Working for an
International Organization

Theory and Empathy Are Needed
in the Field of
International Humanitarian and Development Assistance


ISHIKAWA SachikoProfessor, College of International Relations

People-to-People Relations are needed for Effective International Relations A Willingness to Understand How the Other Person Thinks and Feels is Very Important

What is Empathy?

IshikawaMy life was greatly altered by the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program which I participated in when I was a graduate student. The program was sponsored by the Japanese government and sought to instill good will among youth leaders of the time in Southeast Asian countries and Japan. As I spent two months on a ship with young people from Southeast Asia and traveled around the ASEAN countries, I had a “crucible experience” by which I let go of my old values and built new ones. At first, there was a tendency for people to gather around proficient English speakers. By the end, however, what attracted many people was not the ability to speak English, but rather the ability to empathize. I saw that people gathered around people who could think from the standpoint of the other person, who could try to understand what the other person was feeling and thinking, and who had a sense of great respect and acceptance for other cultures.

Since then, I have been involved in humanitarian and development assistance in the ASEAN region with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). From the start I witnessed the importance of empathy on the frontlines of those activities too. If you look down on people when giving aid, the recipients will be keenly aware of this. It's easy to see if you're trying to impose your values from above, or if you're demonstrating empathy by trying to understand what the recipients think. International relations are, after all, people-to-people relations. The other party decides whether to trust the person he/she sees in front of him/her.

How can students develop empathy?

Ishikawa As a way to build empathy, I encourage my students to go to developing countries when they are young. Even if students study abroad in developed countries, I would like them to experience reconsidering their values by volunteering in refugee camps or teaching elementary school students in developing countries. Of course, studying abroad in developed countries is also a valuable experience in diving into different cultures. However, it is my feeling that people who have no experience in developing countries often harbor a sense of aversion toward developing countries, or speak and act in a condescending manner, as if to say people in those countries don’t have any idea how things work. Please go to developing countries while you are young and make a lot of friends. Then, if you hear that there was damage from the typhoon in those regions, you will worry about it as something relevant to yourself and start to think of what you can do to help. That feeling is important.

Learning about Life from Refugees and
Learning How to Negotiate Through Discussions
with ASEAN Ambassadors

What kind of experience did you have with UNHCR and JICA?

IshikawaAt UNHCR, we were often taught about life by refugees. A boy of about junior high school age who worked at a refugee camp office in Aranyaprathet lived with just his younger brother because he did not know where his parents were. His English was very good, but when I asked him about it, he said, "I’m learning English so that I can start my life over again in Canada.” He became fluent in just two to three years because it was necessary for his life. I was impressed by such drive. On the other hand, in Thailand, which is not party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees are considered illegal aliens, so I had the sad experience of not being able to help refugees until the end even though we were able to protect them temporarily.

JICA has a lot to do with ASEAN, and I had a lot of heated discussions with the ASEAN ambassadors. I remember that when JICA and ASEAN tried to work together to launch a project specific to one country in order to rectify the disparities within ASEAN, it was met with fierce opposition from other member countries, and it was very difficult to persuade the ambassadors. It was at this time that I learned what “negotiation” was.

There were times when I was on the receiving end of empathy myself. Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, when I participated in some meetings of ASEAN ambassadors, the Lao ambassador who chaired the meeting called for a moment of silence for the Japanese victims. I was filled with gratitude, and I was able to personally feel and understand the feelings of the recipients of aid. There is no hierarchy between those who support and those who are supported. I realized once again that it is important to treat people in front of you with empathy whether they are happy or sad.

Be Aware, Keep an Eye out,
and Learn Theory and Empathy

What do people who want to work in international organizations need to study?

IshikawaFirst of all, it is only natural that you need to thoroughly study the basic knowledge of international relations at university. A master's degree is essential to work at an international organization, so I hope that students will go to graduate schools and acquire the tool of theory with which to see the world. But that alone is not enough. If the situation allows, I would like students to develop empathy through experiences abroad. The younger you are, the more you will absorb, and I think students will have experiences that will become one of the foundations for their lives. Universities are blessed with a variety of opportunities, so I think it is important to be aware and see how much self-development is possible in four or six years.

The classic way to get a job at an international organization is to apply for a job through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' JPO program. It is a way to get a post by being dispatched to an international organization, accumulating 2 or 3 years of work experience, and building up a network during that time. There is a possibility to apply for a vacant post after gaining work experience, but this can be said to be highly competitive.

In my course, "Professional Training," I invite various people who are engaged in international work, such as staff members of international organizations, diplomats, and Japan International Cooperation Agency, to speak to students who have high aspirations to work in these organizations. Students will be able to get information not only about jobs, but also about what kind of preparation they need to do and how to apply for them, so I hope they will maintain their initial aspirations and work hard toward them.

For Those Wishing to Study International Relations


ISHIKAWA SachikoProfessor,
College of International Relations

I am sure you have a desire to do some sort of international work, even though your idea may be vague right now. Thoroughly learn the underlying theory, open your eyes to society, and develop the empathy to see any world event without thinking of them as someone else’s problem. To step out of your comfort zone, you need to take action. It’s all about study and action. I hope you will have a fulfilling college life from both of these perspectives.

For Those Interested in Working for an International Organization: BOOKS





敵をもファンに変える 超一流の交渉術