The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

accj-charity-ballThinking about our charities this year provides us with an opportunity to reflect on America’s philanthropic roots, and how this character trait is an integral part of US exceptionalism. Even among those earliest inhabitants who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower, Americans have always extended a helping hand and given back to the community, whether through churches or other voluntary associations.

It was Alexis de Tocqueville who observed that the energetic commitment Americans have to the voluntary associations that constitute civil society is something special. Think about this recent example: In the span of 48 hours, more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain fell on large portions of Louisiana. In this maelstrom there arose a magnificent sight. Seemingly out of nowhere, an unlikely flotilla of fishing and pleasure boats came together to help rescue thousands of people. While minutes—even seconds—counted, neighbor helped neighbor to safety. The Cajun Navy, as it was called, was followed up by the Cajun Army. All voluntary associations helping their communities, they helped provide necessary boots on the ground to deal with the after-effects of the flood.

Similarly, in the aftermath of 3/11, we remember the effort by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) to not only raise significant funds to help as quickly as possible, but to make sure those funds were put to immediate and effective use. The ACCJ worked to get funds to the small NPOs that were hard at work in the Tohoku region. The chamber also responded immediately in a similar fashion to the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto. This is what we do, and our efforts go to helping make the communities we live in stronger and more vibrant.

The Charity Ball, often considered the social event of the year for many people living in the expatriate community in Tokyo, has become a major charity fundraiser for the chamber. And while our members’ talents and generosity are not being tasked to respond to a catastrophic event, we are nonetheless helping serve critical needs in the community through the monies raised.

Since the charity component was added in 2002, the ball has raised about ¥150 million for numerous charities that support our local community. The beneficiaries are chosen by the Community Service Advisory Council (CSAC), which works together with the Charity Ball committee and our leaders to identify the “primary charities” to which a majority of the donations are made.

This year, our charities include the Mike Makino fund, which helps the homeless, the ACCJ–YMCA Ohisama Camp for Challenged Children, the Nonohana-no-ie Children’s Home, HELP Women’s Shelter, and TELL (formerly Tokyo English Lifeline), a much needed mental health resource in our community.

Barbara Hancock is director and vice president, Media Sense K.K., and chair of the Charity Ball Committee