Hisashi Sonehara

Ashoka Fellow
Japan
Fellow Since 2014
Egao Tsunagete

Citation

This profile was prepared when Hisashi Sonehara was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Japan underwent high economic growth from 1954 to 1973, capitalizing on low-cost labor and industrialization through public-private partnerships. The labor sourced from agricultural communities permitted this economic growth in the first place. However, it also caused individuals to migrate from rural areas to urban centers, with depopulation accelerating in these regions. As a result, more and more laborers deserted arable land in aging agricultural communities, leading to the decline of rural economies.

Hisashi is working to rejuvenate the declining regional economy using a method that utilizes abandoned areas and natural resources. Hisashi partners with corporations to provide a human resources development program that rejuvenates the economies of these rural communities, and the well-being of visitors from the cities. The corporate employees living in cities regularly visit the rural communities to cultivate once-abandoned land and grow crops. The program collaborates with local small-scale enterprises to produce processed goods using the harvested crops. Through this program, abandoned arable land is being reused, and such local businesses as inns, restaurants, food processors, and the forestry industry are regaining dynamism. In addition, corporate employees are enhancing communication, motivation, and team building skills through collaborative work in rural villages.

Hisashi started his efforts in Yamanashi Prefecture, and his efforts are now underway in prefectures such as Miyagi, Fukushima, and Mie, which are partnered with corporations. The NPO “Egao Wo Tsunagete,” founded by Hisashi, supports these activities by training former prefectural mayors that have significant influence over municipalities. This has developed the movement of “one company for one village,” which aims to rejuvenate rural communities all over Japan by connecting one village to the workers in one corporation to accelerate the expansion of the rural community revitalization model.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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