Kaizen Being Tested & Tried in Africa

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Looking for a way to improve the production and quality of native businesses, the Ethiopian government sought the counsel of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a Japanese governmental agency focused on development through technical cooperation. JICA found Ethiopia’s current business climate similar to what Japan experienced in the years after WWII, and introduced the work and management philosophy of Kaizen to the African nation.

Kaizen, literally translated as, “Change for the Best,” is a Japanese management philosophy that allows companies to improve their productivity and quality continuously by utilizing available resources and avoiding dependency on new, particularly outside, investment. Both ancient and modern, Kaizen philosophy is a blend of Japanese Zen Buddhist principles of introspection and group harmony and the scientific method of experimentation.

This enables company wide systems, protocols and philosophies to be examined, refined and tested in order to create the most harmonious and productive work environment. The fact that Kaizen is taking root in Ethiopian business culture, and to great effect, is testament to the good things that can happen when countries and companies are open to the cultural traditions of foreign lands. Fascinating to think that a management philosophy that helped Japan emerge from the ravages of WWII and build mega-companies like Toyota is now elevating the fortunes of Ethiopian shoe manufacturers and woodworkers.

I’d love to hear from our international and expat community about how receptive their adopted nations (or native country) and workplaces are to foreign ideas. Is a good idea from another land or culture meet with skepticism or openness? Have you had a direct experience when a foreign idea or culture trait was just what the home office needed to get business back on track?