What do we mean by ‘support’?

On December 4th, 2019, Tetsu Nakamura, the greatest Japanese supporter in Afghanistan passed away.

Tetsu is a doctor, devoting over 30 years of his life for Afghanistan, digging over 1,600 wells to provide drinkable water, installing over 25 km of irrigation canal for people, and delivering what people really need by listening to voice of the voiceless.

When the Government of Japan settled Act on Special Measures against Terrorism after 9.11, Tetsu was invited to an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives and asked to justify the entry of Japan Self-Defense Force.

緊急のアフガン問題は、政治や軍事問題ではない。パンと水の問題である。命の尊さこそ普遍的な事実である。これが私の言いたかった全てである。 — p.95 / Imanu’el

“The utmost concern is not about politics and military. It is about bread and water. The dignity of life is the universal fact — that’s all what I wanted to tell.”

In front of all politicians in the ad hoc committee, he insisted that “sending Japan Self-Defense Force causes more harm than good, we must tackle the issue of starvation.”

Several politicians heckled and a member of the committee asked him to recant his statement. He continued “regardless of your partisan, I want to insist you, yourself as a father or a mother — we must tackle the issue of drought and starvation now.”

Draw out the pus in heart

彼女らは何かに脅えていた。過酷な体験は容易に想像できたが、あえて私は詮索しないことにしていた。このような病人に必要なのは、とにかく病を癒し、少しでも「人間」としての誇りを取り戻させることである。第一段階は、ともかく餓死の危険がなく、できる限りの治療が保障されている事実をわからせることである。人間が極限に近い苦労の痛手から立ち直るのは時間がかかる。ベタベタと優しくするよりも、泣き叫びを放置して思い切り心の膿を出させる方がよい。事実と結果が最も雄弁である。 — p.61

“… they need to bring back their dignity as human beings. The first step is letting them know that they are not at risk of starvation, and they are guaranteed to receive treatment. It takes time for them to recover from extreme circumstances. We’d better drawing out the pus in their hearts rather than dispersing random kindness and listening to their sorrows. Facts and results are the most eloquent.”

Tetsu decided to devote his life and stay with people in Afghanistan. He was willing to fight against with politicians if they were about to use power for so-called “good” based on poorly constructed argument.

His initial intention to participate the ad hoc committee was solely tackling the starvation in Afghanistan. He just needed to speak loudly and deliver the voice because he knew that a million of dollars can dramatically reduce the number of people dying from starvation.

Politicians tried to erase his voice but his initial intention worked. Thousands or millions of supporters were moved and collected over 5 million USD to tackle the starvation.

Presence of the users/clients

“Support” built by a group of people without the presence of central players often lacks what people really need. This is the same for building a business — a service or product built by a group of people without the presence of main users often lacks what users really want.

When I was into development studies in my teenage years, I saw many people including myself ended up with building support systems based on our interests without considering the spillover effect.

We can never be the central players but can be only “supporters”. The very first clients in my life were HIV-positive women living on less than $1 per day. I could always go back to Japan and get more than $1 every hour.

My current clients are international founders without Japanese citizenship. There is always disparity between what I experience and what they face.


Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Supports build with top-down approach are missing some pieces to complete a puzzle.

Some supporters are satisfied with completing their tasks based on their hypothesis, but “support system” evolves after the tasks are completed and people start sending feedbacks.

Just like startups build MVP or β version of the product and see how users react, “supporters” should not finalize the scheme until we really know what’s missing, what’s needed and the spillover effect after launching the immature scheme.

People receiving supports hardly let us know the downside of what we offer especially when they continuously need to receive the support. Especially when the supporters have economic powers and social status, we just need to applaud in order not to tear them down, and they hardly notice what’s the downside.

Listening to voice of the voiceless

Even if we listen to some voices, it’s often covered with several layers of veil of ignorance. Veil of ignorance always exist when we don’t notice how privileged we are at the original position.

Moreover, just listening is not enough.

We should walk though the same path to understand the pain, frustration, what’s missing, and what we’re unconsciously ignoring to satisfy ourselves and convince ourselves that we are doing a “good” job.

But when we meet someone like Tetsu, we are moved how selflessly he’s devoting his life just to improve the lives of the poor. A change happens. People start embracing the supporter, and supporters bring more supporters.

This is the spillover effect that my team wants to pursue.



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