After a hectic week of non-stop activities, the TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy reached its final day and biggest event on Thursday – the presentations. The moment of truth, when the students had to emerge from the waves of facts and details that crashed over them during the course of the program, pull together their impressions observations and ideas, and hone them into insights and proposals for a better future.
For the MCs, Helene Namath and Patrick Adams, this was the test of success or failure. Had all the time they had devoting to developing the program in the last year, all the events they had introduced in the last week, had it all been for nothing?
For the students, this was when they had to stand up in front of an audience and show their stuff. Had they had mastered the heaps of information presented to them day after day? Could use it to define problems and deliver solutions?
For the rest of us in the audience, people from NTSA, the U.S. Japan Council and Toshiba, special guests and visitors…well, it was simply a pleasure.
Working in the same groups as when they built towers last Saturday, the students delivered presentations in which each team chose a different city, defined its problems, and offered solutions that could be implemented about 20 years down the road. Here’s a very brief overview of each presentation.
Group A: Ishinomaki-shi. A coastal town in Japan’s Tohoku, devastated by the March 11 tsunami. The challenges are to rebuild and protect the town from future tsunami, overcome and rejuvenate an aging society, protect the local heritage, and build a smart, vibrant, livable society with a sustainable future.
Group B: New Orleans. The Big Easy, known for its distinctive culture, is set in a landscape of water: the Gulf and disappearing wetlands to the south and east, Lake Pontchartrain to the north, and, of course, the Mississippi. The city lives with the threat of inundation, and the question is how to best prevent and respond to disaster.
Group C: New York City. Although a global financial and cultural center, NYC faces 21st century challenges in respect of traffic, energy, pollution and devastation from storms like Sandy. The way forward lies in understanding how to develop new sources of energy, a new transportation system, and the use of technology to protect the city.
Group D: Kinshasa. The capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo is situated on the Congo River and has more fresh water than anywhere else in Africa. Yet 38% of people have no access to piped water, sewerage is poor, flooding constant. The problem is how to achieve a stable water supply, control flooding and provide a basis for overcoming other problems the city faces.
Each group took careful aim and hit the target. They worked through issues facing each city and offered novel solutions, far too many to cover in detail, but here’s a taste from each presentation: a double walled barrier in Ishinomaki, the area between given over to parkland; bringing to New Orleans the “seigyu” (holy cow) flooding control system developed in Japan 500 years ago, and adding a hydro generator and battery to produce energy; replacing New York’s subway system with hovercrafts and monorails, and turning its tracks and stations into a huge underground reservoir; developing Community Water Centers across Kinshasa, not only to deliver potable water source but to support development of many other services, from hygiene to education.
Mr. Taizo Nishumuro, former President & CEO of Toshiba, now an Advisor to the company and Chairman of Toshiba International Foundation, spoke for everybody present when he summed up their value of the results: “I want to congratulate all of you on your great endeavors… Your achievements came over loud and clear in those great presentations you made.”
He also noted the many problems the world faces, from population growth to cyber terrorism, and underlined that, “Toshiba wants to encourage innovative approaches – not just mere extensions of previous approaches, but something fresh and creative. The mingling of young, bright minds from both nations can accelerate this. You are the ones who can make it happen.”
Bill Nye agreed. In a rousing speech, he celebrated the “joy of discovery” and the “inherent optimism of science”, and reminded the Academicians of the diverse challenges facing scientists today, from capturing the potential of nanotubes to protecting the world from the asteroid that will, one day, inevitably come our way. He told the students to do more with less, and by doing so to change the world – his constant refrain. Most hauntingly, he reminded them of the power of science to change the world: “You will be alive to see things that I have not even imagined.”
The presentations were followed by a final party, where the students could finally completely relax and unwind, and the organizers take time to consider the future of the Academy. Patrick Adams, an energizing force throughout the program, underlined its value: “The Pacific doesn’t separate, it unites. We must see it as connective, and share all the benefits, risks and challenges as neighbors. The Toshiba Academy is a great contribution to this.”
Makoto Shirai, the President of Toshiba Internal Foundation agreed and summed up the program well: “This is a new kind of international program. The point is not to understand differences but to bring each other’s good points together and solve future problems. I think this inaugural Toshiba Academy has been a great success.”
On to 2015.