Soccer & Social Innovation?

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Soccer Innovation

“Before I joined DSI, I was only a soccer coach for high-school students. ‘I want to change myself,’ I thought.”

And that was just what Ryoma Tanaka did. A law student at Keio University, he still coaches soccer for high-school students, but ever since joining the Design-thinking for Social Innovation: Stanford-Japan Exchange program [DSI], he’s been up to so much more! Ryoma now contributes to the Fukuzawa Yukichi Memorial program for social innovators and leaders (福澤諭吉記念文明塾), and we catch up with him to find out more.

After finishing DSI, you’re now involved in a similar program to nurture future social innovators and leaders. Tell us more about your experience!
Well, the Fukuzawa Yukichi Kinen Bunmeijuku (loosely translated into the Fukuzawa Yukuchi Memorial Institution/School) program aims to nurture future leaders who push for making the world a better place. Through meeting social innovators and leaders in Japan and discussing with them, students participate in sessions and group work, using social work to inspire and learn from. I was introduced to this program by a couple of friends, with my interest in social innovation.

What do you enjoy about being part of this program?
The program has two types of curriculum, as mentioned earlier: group work for the project, and sessions. Personally, I prefer the experience of group work, because the groups include so much diversity. They also include a lot of perspectives from the program, and as it is not easy to gather and understand all these perspectives, it always helps me to think about my own strengths and weaknesses. That factor makes it more interesting for me.

This is something you sort of picked up from DSI, isn’t it? How did DSI make a change in your life?
Yes, the most impressive thing for me from joining the DSI program was to meet with students from other backgrounds during the program. I consider them my “treasured experience”. Before I joined DSI, I was only a soccer coach for high-school students. “I want to change myself,” I thought, so I joined and went to the U.S., and the participants gave me so many perspectives! Everyone has a different major in their universities, and their own experience, and they think about the program in ways that you don’t, so it was impressive for me. Oh, and I have to add that learning design thinking was another thing that really made an impression.

The second reason I had wanted to join DSI was to learn how to use design thinking to solve the problems I came across, for example, during my time as a soccer coach. In the field of soccer coaching, training content and curriculum is accustomed to rigid forms, and the training programs are usually not easy nor are they innovative. So I thought that design thinking would be a good way to break this trend.

Ryoma Tanaka

Sounds like you’re really passionate about both social innovation and soccer!
Haha, yeah. I think of social innovation as a means to make my goal a reality. I want to make my dream real through social innovation which is what I think a very innovative method. A lot of other methods don’t always contribute to people’s happiness, and even though social innovation doesn’t always make people happy, there is a possibility. And if there is a way to do it (bring people happiness), I’d do it.

Those are some very kind and inspiring thoughts. I wish you luck on achieving your dreams, but before we end this interview, do you have any words for the aspiring future social innovators?
I think joining some kind of program may give you a chance to grow yourself. So many people expect this to happen, and I don’t disagree. However, the most important thing is to dedicate yourself to whatever program (you joined) and I think the circumstances will not be a major problem. As long as you have the mindset to grow yourself and push yourself for who you really want to be and what kind of person you want to be, you can change yourself anytime! So you do your best. Dedicate yourself to what you do and maybe you will get a chance for a future experience that will push you forward to a more beautiful and excellent stage.