From left, CSS Dean Denise Eby Konan, Economics Professor Nori Tarui and Koichiro Iwasaki, CSS alumnus and donor.
A Japanese businessman, who fondly remembers earning his bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in the 1970s, has pledged $200,000 to the College of Social Sciences (CSS) to encourage educational and socio-economic pathways between Japan and Hawai‘i.
Koichiro Iwasaki, president and CEO of Shigetomi Shoji Co. Ltd. based in Kagoshima, has started the eponymous endowment at UH Foundation.
“I am establishing this endowment, because I want to benefit my UH alma mater and my hometown, Kagoshima, through education- and economic-based activities,” said Iwasaki, who went to graduate schools in the continental U.S. and earned a PhD in Public Administration from International Christian University in Japan. “The Japanese tax system is not conducive to large annual donations to foreign universities, but I want to support CSS, so I’m contributing through the Council for Better Corporate Citizenship (CBCC). I hope other CSS alumni in Japan, and Japan-based companies with ties to Hawai‘i, will do the same.”
CBCC is a public-interest-incorporated association established by Keidanren, the Japan-based business federation with broad membership of over 1,500 Japanese companies, industry associations and regional economic organizations. In 2022, CSS Dean Denise Eby Konan spearheaded the organizational groundwork at UH Mānoa for the College to become an “international contribution project” at CBCC.
“This approval will allow UH Mānoa to be treated the same as Japanese universities when it comes to donors receiving tax-exemptions for monetary contributions, so CSS alumni and supporters in Japan can now benefit from a level playing field,” said Iwasaki. “For this, I express my sincere gratitude to Dean Konan.”
Added Konan, “Dr. Iwasaki’s lead gift will support research and educational programs through the CSS Japan-Hawaiʻi Socio-Economic Innovation Initiative Proposal (JHSEII). We are so proud to lead this project, and appreciative of his inspirational leadership.”
Iwasaki remembers his undergraduate days at CSS, albeit more than four decades ago, with fondness and clarity. “When I graduated in 1979, UH had just joined the Western Athletic Conference in football,” he reminisces. “I still have fond memories of watching the Rainbow Warriors play in Aloha Stadium that was packed with spectators. It was an exciting time.”
The classroom was an exciting place for him as well, especially in the study of Economics. As a CSS undergraduate, Iwasaki admired his many stellar professors, especially Seiji Naya, considered a pioneer in the study of Asian economic cooperation. Iwasaki was so motivated by Economics faculty that he completed his bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four. He credits his experience in Hawai‘i as helping to shape his global business perspective and fostering the aloha spirit in his corporate dealings.
On returning to his ancestral home in Kagoshima, a seaside city on Kyushu Island, Iwasaki began building Shigetomi Shoji, now a large asset management company. But, as the decades passed, Iwasaki wondered how he could help strengthen the ties between Kagoshima and Mānoa. One way was to launch an endowment to financially support CSS students who hope to study at Kagoshima University. The endowment would also accelerate research and socio-economic dialogue on comparative social sciences research involving Kagoshima and Hawai‘i.
After all, the two places have much in common. They have strong traditions of agriculture and aquaculture (rice, tea, sweet potatoes and prawns in Kagoshima; macadamia nuts, coffee, fish and limu in Hawai‘i). And both are vulnerable to natural hazards exacerbated by climate change, including sea level rise, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
These commonalities led to the formation of JSEII in 2022 with its four distinct areas of interest: mutual student exchange; socio-economic dialogue; tourism enhancement; and disaster risk response and environmental global stewardship. Participation and funding would promote a better understanding of international socio-economic issues in Japan and Hawai‘i, while developing shining examples of corporate social responsibility.
“I love Kagoshima, and I’ll never forget my time at CSS,” said Iwasaki. “Since financial support is critical to enhance the mutual exchange, I am happy to start the wheels in motion with this fundraising effort. I hope others will join me in that goal.”
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The University of Hawai‘i Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawai‘i System. The mission of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation is to unite donors’ passions with the University of Hawai‘i’s aspirations by raising philanthropic support and managing private investments to benefit UH, the people of Hawai‘i and our future generations. uhfoundation.org