Japan learns from the community development foundation in St. Joseph

October 27—While northwest Missouri doesn’t typically attract international attention, a local organization sets an example for community development in Japan.

When the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri started about 10 years ago, it was a challenge to gain support. The organization is a means of philanthropy in northwest Missouri “to provide leadership and financial leverage to meet the current and future needs of the community,” according to information from the foundation.

But now the 18-county network is starting to blossom. The foundation has grown from no funding in its early days to $25.6 million now.

It’s important to show how the different regions of northwest Missouri are connected as part of a larger region, said NWMO Community Foundation board member Rachel Kagay.

“We encourage our region to continue to see itself as interdependent, that we need each other for the region as a whole to succeed,” she said. “We encourage our communities to think bigger, beyond the traditional boundaries of competition.”

The success caught the attention of the Japan Productivity Center.

A small delegation from Japan is visiting this week to learn how to deal with issues such as population loss without giving in to short-term solutions.

“The rural area is suffering from population decline,” said Kazuteru Kuroda, senior consultant at the Japan Productivity Center. “In this case, most of us, mostly rural people, are talking and trying to solve the problem with a very materialistic solution. We need a bridge, we need a house.”

Northwest Missouri was an attractive destination for Productivity Center members because it shares similarities with the communities they work to improve, Kuroda said.

“Tokyo and Osaka…these big cities are leading, not only in economy but also in arts, concept, sense of culture,” he said.

Much of Japan’s economic development is spurred by government funding, but those funds are often lacking for rural areas where the population is shrinking, Kuroda said. Unlike the United States, there is a limited amount of philanthropic and charitable work in Japan, members of the productivity center said.

While there is progress, it’s important to remember that a program like the community foundation needs time to bear fruit, said community foundation fellow Steve Wenger.

“All in all, 10 years isn’t that long,” he said. “We’ve learned, we know what works, what doesn’t, and we’re ready to step forward and invite people to participate in, you know, their own future.”

Alex Simone can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.

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