Dialogue with Yukio Tanaka: “Reflection of a World Bank Professional on the Changing World and Japan”

On July 28, 2023 (US Eastern Time) (July 29, Japan Time), an online dialogue with Yukio Tanaka, an alumnus of the University of Tokyo who works at the World Bank, was held. This event was organized by Friends of UTokyo, Inc. and Satsukikai America. The event was a great success, with a total of 30 participants from the United States and Japan, representing various backgrounds. (https://blogs.worldbank.org/team/yukio-tanaka)

Mr. Tanaka currently holds the position of Senior Water Resources Specialist at the World Bank. Since 2017, he has been involved in World Bank projects in over 30 developing countries.

During the dialogue, Mr. Tanaka presented on the following five topics using slides: ① the World Bank, ② the world seen through water issues, ③ sample case studies of World Bank projects, and ④ Japanese individuals venturing onto the global stage.

Many participants expressed enthusiastic responses. Their comments included, “I was very inspired not only by the explanation of your specialty but also by your discussion of building an international career,” and “In Japan and the coastal areas of the United States, water resource shortage is not a familiar issue. The lecture was very easy to understand, even for a layperson like myself, and it deepened my understanding of the water resource problem that we need to address.”

In the Q&A session that followed the dialogue, many individuals from diverse backgrounds who are active in both Japan and overseas participated, resulting in a meaningful exchange of opinions and questions. Here are some examples:

Participant: Which regions around the world are experiencing water shortages?

Tanaka: You can easily imagine the Middle East, but surprisingly, China and the United States are also regions where water shortages are a concern.

Participant: What is the proportion of natural factors and human factors causing water shortages?

Tanaka: Although it is difficult to pinpoint a definitive percentage to answer the question, population growth is a major contributing factor.

Participant: Mr. Tanaka, please tell us your opinion regarding irrigated agriculture.

Tanaka: Irrigated agriculture is not widely practiced in Africa, which is experiencing serious food shortages, even though this type of agriculture has the potential to significantly increase agricultural production. We believe it is important to create a viable system for areas where irrigated agriculture is not currently common, and this will be a challenge for the future.

Participant: Is the use of desalinated seawater being considered in areas with water shortages?

Tanaka: Seawater is used for agriculture in some part of the world like Spain. However, seawater desalination requires energy usage and is costly, so we believe there are still many issues to address regarding the use of seawater.

Participant: What kind of mindset does someone who received education and worked in Japan need to have in order to have a fulfilling career in an international agency like the World Bank?

Tanaka: When a person steps out of the comfort zone of a “homogeneous culture” like Japan to work at an international organization, it is essential for them to actively voice their opinions and make suggestions, rather than simply following what their superiors tell them. Additionally, rather than associating only with people who share similar values and backgrounds, it is important to embrace diversity (including race and gender). I don’t think the observation, “It is only over drinks that we can discuss really important issues,” is valid in the international community.

Finally, Professor Atsushi Tsuda, Executive Vice President of the University of Tokyo, delivered the following closing remark: “I believe that we need to find ways to communicate to younger generations the importance of the issues Mr. Tanaka discussed in the second half of the event, including (1) the necessary qualifications for Japanese individuals to be effective on the global stage and (2) the creation of mechanisms to encourage challenge and change. I wholeheartedly wish continued success for Mr. Tanaka, who has built a successful career on the global stage, much like Mr. Shunsuke Mabuchi, who delivered a congratulatory address at the University of Tokyo’s matriculation ceremony this year.”

In response, Mr. Tanaka concluded, “Today, I had the opportunity to interact online with a diverse group of people, from experienced senior professionals to energetic young individuals, and it was very stimulating for me. When I have conversations on similar themes with my usual acquaintances, we often arrive at already familiar observations and conclusions. In that sense, it was extremely valuable and refreshing for me to engage with people from different backgrounds in an event like this.”

During the social gathering (“Konshinkai”) that followed, many participants remained and continued lively discussions.

Author: Satsuki America Event Team (DC/New York)

Note: The views expressed at the event represent those of the speaker and not necessarily those of the World Bank.