Development Consultant & Author
Winning the Shiroyama Economic Literature Prize despite proclaiming herself as an amateur author
The title of Ms. Matsumura’s blog is the Two Hats Travel Blog: Development Consultant & Amateur Author–The Ennui of Travel. Despite her claims of being an “amateur,” Ms. Matsumura wrote the novel The Song of Lolo Jonggrang (written by Mika Matsumura, Diamond Publishing) even while busy working as a development consultant in developing countries. Even more, in 2009, this work won the 1st Shiroyama Saburo Economic Literature Prize.
The plot of the novel is as follows:—Nanami Todo, a writer for a weekly magazine at a newspaper company, travels to Indonesia in order to cover the central Java earthquake. Nanami’s cousin Minoru dies when caught in the civil war for independence in East Timor, the site of Nanami’s reporting. Nanami makes the acquaintance of Minoru’s girlfriend Reiko, who works as a nurse for an international aid group at the disaster site, as well as employees from a construction consulting company. Nanami and her boyfriend Kazuki find the key to unraveling the mystery behind Minoru’s death, eventually uncovering a bribery plot related to ODA (official development assistance).– “I wrote the novel with the hope that readers would learn about actual conditions surrounding consultants who support the growth of developing countries through ODA,” says Ms. Matsumura.
What is the work of a development consultant? Although the term consultant is used broadly, it can mean a number of different things depending on the work involved. To begin with, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies of the Japanese government conduct ODA. This aid is received by the government of another country. If the goal of ODA is to develop infrastructure, then construction is performed by a general contractor. Issues such as construction management are supervised by a construction consultant. A development consultant is responsible for creating the basic design (B/D) for the project using ODA, as well as for negotiations between all related organizations.
For example, Ms. Matsumura traveled to Mongolia last year as a development consultant to oversee a solar power project. Although she had created a B/D two years prior, she visited the country to invite several related Mongolian organization and conduct public relations activities.
Of course, Ms. Matsumura’s work covers such a wide range that she describes herself as a “jack of all trades.” She has been involved in projects such as water power, road infrastructure, bridges, water and sewerage, and schools. Moreover, her work often covers a cross-section of these fields. Ms. Matsumura creates B/D and detailed designs (D/D). She oversees economic results and budget allocation, and sometime even conducts construction management.
Reason why bribes are widespread in countries which receive economic support
Shortly before Ms. Matsumura released her novel, a major construction consultant was denounced by society for conducting bribery in an ODA project in a developing country. In other words, consultants were viewed similarly to a portion of general contractors which are tied to corrupt government officials.
“More than 20 years have passed since I began working as a development consultant,” says Ms. Matsumura. “Luckily, I have never gotten entangled in any kind of corruption. However, depending on the country receiving ODA, the idea of corruption may differ from our perceptions.”
What is view as corruption may be that country’s culture and could even be called history.
“Although bribes are received by high-ranking officials at government agencies, they don’t keep the money all for themselves. They also distribute it among their subordinates. This is because the salaries are quite low.”
Accordingly, Ms. Matsumura sometimes feels ashamed.
“It could be called cruel to enforce the ethics of the side offering aid. Through my novel, I wanted to show how conditions already exist in which a bribe must be given, thus putting construction consultants in a difficult position.”
Even so, Ms. Matsumura is not accepting the negativity which can surround ODA.
“If the fundamental concept of ODA is strictly to support and aid developing countries, then we must accept bribery and other culture of that country. However, I view my role as helping that country to become independent, not as giving charity. For example, there are some countries which have been receiving aid for many years, with only a privileged few gaining any benefit. In countries where drought or other factors have led to constant food shortages, I perform consulting which emphasizes irrigation construction and education of farming techniques.”
Participating in the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers immediately after graduating university
Ms. Matsumura’s interest in overseas was born from her own misfortune.
“My father died when I was a 2nd-year university student and I experienced financial difficulties. Therefore, I lived in a dormitory for foreign students in Shinjuku Ward. I had participated in the volunteer activities for this dormitory. While living at the dormitory, I helped to resolve troubles and assist foreign students with daily life. My interest in overseas was sparked by the influence of a Thai foreign student that I befriended. Even so, I had no money to study overseas. At that time, I learned of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and volunteered in Thailand after my graduation.”
Incidentally, in 1990, Ms. Matsumura summarized her experience in Thailand into a collection of essays entitled Thailand—Scenes of Water Buffalos (Keisoshobo Publishing, currently out of stock). The collection was even introduced in the Asahi Shinbun newspaper.
After returning to Japan, Ms. Matsumura entered a research institution, but soon transferred to her current consulting company. However, she felt that she lacked the skills to perform her job.
“I decided to improve myself by studying at an evening graduate school for working professionals. I enrolled at the Tsukuba University Graduate School of Business, majoring in management systems.”
She studied marketing and organization theory, obtaining her MBA in 2001. This was the start of her full-scale debut as a development consultant.
Recently, Ms. Matsumura has traveled to Ethiopia and Nepal. She has visited 37 countries, mainly developing countries. On the other hand, Kadokawa Shoten Publishing released a paperback version of The Song of Lolo Jonggrang in April. Ms. Matsumura also plans to publish a new book. Her lifestyle of “wearing two hats” still continues.
Offered by: Chuo University Gakuin Jiho No. 476
Born in Tokyo. Graduated from the Chuo University Faculty of Economics in 1985. Afterwards, spent 2 years in Thailand with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. Upon returning to Japan, obtained her Master’s Degree in management at Tsukuba University Graduate School and started working as an international development consultant. Participated in development surveys in countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia and Ethiopia. In 2008, won the 1st Shiroyama Saburo Economic Literature Prize for her work Sanctuary of Interests—The Song of Lolo Jonggrang. Also, on November 27th, Kadokawa Shoten Publishing plans to release the book Interest Deposit, which is based in Mongolia. Operates the Two Hats (development consultant and author)
Travel Blog at http://matsumuramika.blog.so-net.ne.jp/.