An Interview With YOKO Marikawa-By GlobalTimes鞠川阳子(YOKO.Marikawa)专访—环球时报(英)2010809(2010-08-13 11:28:29)
theft troubles elderly care pioneer
The perils of leading the pack
Five years ago, people jokingly called her a "missionary" for spreading Japanese methods of caring for the elderly to China. Five years later, after carving out a place in that market, Yoko Marikawa has seen interest in her business drop off. Around the same time, the confidential Master's thesis she wrote that laid out her business model has recently popped up on an Internet site that sells access to academic publications.
"Since July, my company has become quiet. It is very strange. We had been getting a lot of inquiries. But now things have stopped," Marikawa said.
She believes the leak of her thesis has damaged her business, though she said exact losses are difficult to estimate. "I may have to take legal action on this matter," she added.
Like many pioneers, Marikawa did the work to cut a path to a new opportunity, only to find herself in danger of losing her advantage to copycats who might take advantage of the trail that she has blazed.
Inspiration from home
Marikawa, a Japanese woman in her 30s, is one of the first entrepreneurs in China to promote the industrialization of elderly care, which she calls the "silver industry." In 2009, Marikawa started a consultancy specializing in how companies can capitalize on this industry. She sees her company as a bridge that carries comparatively advanced theories of elderly care from Japan to China.
For Marikawa, thinking about caring for the elderly came as naturally as taking a shower every day. Since she was a child, schools in Japan would organize children to visit retirement homes.
As she got older, she volunteered for different committees that researched elderly care. A large proportion of Japan's population is elderly so the Japanese government pays close attention to this demographic when making political decisions, Marikawa said.
In Japan, there are many committees all over the country that help the government collect data on the elderly so it can make policy. Although Japan's system is comparatively far more mature than the system in China, it is still not perfect. "I wish I could help build up a better system to help the elderly, and it doesn't matter whether it is the elderly in Japan or the elderly in China," Marikawa said.
Marikawa first came to Shanghai in 2004. Out of curiosity, she visited some of the public retirement homes in Shanghai and found that elderly care in China was very much where Japan's was about 20 years ago, a time when the elderly were considered little more than a burden on the government, rather than a business opportunity. "It is an ignored market. These people cannot buy products they need even if they have the money," she said.
Seeing an opportunity, Marikawa chose the elderly as her targeted research group while she was studying for a Master's of Business Administration at Fudan University. In total, Marikawa spent 10 years researching elderly care in Ja-pan and China. This research not only made up the guts of her Master's thesis, but the foundation of her company.
Less than a year after graduating from Fudan, Marikawa found that her thesis was being sold on cnki.net, a website that sells access to academic papers, without her permission. It was surprising considering that she had signed a 10-year contract with the university to ensure that her intellectual property remained confidential.
But on July 27, Marikawa said she found her thesis was for sale on the site. Determined to figure out how her paper was leaked, she shot off an e-mail to Fudan's Executive MBA program. On July 28, Xu Jianrong, the executive director of the university's Executive MBA program responded, explaining they had already asked the website to stop selling the paper and the website verbally agreed. However, as of publication, the thesis is still up for sale on cnki.net.
On August 6, Xu told Marikawa that an internal investigation determined that there was no evidence that the Executive MBA program leaked Marikawa's thesis.
"I am shocked," Marikawa said. "This is Fudan. It is not just any university. I trusted Fudan," she said.
Marikawa believes that Xu is just trying to sidestep the problem. "He said it has nothing to do with the Executive MBA program. Then what about Fudan? He did not say it has nothing to do with Fudan. Doesn't it seem like a game of football? They are just kicking the ball around."
Though angry and disappointed about what happened, Marikawa is still optimistic about her company and the Chinese market. The aging population in China is growing rapidly. By the end of 2020, more than 248 million people in China will be over 60, according to a government report released in 2006.
Contrary to the growing population, the "silver" industry remains in its infancy. Besides seeing the prospects of the market, Marikawa believes her largest clients will not abandon her just because they can download her thesis from the Internet.
Marikawa still finds the theft of her thesis unacceptable. Marikawa believes the companies that copied her theories will not succeed in the long term.
"They might understand what it is, but they don't know how to
use it in a professional way," she