The following is a guest article written by Rushan Ajizu, an undergraduate student at Waseda University. Ajizu enrolled in the inaugural SPICE/Waseda Intensive Course on Sustainable Business and Social Innovation which was organized by SPICE and Waseda’s School of Social Sciences and taught by Meiko Kotani. SPICE will feature several student reflections on the course in 2023.
With a new semester on the horizon, the arrival of early spring brought in a unique opportunity. I enrolled in an intensive course offered collaboratively by Waseda University’s School of Social Sciences and Stanford’s SPICE program on “Sustainable Business and Social Innovation.” Striking a healthy balance between theoretical learning and hands-on learning is a rarity in traditional university courses. The SPICE course was appealing for this precise reason; on the basis of both its educational prospect and the promise of a dynamic learning environment.
I believe that the essence of social science and innovation is rooted in practical work and real time field learning. SPICE’s values not only underscored the value of these principles, but also used them to catalyze this course into an active and experiential platform for us. Across the five transformative days of the course, diverse range of professionals were invited to share their social entrepreneurship journey in various fields such as investment, career development, and design-thinking workshops. I tapped into a side of myself that was quick on my feet, adapted to the intensity of an accelerated schedule, and applied critical problem-solving skills to each task presented. Not only did I meet people from a range of backgrounds and diverse approaches, but the lucrative discussions between and after each lecture opened up creative discourse among my peers. In its entirety, the dynamics of this five-day course felt akin to an entire semester.
As a culmination of the course, students were divided into three teams, each given the task of developing a novel sustainable business idea, while drawing inspiration from the guest speakers’ expertise. Three months later, I still take pride in my team’s accomplishments during the course.
Our team’s business concept was called “TagCycle,” a sustainable nonprofit enterprise promoting a community exchange of second-hand fashion goods to combat overconsumption in fast-fashion. By collecting donations locally, members in a community would receive customized monthly packages of quality second-hand items. With this idea, we designed an innovative online platform replicating a personalized retail experience, targeting younger a audience. I was particularly delighted that we not not only materialized into a tangible project, but showcased a fully functional prototype of the TagCycle site. Our site included key features such as the product list, a “shopping” cart, and seamless checkout, providing an convenient and authentic user experience.
The supportive environment fostered by SPICE was instrumental in achieving what we did within the short timeframe. Without the direction provided by the SPICE team and each guest lecturer, it would not have been possible. For instance, Ms. Moe Kaneko’s company Omohibito Co. Ltd, a care system for vulnerable senior citizens, drove us to maintain the social values of TagCycle as reflected in her sustained perseverance after her father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis. Dr. Mariko Yang Yoshihara and Ms. Risako Ninomiya from SKYLabo conducted a design thinking workshop, fostering a fast-paced environment of critical thinking and resourcefulness that we utilized in the development of TagCycle. Dr. Glen Fukushima’s insight into his vigorous professional and educational career propelled our motivation, and his tenacity inspired persistent refinement of our own project. Ms. Satoko Kono, representative director at ARUN Seed, and Ms. Eriko Suzuki, CEO at Kind Capital, introduced us to valuable perspectives in the field of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investment. These two lectures in particular played a pivotal role in my understanding of the economics of social entrepreneurship and largely helped our team develop a robust funding structure for TagCycle.
I am grateful to share that our team’s efforts were courteously recognized, and we had the honor of receiving first place for presenting TagCycle to our guest judges. I would like to humbly acknowledge our collective dedication and extend my gratitude to Waseda University, SPICE, and my team for their hard work. Moreover, this would not be complete without expressing my heartfelt gratitude to Ms. Meiko Kotani for her exceptional efforts in organizing this course and creating a truly remarkable experience for all involved.
I found my overall experience with Waseda University and Stanford’s SPICE joint course on “Sustainable Business and Social Innovation” to be enriching and valuable. If presented with the opportunity again, I would be honored to participate in another SPICE program in Japan. I sincerely recommend this course to other students, not only for pursuing academic growth but also for the development of invaluable skills in the field of social sciences.