelihood of small farmers in rural Laos.Moemi and Maya started working with LBD, having motivation as
“We want to utilize our skills and take on challenges to tackle social issues in Laos society, without visiting on site.”
What kind of experiences did they come across?

Lets’ get started– what we can do from Japan?

In order to deepen the understanding of the LBD, Moemi and Maya began online meetings with them.
Laos Buffalo Dairy (LBD) was founded by Susie Martin, Steven McWhirter and Rachel O’Shea. This company cooperates with people from villages in and around Luang Prabang by renting their buffalo, which provides the families with a regular income stream from an underutilized resource, namely female buffalo; male buffalo being sold for meat. LBD built a facility for milking their buffalo and keeping them well fed, healthy and safe. 

(Photo: the members of LBD and people who are working with)

Susie told Moemi and Maya that,
“COVID-19 has drastically reduced the number of tourists, which has greatly affected our sales such as dairy products as they were our main customers. It will be difficult to continue our activities if this continues.

Therefore, we have a project which is to export our products, such as buffalo cheese, to Japan in order to find the new sales channels. We need your help to move forward this project.”
After hearing that, Moemi and Maya were further motivated as
“Our efforts will lead to make the change for LBD which will bring impacts to the livelihood of people in the area where LBD operates. We really want to make the good outcome.”

(Photo: Moemi and Maya tried LBD’s cheese in Japan)

Challenge under COVID-19 pandemic and difficulty of working remotely

Moemi took a role of sales, having the goal of contracting with five client companies in Japan. In mid-January, when she was about to make appointments with potential companies, the State of Emergency was declared in Japan.She expressed her feeling anxiously,as
“Sales activities are basically done by face-to-face. What can I do in this situation…”
On the other hand, Maya, who was in charge of PR, was feeling the difficulty in communication. It was hard to get response from LBD quickly. She reflected
“I finished making Japanese version of web page, however it could have been better if we could discuss more…”
At the same time, they were also busy with their regular jobs, so they hit a wall at the beginning of the project. However, they found the way to break through unexpectedly.

Unexpected breakthrough helped two of them

“How can I make five contracts in this situation?” When Moemi was stacked, Susie’s words helped her to change her mindset. Moemi reflects,

“Susie told me, ‘Under the State of Emergency, I know it would be hard to even make an appointment. So, what we expect to you is not short term outcome. Instead, we want you to build good relationship with the prospective clients’

This made me relieved from the pressure, and I could change my mindset as ‘Let’s try whatever I can’. After that, I approached over 90 agencies and was able to introduce and connect several prospective clients with LBD.”

The turning point also came to Maya who felt difficulty to communicate remotely with LBD.

“When Moemi said ‘One of the reasons why LBD could not respond quickly may be our way of communication ‘, I realized that I was only trying to tell my points without deeply thinking the situation of LBD. In fact, as we continued our discussion, I realized that they were too busy and thus could not reply to my messages as quick as I expected.

Having known that, I tried to make my points clearer so that they could respond more easily, as well as to tell them why I need their cooperation. After that, gradually our communication became smoother and we were able to work together for an online event from planning to operation from the scratch.”

(Photo: scene from the online event. More than 50 people participated at that day)

Looking back three months : comments from LBD

Susie, the representative of LBD, looks back on the three months of activities.

“We were able to approach the Japanese market which we could not have done by our own. This is more than we have expected, especially given the situation of COVID-19.

We’re also pleased that Moemi and Maya kept things running very smoothly. They set milestones for every week, which helped me to make a lot of decisions within one-hour weekly meeting. They also used graphs and diagrams to communicate which also helped me to understand their ideas quickly and accurately”

(Photo: Susie & Rachel [top left], Moemi [top right], and Maya [bottom left], at the online event)

I’m more confident than before (Moemi)

Moemi reflects her experience as
” I realized that when working with people who have different cultural backgrounds, it is important to make the point clearly and tell my opinion. In the past, it was always the challenge for me to speak up in the meeting when it was with people from overseas in English.

This time, however, I didn’t hesitate to express my opinions because we needed to make decisions within the limited time. In order to make the meeting smoother, I always clarified the purpose of the meeting and try to speak up. Now, I feel more confidence to communicate with people from overseas than before.”

Fear of challenge has gone (Maya)

The three months experience changed Maya’s mindset to take on challenges.
“Previously, I always felt anxious when trying something new in the business situation. However, while working with LBD, by taking on challenges again and again, this anxiety has gone.

In this program, I could keep trying, cheering up myself as ‘It might not work, but let’s try anyway because we could not step forward if we don’t act’. Now, I am not afraid of taking on challenges and I will continue to take actions.”

Comment from Cross Fields

The program, “Online Pro Bono”, was a new challenge for all of us including Cross Fields. However, we are happy to say that the program has brought good outputs and experiences to LBD, Moemi and Maya in the end. We hope their success in the future, and will continue to explore the collaborations between social purpose organizations in Japan and overseas.