We caught up with finance guru, community-oriented, and a past iKapa intern, Naoki Hiroi. Read what he had to say about his time as an intern in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
4 Fun-Fact Questions:
Favourite South African food/snack?
Braai, Stellenbosch-made red wine (so yummy!)
Most memorable “tourist activity” you experienced while in SA?
Robben Island tour
Most interesting South African saying or slang word that you came across?
You cannot beat a drum with one finger (meaning: give every task the energy and attention it requires if you want to get the desired results)
Describe your internship experience in South Africa using only 3 words…
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am from Tokyo, Japan and am currently in charge of investing in fixed income assets at a Japanese bank. I majored in Economics at University and focused on finance and non-profit business during my MBA at Yale School of Management in the USA.
What first inspired you / sparked the thought to go to South Africa?
I joined an international program for 2 months at Yale SOM and studied business/history/culture and honed-in on the ongoing social issues that South Africa faces. This included a 10-day trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Everything I saw there was totally eye-opening to me! I felt that what was happening in the townships was far beyond anything I had learned in the case studies I worked through prior to my experience. So, I decided to move beyond the school program and dig deeper to see what was really happening on the ground.
What, in turn, actually made you decide to go to South Africa for your internship?
I met up with Dee (the former Director of Connect Network and the founder of iKapa Impact) during my time at Yale SOM, where our team helped Connect Network plan the optimal marketing strategy for an educational program that empowers NGO leaders in the area. I was interested in the unique positioning of Connect Network which supports local NGOs in Cape Town through quality improvement initiatives and connecting local NGOs to each other. I thought that joining iKapa Impact would help me to better understand the situation in the townships and why/how Connect Network could make a difference in Cape Town.
Tell us about the project that you worked on while doing your internship.
Using my financial background, I provided the board members of Connect Network with advice on how they could effectively showcase their initiatives to existing and potential financial supporters. For example, I helped quantify the answers to the questionnaires which they send out to their affiliates, and drafted and provide feedback on sections of the financial part of their annual report in 2017. Outside of Connect Network, I set up a spreadsheet visualizing break-even points of the Sir Lowry’s Pass Empowerment Project, an NGO that empowers their community through job-creation, education, and mentorship.
Could you tell us a bit about the opportunity you had to attend the ‘Good Company Conference’ in Johannesburg?
The Good Company Conference was where leaders in South Africa’s non-profit space gathered to discuss and strategize their long-term vision for the future of non-profits in the country. The thoughts and ideas that were shared about how the supportive standard in local areas should connect with the global cooperative framework truly got me excited! I feel that financial support is important but a clear vision and long-lasting passion in this non-profit space are indeed essential!
What was your experience of visiting the people under the bridge in Stellenbosch like?
I tagged along for some of the activities run by Kuyasa in Kayamandi, a local township in Stellenbosch. One day I joined the high school students who worked at Kuyasa on an activity where they were reaching out to homeless people in the area. We approached various homeless people living under highway bridges and these high school students were ministering to these people by reading Bible verses to them and talking with them. Their goal was to show love to their neighbours and the vulnerable in society at a grassroots level. The fact that those high school students came up with this initiative to reach out to their community through scripture-reading and acts of kindness, considering the risks they faced, was impressive to me.
Did your internship influence your career path in any way?
I decided to go back to Japan and work at Japanese bank, but my experience and vision regarding the non-profit sector in South Africa has helped me to think about the real value of what I am doing in my work. I think about how my business will have a positive impact on our society that goes beyond maximizing profits.
What was the all-time highlight of your time in SA?
My experience in South Africa was totally different to what I have had in Japan and the US. Everything I saw in SA was eye-opening. Both Japan and the US have well-established infrastructure where most people have access to public benefits. Residents in the townships of South Africa, on the other hand, have poor access to basic infrastructure. Despite this, they make a genuine effort to support each other to live a better life. I learned that this cooperative attitude toward their neighbours is the first step to true community, which people in Japan and the US often forget. I was sometimes disappointed by the low-quality infrastructure in the townships, but this heart-warming mindset taught me an alternative way to play a positive role in people’s lives.
What piece of advice would you give to new interns thinking about applying to iKapa?
You will learn both the harsh realities of townships and cooperative community of them during your stay in Cape Town. Your time at iKapa Impact will change your view of life and you will realize the real value of true community. It will be a once in a lifetime experience!