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03/10/2022

Expanding business in emerging countries

SuRaLa Net’s e-learning supports children in developing countries

Eliminating educational gaps is both the goal and strategy of SuRaLa Net Co., founder and Chief Executive Officer Takahiko Yunokawa said.
Eliminating educational gaps is both the goal and strategy of SuRaLa Net Co., founder and Chief Executive Officer Takahiko Yunokawa said.

Many companies have announced initiatives to help achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals by 2030. This article reports on what is currently being required of companies and how they can go about incorporating such efforts in their business operations while creating opportunities for growth by doing so.

The SDGs adopted by the U.N. in September 2015 are intended to be achieved by 2030. The 17 goals and 169 associated targets are for both developing and advanced economies to pursue to realize a society that will “leave no one behind.”

Click here to find details of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s SDG initiatives.

There are many companies that provide students with online learning programs, but SuRaLa Net’s focus is on helping students with low academic ability.

“There is a correlation between academic ability and the income levels of households with students, in any part of the world,” SuRaLa Net Co. founder and Chief Executive Officer Takahiko Yunokawa said, explaining the company’s focus.

“But many educational companies, including those providing e-learning services, target students with high academic ability, and tend to leave behind children with low academic ability or from low-income households,” he continued. “We aim to eliminate a negative spiral of income gaps and educational gaps by providing educational materials online aimed at helping raise the academic ability of students with low academic skills,” he said. “And we see a business opportunity there.”

“In the corner of my mind, there was a vague idea that we may be able to contribute to solving social issues by, for example, promoting literacy in emerging countries,” Yunokawa said, explaining the company’s motive for targeting both domestic and overseas markets. “In my previous job (at Venture Link Inc.), I had an opportunity to travel to an emerging country and was shocked to find out that the local literacy rate then was lower than I had expected. That experience was the starting point,” he said. “I was especially shocked to learn that over 10% of Chinese and over 30% of Indians could not read. Levels of education were noticeably low especially among people in poor and low-income classes.

“Our company’s strength is in addressing low-achievement students, and so our curriculums proceed in gradual steps and provide careful explanation. That means they don’t require much tweaking to be used in emerging countries. We began offering the service in Sri Lanka in 2016 and we now operate also in Indonesia, India and the Philippines,” he said.

“Operating a business overseas can lead to creating social value in the region, and the size of the market is many times that of the Japanese market, so it was obvious to us that overseas expansion was essential for the company’s growth over the medium to long term,” he said. “The problem was, we were at the time preparing for listing our shares, partly because of the exit strategy of the fund. Expanding operations overseas would require a lot of funding. Luckily, we were able to receive assistance from JICA’s Feasibility Survey for SDGs Business (formerly the Preparatory Survey on BOP Business),” he said, referring to the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“After we launched business overseas, we were again fortunate to receive support from the programs of public organizations, such as JETRO (the Japan External Trade Organization),” he said.

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