STAFF STORY Interviews
Finance & Operations
Pacific Health Summit held in Seattle in 2008
Aiming for the Best in the World
I spent my first years of life in the United States. I came to Japan and lived in Tokyo from second grade through high school and then returned to the United States for university. Later, I began working at the Japan-America Society in Seattle. After I worked there for five years, the director at the society launched a new project with another think tank, and I joined the project. There, I gained experience doing anything and everything — from being an executive assistant for the senior director, to event planning and accounting.
I worked at the think tank for about nine years. While I was there, I helped organize an international conference on global health called the Pacific Health Summit. This led to my first meeting with Dr. BT Slingsby at the end of 2011. The encounter later turned out to be a major opportunity, and I returned to Japan and began to work at GHIT in 2013.
My move to Japan from the United States was a major transition. I was inspired by Dr. Slingsby’s vision and thoughts on public–private partnerships, and I made the tough decision to totally uproot myself in order to work for the new initiative he was launching. I understood that GHIT was not trying to be "just another" global organization; its people had the approach and enthusiasm to become one of the best.
When I first heard about Dr. Slingsby's vision to launch GHIT, my own work experiences in nonprofit organizations in the United States, my knowledge of both Japanese and American cultures, and the opportunity to actively support Japan and Japanese people (in addition to many other points) made me certain that at GHIT, I could accomplish everything I wanted to do. I believe that everything has meaning, so I still remember clearly thinking that if this kind of opportunity was going to appear right in front of me, I had to seize it.
Creating Creative Spaces to Drive Collaboration and Increase Impact
One of GHIT's major roles is to increase Japan’s presence on the international stage. Although I have taken part in various international conferences over the years, I have often felt that Japan’s presence was weak overseas, and that Japan lacked assertiveness.
For example, when an international conference is held, people from other Asian regions often emphasize that they want to be invited to the conference — no matter what it takes. But Japanese people tend not to show interest, even when high-level people are attending the event, which I consider very unfortunate. However, I realized that it is not that Japanese people are not interested, but rather that they do not know how to make their presence felt at international conferences.
After noticing this, I began thinking about what kind of spaces would enable Japanese people to demonstrate their capabilities. I believe that creating such a space is one of my, and GHIT's, roles — so I'm very happy when we are appreciated for “providing a space” where people find strategic partners (as the Medicines for Malaria Venture and Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative answered in their fifth anniversary interviews). How GHIT responds to the increasing expectations from those around us will be both challenging and interesting.
A Cross-Sectional Approach to Finance
My job at GHIT is, in a nutshell, overseeing finance. Specifically, I take a cross-sectional look at accounting, finance, internal control, audits, and the like, along with GHIT’s Chief Operating Officer, to create a system that is focused on the organization now, as well as five to ten years from now. I look at the current state of the organization from a financial perspective, think about where we want to go in the future, decide what we need to do to get there, make plans, and implement them. The sense that I had even before joining GHIT — that this is very much a job worth doing — remains the same today.
I also feel that I am making use of my experiences and strengths within the organization. For example, it is very rewarding when I connect people and organizations that each possess unique know-how and skills to help them maximize impact — impact that would be out of reach if each party worked alone. I am thrilled to see something new happen as a result of these new partnerships. While I do not have expertise in medicine or public health, I am very happy that I can help connect people who possess both expertise and passion.
My experience working in both Japan and the United States has been very useful. Some of the most critical elements of professional culture — speed, priority, and overall workstyle — can be very different in different countries. In particular, the way things are done in Japan is often different from other countries, diverging from global standards. GHIT works globally but is a Japanese organization; we are expected to work in a way that is in line with Japanese culture while simultaneously maintaining our place as a global innovator and international institution. So we need to adapt to many cultural backgrounds when thinking about how best to work with Japanese and overseas stakeholders. The experience I have cultivated in my previous work is very useful in this context.
Certificate Public Interest Incorporated Association received from the Cabinet Office
The Importance of GHIT's Role as a "Public Interest Incorporated Association"
The most challenging task for me over the past five years was the process of getting GHIT recognized as a “public interest incorporated association” rather than a “general incorporated association.” To obtain official recognition as a public-interest incorporated association, we underwent examination by a third-party committee composed of experts in various fields.
Normally, the transition to a public-interest incorporated association (similar to 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in the United States) is approved within a few months, but it took a year for GHIT. In the case of GHIT, it took time because GHIT is a first-of-its-kind nonprofit international organization registered in Japan with an unprecedented business model. I have fond memories of many meetings with experts for better understanding and recognition of GHIT. We needed stakeholders’ collective efforts and engagement to get an approval. The process of obtaining that buy-in and engagement was tremendously fulfilling.
After the process concluded and we were successfully recognized, I believe that the level of trust in the organization rose among our stakeholders and the public. It gave me confidence in both myself and the organization. Everyone at the GHIT Fund was newly inspired.
For the past five years, I have been so focused on getting our launch phase right. To make the next five years even better, I'd like to lay a solid foundation now that will support us as we move into the next stage of work.
GHIT: Making the Impossible Possible
GHIT’s appeal is in the strength of heart of our chairman, Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa; our CEO, Dr. BT Slingsby; and of our partners, funders, and staff. Working with experienced, highly motivated people often causes people to notice things that they had not perceived before. I am deeply thankful for an environment where I can work under the direction of visionary leaders and see things from a high-level perspective, which I think is one of GHIT’s advantages. At first, I wondered how long I would stay in Japan, but once I became immersed in this exciting job, I realized that five years had passed by in the blink of an eye.
GHIT provides a space in which impossible things are possible. This goes for the staff as well. Motivation and willpower can create opportunities to take on new challenges, and there are many opportunities to grow here. With the caliber of staff coming together within the organization, the entire team is feeling the thrill of achieving something collectively. This has allowed the organization to grow from simply an idea into what it is now in just five years.
A Productive Approach to Work and Life
In life, we all strive for happiness. The important thing in any endeavor is to ask, “WHY? Why do you do this work?” It is very important to keep that “why” in mind, in addition to achieving results. It's the same for professional endeavors and in private life; I want to spend time on the things that will enable me to grow. Hearing live music and traveling are how I most like to spend my time away from work; they help me expand my horizons.
As I mentioned, I really enjoy creating spaces where talented people can demonstrate their abilities, and not just in relation to work. I love motivated people, so I would like to provide opportunities to trigger that motivation. There are many situations in life — in both professional life and private life — in which we don't pursue our goals, even if our desire is strong, thinking that they are impossible to achieve. But there are ways to make what seems impossible, possible. We, as an organization, want to help people, of course. But I also want to do that as an individual citizen. I would like to create opportunities for motivated people to grow in their careers and in their lives outside of work and help them move forward.
This interview was conducted in August 2017.
Finance & Operations
Toshie Ando is Vice President of Finance & Operations. Ms. Ando oversees the GHIT Fund’s financial and administrative operations. She was previously Controller and Assistant Director of the Pyle Center for Northeast Asian Studies at The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), where she also helped launch the Pacific Health Summit in 2005 as Project Director in NBR’s Center for Health and Aging. She also has served as Director of Operations at the Japan-America Society for the State of Washington. Ms. Ando holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.