PlaNet Finance Japan

Report on the initiatives that were held during the three-year period

PlaNet Finance is an international NGO that is promoting microfinance (financial services for the poor and small-scale businesses) in an effort to create a world that is free of poverty. It has networks in about 60 countries throughout the world. PlaNet Finance Japan (PFJ) works with private companies and government agencies, like Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to operate base-of-the-pyramid (BOP) business projects that introduce microfinance projects that originate in Japan. It runs BOP projects in Asia, Africa and other regions. PlaNet Finance Japan adapted its microfinance concepts for use in the areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. It has operated initiatives that promote the establishment of new businesses, while creating jobs and helping small-scale businesses recover, in partnership with local credit unions.

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Summary of the initiatives that were held during the three-year period

PlaNet Finance Japan used the UNIQLO Recovery Assistance project funds for the initiatives of the Sanriku Tomodachi Fund, which is described in more detail below. The fund is helping operators of small-scale businesses that suffered due to the disaster to restart their businesses and is assisting startups through the following three programs.

Aid for rebuilding devastated regions and creating new businesses:
Since the disaster, PlaNet Finance Japan has helped to start new businesses that meet the needs of the devastated areas. It provides capital up to half of what is needed to get the venture off the ground and up to 1.5 million yen for each startup to complement the capital that the entrepreneurs have raised independently. Through such efforts, PlaNet Finance Japan has helped entrepreneurs who have the necessary experience and abilities to run a business and who are also very committed to helping the area recover. Despite an unforgiving economic environment, 97% of the startups in the Sanriku region (parts or all of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures) are still in business.
Aid for disaster-hit companies seeking to hire employees:
PlaNet Finance Japan has aided small-scale businesses that were hit by the disaster to hire the people they need to restart operations.
Program to partially subsidize the interest on loans that were taken out to assist recovery efforts:
PlaNet Finance Japan has worked together with Kesennuma Shinkin Bank to provide financing that reduces the burden of consumer loan payments by partially subsidizing the interest for two years. The program offers greater access to capital for small-scale businesses that struggled to secure financing after they were hit by the disaster. A total of 400 million yen in financing has been provided to 52 companies through the UNIQLO Recovery Assistance project.

PlaNet Finance Japan has helped many small-scale business operators restart their businesses and entrepreneurs launch new ones in the devastated areas. Its efforts have grown much bigger in scope than initially planned during three years of providing assistance and have been extended to cover a larger area. The situation immediately after the disaster struck in 2011 and the current situation is now greatly different. Furthermore, business operators are facing new challenges.
Local businesses that were forced to halt operations due to the disaster desperately needed capital to fix facilities and hire people so that they could reopen. Unfortunately, many of these businesses had already taken out loans before the disaster. They were hesitant to restart their businesses because taking out additional loans exposed them to greater risk. Moreover, the banks had become pessimistic about lending to businesses that had stopped operating and that were unable to provide sales projections.
The Tomodachi Fund's recovery assistance financing program alleviated the burden of the interest payments that companies planning to rebuild their facilities had to pay. The fund's hiring assistance program partly subsidized the wages of employees.
Both programs are believed to have helped companies restart their businesses. The startup assistance element helped people who were opening new businesses to start operations and replace business operators that were forced out of business due to the disaster. The people who established the new businesses have an important role in catering to everyday needs in their communities. They provide goods and services that are essential for everyday life, such as food, welfare and daycare services, in place of companies that went out of business. Young, local entrepreneurs returned to the region after the disaster and took on the challenge of starting businesses that met some of the area's many needs. They have also used the fund's capital to help rebuild the region. The Tomodachi Fund has helped local disaster-hit companies and startups continuously grow after three years of providing assistance in the wake of the disaster.

Changes and memorable moments in three years of assistance

PlaNet Finance Japan and Mercy Corps, a US NGO that has been a partner since the start of the project, had an independent organization objectively analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the Tomadachi Fund from September 2013 to February 2014. New Frontier Service, a consulting firm based in Belgium, comprehensively evaluated the fund's effectiveness for about five months after it was classified as an independent organization. Their report gave high marks to the following elements of the fund:

Novelty of the Tomodachi Fund's approach
Ability to quickly, flexibly and precisely respond to the needs of disaster-hit business operators
Assistance towards the creation of new businesses
Effective operation of Japan's first partnership involving an NPO and credit unions.

When PlaNet Finance Japan spoke to the business operators it helped, it received a range of feedback. Comments about startup assistance included the following: "It was reassuring to receive startup capital that I could not cover with my own funds as a donation. At the time, I could not foresee how business would go." Another person said: "I was able to run my business with more stability than I could have with regular loans, which require immediate payment, during the startup phase when capital is scarce." One person had this to say about the hiring assistance program and the recovery assistance financing program: "The burden of paying employees' wages and making interest payments is extremely heavy for small-scale companies that lost much due to the disaster and that do not know when they can start generating sales again. Subsidies that reduce such burdens were extremely helpful in enabling companies that were in the process of rebuilding to stably and continuously stay in business."