The Next-generation Female Leadership Development Program “Design Your Future 2019” was held


One of the things that will become indispensable for Japan’s sustainable growth and the revitalization of the regional communities will be the development of next-generation female leaders. To this end, the PwC Japan Group and SKY LABO held the STEAM1 Female Leadership Development Program, “Design Your Future: Let’s draw the future with design thinking!” The junior high and high school female students participating in the workshop gathered at the PwC Experience Center, PwC’s state-of-the-art innovation facility, in Otemachi, Tokyo, for three days from Tuesday, July 23, 2019, to Thursday, July 25, 2019, to come up with solutions to social issues in Japan related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by using design thinking. What is behind PwC’s intention to sponsor such a program? Let’s look at the details.


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To develop next-generation talent towards “Society 5.0”

“Design Your Future 2019” is a program to foster next-generation female leaders for junior high and high school female students, conducted through the collaboration of the PwC Japan Group (“PwC”) and the general incorporated association SKY LABO (“SKY LABO”) headed by Rie Kijima, Assistant Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto (former Lecturer, Stanford University School of Education). SKY LABO is a non-profit educational organization founded by three women with PhDs from Stanford University that promotes STEAM education (which adds Arts to Science / Technology / Engineering / Mathematics fields) and is engaged in the fostering of talent who will support next-generation innovation.

At “Design Your Future 2019,” participants studied “Design thinking,” which has also come into focus in Japan in the past few years, based on a unique curriculum developed by SKY LABO together with the faculty of the Stanford University School of Education. Leading PwC consultants and the design coaches of SKY LABO acted as facilitators and supported the teams comprising the junior high and high school female students. The program’s lecturers were design-thinking professionals from the US, and participants learned design thinking in English and presented their ideas in English on the final day of the program. Twenty-one girls, ages 12 to 18, attending all-girls schools in Tokyo participated and took on the challenge.

Yukinori Morishita, PwC’s Corporate Responsibility Leader had this to say about the significance and the objectives of holding “Design Your Future 2019.”

“The purpose of PwC is to ‘build trust in society and solve important problems.’ To this end, we use our ‘knowledge’ as a weapon and constantly think about what we can do for Japanese society. As the population continues to decline, fostering highly-productive talent capable of competing on the international stage has become, without a doubt, an important problem. This is why we decided to have students experience problem solving based on design thinking, which we are promoting with our clients. Programs such as this, which leverage the expertise of PwC, represent activities to meet society’s expectations for PwC and is expected to have a positive impact on our business in the medium- to long-term.”

The reason why the program targeted junior high and high school female students was that “we wanted to broaden the base of girls interested in the STEAM areas.” According to a research2 by PwC, not many girls were interested in the field of technology. With regard to this finding, Kijima of SKY LABO points out, “Many stereotypes claiming that men are more suited to STEAM than women still exist in schools, the individual households, and society. Among the OECD countries, Japan, in particular, is known to have the greatest gender gap in terms of science and math scores.”

Furthermore, Morishita continues, “In an age where AI coexists with humans, increasing the number of women who are capable of playing active roles in the STEAM fields will be crucial in revitalizing the economy and society as a whole. We hope that fundamental opportunities such as this program will foster female talent who will play active roles in the STEAM fields and that as many female leaders as possible will play a definitive part in the age of “Society 5.0.”

What is design thinking? Hands-on experience of STEAM education

“Design Your Future 2019” held a workshop to think about issues related to SDGs in the STEAM education experience program using design thinking. For example, a team considered what is the ideal “education of the future” using design thinking and on the final day presented the team’s ideas for achieving Goal04 “Quality education for all.”

“Design thinking” is a thinking approach that leads to the creation of innovation developed by David Kerry, the founder of a design consulting firm in Silicon Valley as well as a professor at Stanford University. It is a methodology centered on the people who use the services and products, i.e. the user, and defined as “a method that designers often use to integrate three elements: human needs, what can be done with technology, and the conditions that are required for business success.”

The program addresses “challenges related to SDGs,” which may be difficult to comprehend in their essence and which may not have immediate solutions. Kijima notes, “the design thinking method is extremely effective in freeing oneself from stereotypes and coming up with fantastic ideas in the process of seeking out solutions that had never been thought of before.”

Design thinking puts the utmost priority on the user and maintains an unwavering stance of human-centric thinking. It is not bound by “what is feasible” or “what must be done” but seeks out “what the person’s needs are” and invents ideas through the collaborative efforts of the team. Six themes were prepared in advance for the participants in taking on this design challenge.

