Event report

October 8, 2019

Jamming for Social Good: Report on the Global Goals Jam Tokyo 2019

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified by the United Nations in 2015 and have since become a beacon for organisations trying to do social good. The goals cover everything from Clean Water and Sanitation to Responsible Consumption and Production, and it’s hoped that all 17 SDGs can be achieved by the year 2030.

The Global Goals Jam (GGJ) allows ordinary people to join together and make local interventions in support of these long-term goals. A GGJ event is a two-day creative hackathon open to the public and is supported by organisations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong, the Jam is organized by FabCafe.

Local GGJ organisers are free to tackle any of the 17 SDGs, but every event uses the same problem-solving framework developed by Digital Society School in Amsterdam. With Jams being held in 85 global cities over the same weekend, there’s scope to tackle the SDGs across a wide range of local contexts.

Writer: David Willoughby

The Tokyo Event

For the third year running, GGJ Tokyo was held at 100BANCH, a former warehouse for electrical goods that now functions as a collaboration space for the next generation of innovators . The three-storey building sits beside the Shibuya River, a formerly neglected waterway that is now being opened up for public use.

Just upstream from 100BANCH is Shibuya Station and an expanding forest of glass towers housing tech company offices and fabulous restaurants. As ever, Tokyo continues to impress visitors with its staggering wealth and incredible convenience. But, just like the long-neglected Shibuya River that runs beneath it, social problems also lurk below the surface and can never be paved over completely.

Previous Jams in Tokyo have focused on goals like Quality Education, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Gender Equality, and Good Health and Wellbeing. This year, the Tokyo organisers decided to focus on Quality Education, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Climate Action.

On the first day, 50 participants formed eight teams to tackle the three SDGs. In four design sprints across two days, each team identified a specific challenge and prototyped a solution using tools like Lego, cardboard, or laser cutting and 3D printing available at the nearby FabCafe. Let’s take a dive into each SDG and see what interventions were proposed by this year’s Tokyo Jammers.

Quality Education

This SDG was chosen for the third successive year, reflecting a widespread belief that education offers the best hope of tackling deep-rooted problems in Japanese society. Japan has high literacy rates and a well developed higher education sector. On paper, the figures look good. However, the school system is notoriously homogenous, with low tolerance for diversity and poor outcomes for students who drop out due to bullying or even just unconventional modes of thinking. An education system that demands conformity while promoting competition between groups and individuals results in the same values dominating adult society.

Unsurprisingly, all three teams that tackled this goal focused on introducing diversity and enabling participation by marginalised groups. One team called Mother’s Voice came up with an application that allows working mothers to access education opportunities for their children anywhere in the world. Another team created Kitchen4All, a platform that matches cooking instructors with schools to encourage diversity through the medium of food. Another team, Happy Turn, created an AI-enabled teddy bear, AI-likuma, that lets students share their classmates’ hidden talents, with the aim of developing self-confidence among all members of the class.

Decent Work and Economic Growth

Japan boasts a strong economy and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at just 2.2%. But Japan’s labour market is also beset by structural imbalances. The job market is inflexible, with few opportunities to build a career by moving between employers. Many workers spend years in low-paid ‘temporary’ jobs that deny them the benefits given to full-time employees. There’s also a huge economic disparity between urban Tokyo and rural areas of Japan.

Two teams decided to tackle this SDG, and both chose to focus on the economic divide between Tokyo and the regions. Jobs 4 Smile introduced a system for revitalising rural areas through the repurposing of abandoned homes. Another team, LGH ltd., proposed an ‘artisan discovery’ network that would enable consumers to support local artisans and preserve traditional crafts in the regions of Japan.

Climate Action

The climate crisis is already hitting Japan hard. Extreme weather events, such as the heatwave and heavy rains that killed hundreds last year, are becoming an annual occurrence. An Action on Climate Change march held the day before GGJ saw more than a thousand people rally on the streets of Shibuya. But citizen activism on this issue still lags behind other countries, despite Japan being among the world’s top five CO₂ producing nations. Even in a city of 13M people, participants felt that GGJ Tokyo was an extremely rare case of citizen-led intervention.

