Japan and South Africa's educational co-operation is beginning to blossom

JICA chief representative Hiroyuki Kinomoto (right) sat down with Komatsu Africa Holdings managing director Mike Blom (centre) and ABE Initiative graduate Corvin Brady (left) to discuss Japan and South Africa's promising relationship

JICA chief representative Hiroyuki Kinomoto (right) sat down with Komatsu Africa Holdings managing director Mike Blom (centre) and ABE Initiative graduate Corvin Brady (left) to discuss Japan and South Africa's promising relationship

Japan imports over 90% of its natural resources, such as oil, natural gas and iron-ore, and 60% of its food. Trade with developing countries accounts for approximately 60% of imports and 40% of exports, making these nations indispensable partners for Japan.

Identified and fostered out of these partnerships is the need to develop African skills and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) is intrinsic to implementing Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Official Development Assistance (ODA) programmes, including the master’s degree and internship programme of the ABE Initiative.

In response to questions from the JICA’s chief representative, Hiroyuki Kinomoto, Komatsu Africa Holdings managing director, Mike Blom, explained his role as managing director and the southern African entity’s responsibility as the Komatsu distributor responsible for South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mauritius and one of the entities involved in the internship programme.

“Our primary role is to grow the Komatsu business in our territory through machine sales and then provide full aftermarket support to our customers,” explained Blom.

“Working for a Japanese company has been an amazing experience and to have the responsibility to manage a Japanese company in South Africa has been fantastic. Komatsu has a deep-rooted DNA called “The Komatsu Way” that has been passed down through generations of Komatsu [employees] for almost 100 years, and it is a philosophy and a way of us doing business which I fully embrace.”

“Komatsu Africa Holdings has 99.5% local employees; however, our core corporate values are that of Komatsu, and “The Komatsu Way” is the value system we use to drive our people.

“In 1997, when Komatsu acquired the local company and established its own subsidiary, it was headed by a Japanese expat. Gradually the management and control was handed over to me as the first local managing director in 2008, and I have witnessed over the past 20 years Komatsu becoming a truly global company.”

“It is critical to have multinational companies operating in other countries, particularly in developing countries as the knowledge and skills that are injected into business over the long term are crucial for growth.

“I look back to 1997 when Komatsu first established its own company in South Africa. We have seen the growth of the company peak almost 11 times over 15 years and seen doubling of the direct employment of people, and contribution to the employment of several more people in associated businesses in southern Africa.

“I believe that as long as multinationals are using their resources to share knowledge, to develop people and businesses in other countries, their presence and contribution is essential.

“We have already had a significant number of our young artisans and other junior managers attend training in Japan and this has been a huge success. Not only are these employees gaining more skills, but for many of them it is their first and possibly only opportunity to visit a foreign, first-world country. The experience of seeing Japan, the culture and the work ethic has [had] a hugely positive impact on these young people.

Expat skills

“I embrace and encourage the injection of expat skills from the Japanese head office into our busi- ness to help transfer knowledge and know-how. Their contribution to our business can be measured by how many skilled local employees they leave behind when they return to the mother country.

“We were introduced to the ABE Initiative [African Business Education Initiative for the Youth] through Minister Shinichi Asazuma of the Japanese Embassy in South Africa in November 2013. I was extremely impressed with the initiative taken by the Japanese government, having recognised that the future growth of Africa would outstrip the availability of skilled businesspeople to lead business going forward.

“At the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in Yokohama in 2013, Japan’s government stated its policy of promoting support for the ongoing dynamic growth of Africa with stronger public-private partnerships. This means that the future success of southern Africa and Africa as a continent will largely be dependent upon having skilled professional people to lead business and to take full advantage of the huge future opportunities that Africa has.

“I have been a very strong supporter of the ABE Initiative from the very first time I was introduced to it and recognised the contribution this initiative can make to business in our region. I truly hope the Japanese government through JICA feels justified by the success of the first 1 000 graduates, and extends this initiative for another five years or more.

“Africa must learn from Asia. Much of the success of these grow- ing and strong economies has been driven by the strategic focus on education, from junior school education through to tertiary education. Education at all levels.”

Blom mentioned that the importance of human resource development is the most critical challenge facing the growth opportunities in Africa. If the ABE Initiative can inject 1 000 young, trained professionals into African economies, it will help the continent enormously.