Regarding these themes, Kijima comments, “Thanks to the proposals made by the global firm, PwC, based on the projects that PwC had been involved with, we were provided with an extremely wide variety of themes. I believe that one of the benefits of collaboration was being able to set design challenges based on actual problems occurring around the world.”

At the workshop, the participants divided up into teams of four and learned how to conduct interviews. People who were taking initiatives that approximated the proposed issues, such as persons from companies dealing with the problem of labor shortage, and persons who were in the midst of child-rearing or nursing care, participated as the users. The junior high and high school students asked questions to get to know the users, such as, “What kind of lives do you normally lead? What kind of initiatives are you taking?” and “What is troubling you right now?”

Subsequently, the teams brainstormed and came up with ideas. For junior high and high school female students, the challenge of coming up with ideas that draw close to the feelings of the users rather than simply creating as they liked, was no easy matter. After narrowing down the ideas, they experienced prototype-building in order to materialize the ideas. Each team presented the prototypes to the users and received feedback. And after two days of repeated testing and making improvements, they gave their presentations on the final day.

Presentation of the prototypes in English. Boosting the confidence of the junior high and high school female students in the knowledge that they are sending out their ideas to the world

It’s time for the presentation on the last day. The expressions on their faces are clearly different from that of the first day as each team gives a presentation all in English.

The team which tackled the theme of “the education of the future,” focusing on the interests of each learner, stressed the importance of an environment that respected each learner’s independence and proposed a new smart device that would enable an interactive learning experience between students and with the teacher. This proposal which offers a fun way of learning that utilizes the latest digital technology and communication methods is the very embodiment of STEM+A output. The team which addressed the theme of “inbound foreign visitors” came up with ingenious ways of selling their ideas such as giving a presentation with a story-line, using skits.

The confident way in which the junior high and high school female students, who had been concerned whether they would be able to comprehend the English and had worried expressions on their faces on the program’s first day, were expressing their thoughts in English when questioned by the lecturers and soaking up the knowledge and experience suggested immense potential.

Many of the participating junior high and high school female students left comments indicating a sense of accomplishment, such as “It was a meaningful experience because, while interviewing the users was hard work, we learned how to get the person interested and draw out their comments.” “At first I was lost because I couldn’t understand any of the English but by the last day, I was able to more or less understand what was being said and I felt like my listening skills have improved.” “I am glad that I was able to learn that when solving problems, what I want to do and what the other person wants done are not necessarily the same.” “I was able to gain confidence by being able to express my views without any hesitation in front of an audience of adults and elder people.”

We will continue our partnership and promote the advancement of women.

After completing the three days of “Design Your Future 2019,” we asked Ms. Kijima her impression of Japanese junior high and high school female students and about her involvement with PwC going forward.

“Compared to American girls of the same age, many of them seemed to be very shy and reluctant to express their opinions. However, I believe that they were given a boost of confidence by being given the opportunity to express themselves in such a way. Furthermore, I feel that their uniquely Japanese traits of diligence, outstanding manual dexterity, and being both philosophical and creative were fully utilized in the final presentations. I think that they were able to experience the fun of cooperating as a team and thinking outside of the box. I believe that we were able to impact the mindset of junior high and high school female students through this program. As for going beyond this program and fostering female leadership on a higher level, in other words, in terms of corporate activities and the formulation of national policies, I hope that PwC with its power to change the world will continue to exert its influence in a constructive manner.”

Mr. Morishita of PwC commented, “The fostering of female leadership, as a national human resources development strategy, will require long-term efforts. One of the factors inhibiting the advancement of women is the inequality of opportunities for women as a result of an unconscious bias that begins from childhood, which, in turn, leads to the unfulfilled potential of women. In order to fully draw out their potential, we need to change the existing systems and structures. I hope to continue our partnership with SKY LABO and seek out such possibilities.”

The PwC Japan Group will accelerate its collaboration with clients, educational organizations, local governments, etc. and engage in initiatives to foster female leaders who will play active roles on the international stage in the next 10 and 20 years.


1 The education field comprising Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (“STEM”), which is being advocated with the addition of Arts (Fine arts and design as well as the liberal arts including philosophy, literature, history, and anthropology)

2 PwC UK Research Report: Women in tech Time to close the gender gap report[PDF 1,037KB]


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