One team called Green Frogs took a gamification approach and designed an app that rewards users for eco-friendly lifestyle choices. The other two teams decided to focus on waste reduction as a means to reduce pressure on our planet. Super Soil is a circular economy initiative that rewards composters with fresh vegetables. Although recycling culture is well established in Japan, composting of biowaste has been slow to catch on. Finally, Insta e-Cycle invented a friendly robot that instantly disassembles old phones for recycling, while addressing data privacy and sentimental attachment issues that can cause people to hang on to old phones.

All output from Global Goals Jam 2019 Tokyo is available to view on the AWRD page!

Meet the Jammers

Global Goals Jam isn’t only about solving problems. It’s also a community-building exercise in which people of all ages and backgrounds get together and form intense bonds that actually work to strengthen society. Many Jammers commented that Tokyo needs more of these events. Participants from a non-design background also learn the fundamentals of design thinking through a series of short sprints. Let’s hear from some of this year’s Jammers:

Ayaka, Startup Member

I joined this event to get inspiration and learn more about design thinking. But the best thing is that I could connect to many people and hear so many different perspectives. Even though in discussions we thought we were on the same page, our backgrounds and opinions were totally different. It was interesting and sometimes it was tough, but it was a really great experience.

Krishna, Student

I’m an undergraduate student of Tohoku University. This is my first time at Global Goals Jam and the whole event gave me exposure to product design, how to work with a team, and how to get your ideas into a prototype. I loved thinking of how to give your idea a visualisation to help others understand your concept.

Yumi, Student

I study architecture and I’m interested in SDGs and design thinking. Everyone was so positive and up for this event. Even though I could hardly speak English, others listened to my ideas and I could really get to know the members of my team. I definitely want to join this event again.

Adi, Graduate Student

I felt that the event was organised really well. I could see there were some hiccups, but we adapted really well and it all came together. The ideas and the presentations were all very creative. It’s really nice to see participation and enthusiasm of this level in a community like this, which is not only Japanese people but also a lot of international involvement.

Morihiro, Airline Worker

I used to be on an Africa-Japan committee at the time of the Millennium Development Goals. Later I got interested in SDGs and joined various seminars. I know the ideas behind SDGs, but now I want to actually do something so I joined this event. It was hard because we had to accomplish a lot in a short time. But I felt like I achieved something and I can go on as a different person.

Raphael, Designer

I was here as a facilitator today, so I was coaching a team and getting them through the process. I was impressed that a team of design novices was able to make something better than the experts. Also amazing was the passion around the problems. Compared to some design events where people are passionate about the methodologies, here people are passionate about making the world better.

Mana, Bank Worker

My objective is to conduct sustainable finance in the Japanese market, which is why I’m interested in SDGs and why I joined this event. It was really fantastic, although we had to overcome some bottlenecks and language barriers within the group. The facilitators were super helpful, so we were able to complete our idea and make a realistic prototype.

Shreya, PhD Student

I came all the way from Sendai to participate in this event and it didn’t disappoint me at all. All of the steps we went through during the two days were very useful in actually identifying the challenge and coming up with a sustainable solution. All the ideas presented were very interesting, and I hope all of them can go forward and do something to help the world achieve the SDGs. 

Kay, Designer

I work for a strategic design firm and it’s my first time to join GGJ as a facilitator. I was actually moved by the passion and energy which the team put into the project. We really fell in love with the challenge. It’s also really nice to see people from different backgrounds and ages. I hope every connection and every effort we made over these two days will not be wasted and that good things will keep happening in the future. 

Kelsie, GGJ Tokyo Organiser

I cannot help but feel humbled by the fierceness with which Jammers (GGJ participants) hit the ground running for 2 straight days. In an online world where sometimes it feels like the best we can do is “share” a story or “like” a comment in response to a social crisis, I’m left with a feeling of privilege that I could provide an offline opportunity for fellow Tokyoites to assemble and act on the SDGs. Thank you and let’s keep the ball rolling!

Kelsie Stewart, GGJ Tokyo Organiser

For more information on GGJ:

Global Goals Jam 2019 Sprint #4 AWRD page
[See output from GGJ 2019 teams from around the world]

Global Goals Jam Bangkok 2019 Event Page
[Organizer: FabCafe Bangkok]

Global Goals Jam Hong Kong 2019 Event Page
[Organizers: FabCafe HK / Loftwork]


  • David Willoughby

    Freelance writer based in Tokyo.

    Freelance writer based in Tokyo.

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