He stressed the need, however, to ensure that these skills remain in Africa and are not targeted by other developed countries.

“Many first-world countries only look for the highly skilled people. On the one hand they talk about supporting Africa, and yet on the other headhunt and deplete our pool of skilled people,” he said. “I am pleased this has not been the case with Japan.”


“We were extremely privileged to have one of our employees, Corvin Brady, successfully join the ABE Initiative programme, as well as successfully completing his IMBA (one-year intensive MBA).

“We received wonderful support from our parent company which, once he had finished his IMBA at the International University of Japan, provided Brady with a six-month internship at our Komatsu Head Office.

“The ABE programme provided us with the opportunity to take a young African graduate and to develop his professional skills to a higher level. More importantly, the programme has provided Brady with additional knowledge and the experience of working in Japan with Komatsu. I feel he has had the opportunity to cultivate a strong network between Japan, Africa and people from other countries.

“The Japanese government, together with Komatsu, has invested in Brady’s future and I have no doubt that this will have a positive return for Africa. Our most important challenge is to ensure we retain him in the company, and more importantly, we retain him in our economy and do not lose him to another country,” concluded Blom. 

About JICA

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was established in 1974 to implement the Japanese Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). In 2008, JICA merged with the overseas economic cooperation section of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), which enabled JICA to provide loan and grant assistance in a harmonious manner, covering areas from infrastructure to grassroots projects.

Since its establishment, JICA has become the world’s largest bilateral development agency, with its approach changing over time. It has provided various forms of technical assistance in over 150 countries globally. Furthermore, it has become more field-oriented, working more closely with partner governments, international development partners, private enterprises and, above all, communities and local people.

JICA has been implementing various projects in South Africa since 1997, three years after the country’s first democratic election. JICA aims to complement governments’ initiatives to promote sustainability through multisectoral technical assistance. Such assistance includes training in Japan and third countries, the dispatch of Japanese experts and volunteers for skills transfer to local counterparts, and projects comprising a mix of the above. Since inception, the JICA South Africa Office has contributed more than $250.9-million, sent more than 1 400 South African training participants to Japan, and dispatched more than 450 Japanese experts and more than 100 Japanese volunteers. Today, the number of South Africans empowered and enriched by “The Japan Experience”, exceeds 1 500.

JICA’s activities in South Africa focus on primarily human resources development (HRD). In the education sector, for example, JICA has been dispatching experts for basic as well as higher educa- tion and training. For basic education, JICA is focusing on ways to demystify mathematics and science. For higher education and training, JICA is easing the transition for graduates entering the workplace through an employability improvement project involving partnerships with universities of technology and the Japanese private sector. Needless to say, the ABE Initiative is also a big contribution to the sector. In addition to the above, various Japanese volunteers have been dispatched to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges in remote areas to assist teachers with curriculum development, and learners with better understanding of content.

JICA pursues this holistic approach as it believes in the involvement of all stakeholders including the public and private sector, civil society, the academia and others. JICA regards development as “inclusive” and “dynamic”, implying that development is everyone’s responsibility, and that development is ever-changing amid shifting milieus.

About Komatsu

Komatsu Limited (Japan) is a worldwide leader in the manufacture of construction, mining and military equipment and utility, forestry and industrial machinery.

Initially founded in 1894 as Takeuchi Mining Industry, the Japanese company then established Komatsu Iron Works in 1917 to manufacture machine tools and mining equipment for in-house use. In 1921, Komatsu Iron Works separated from the mining company to become Komatsu Limited. Worldwide, the Komatsu Group consists of Komatsu Limited and 182 other companies.

Its growth was aided by the strong demand for its bulldozers during Japan’s post-war reconstruction in the 1950s.

Since the 1960s, the company has strived to uphold quality and reliability as the most important management policy.

Its “growth strategies based on innovation” is uppermost in its efforts to implement its mid-range management plan, “Together We Innovate GEMBA [workplace] Worldwide”. The company defines innovation as creating and offering new value designed to streamline its customers’ business through Komatsu products and services, getting deeply involved in jobsite operations in collaboration with its distributors and suppliers.

Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, Komatsu’s primary business employs over 47 000 globally, with about 1 400 employees based in southern Africa. Komatsu Africa Holdings is a subsidiary of Komatsu Limited in Japan.