Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan and SAIS's raison d'être

Japan's trauma is being felt around the world and of course also at SAIS. We have Japanese students -- two at the Bologna Center this year -- and 42 SAIS Bologna alumni from Japan. Beyond those connections, the suffering and uncertainties have moved the SAIS community.

As a graduate program in international relations, SAIS has always combined the practical with the theoretical and offers  both academics and practitioners. The crisis in Japan has stirred efforts to help those on the ground as well as debate over the future of nuclear energy.

My goal here is neither to raise funds for Japan nor to enter into the nuclear discussion. I merely note that  moments such as this are part of SAIS's raison d'être. We strive to educate individuals who will be able to grapple with the kind of complex issues that have arisen in the past week in Japan: issues pertaining to policymaking, crisis management, preparedness, leadership, communication, energy resources.

Some concrete steps at SAIS:

- SAIS Bologna students have launched a fund-raising effort to support a Japanese NGO called JEN. Shoko Sugai, a Japanese national studying at the Bologna Center, has worked at JEN, which she called "one of the few disaster relief/conflict management NGOs in Japan" with "a fantastic reputation both domestically and with the government."

- Students at SAIS DC have launched a Facebook page called SAIS Japan Relief Team. You can read more about the team here. It aims to inform about the situation on the ground in Japan and on ways of helping. It is raising donations in Washington this week.

- The SAIS Alumni Relations Office has tried to contact all known graduates living in Japan to check on their well-being.

- In Bologna, alumnus Marco Dell'Aquila, who teaches a course on renewable energy, and Director Kenneth Keller, who has extensive experience in nuclear power, led a round-table discussion today on what the crippling of the Fukushima reactors might mean for the global energy industry.

- Mari Tanaka, a 2010 graduate of SAIS, works at The Nippon Foundation, which has set up a special relief fund. Her choice of career is not unusual among alumni.

- SAIS community members are not unaware, either, of some of the donation scams that have emerged or even of the debate over whether Japan needs -- or wants -- donations. It's no use having blinders if you want to tackle international relations.

Nelson Graves

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