Every Day is “Global” at ICU.

Global ICU

Global Alumni

TOBAI, Sadayosi 
Chief Executive Officer, WWF Japan
1990 B.A. in Arts and Sciences (Biology)

Critical Thinking and Liberal Arts Lay the Foundations for Tackling Complex Environmental Problems and Sustainability Challenges


Together Possible

The World-wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is an international environmental NGO (non-governmental organisation). I play a role in these activities as the CEO of WWF Japan. Guided by the mission of building a future in which people live in harmony with nature, the WWF is pursuing two key goals. One is to create a climate-resilient and zero-carbon world by 2050. The other is to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

The WWF is working on a variety of activities toward these objectives in countries across the world. Another important activity is to convey to the politicians, business leaders, and citizens of each country what people across the world are currently striving to achieve together. In this context, my major role as WWF Japan's CEO is to set project plans toward these major goals and implement them in collaboration with team leaders.

When I joined WWF Japan in 1992, my first job was wetland conservation. Wetlands provide crucial habitat for migratory birds, but they are disappearing rapidly. My primary task was to identify the places in Japan visited by migratory birds during their journeys around the world, and the frequency of these visits. I then had to ascertain the standards for registration under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty to protect wetlands worldwide, engage in dialogue with the local governments and environmental groups of localities associated with wetlands meeting the standards across Japan, and uncover and communicate the new value of the natural environment in those localities.

Starting in 2000, I worked as the leader of a Japan-China-South Korea international wetlands conservation project. In parallel with the economic growth of China and South Korea, there had been a rapid deterioration in the rich natural environment of the Yellow Sea, which lies between the two countries and provides a habitat for migratory birds. In order to protect the precious natural features and wildlife of the Yellow Sea, I worked to nurture leaders of nongovernmental organizations in China and South Korea and support local government initiatives. Later I became involved in environmental conservation activities in many other countries beyond Japan, China, and South Korea, and gained a wealth of valuable experience in things such as negotiating with companies and participating in international conferences.

One phrase that I value highly is "Together Possible." Environmental problems are complex, and cannot be solved simply by eliminating one causal factor. For example, one of the major causes of deforestation is said to be the expansion of rubber plantations in the forests of Southeast Asia including Myanmar. The conversion of a rich forest area home to a wide variety of trees into a place inhabited only by rubber trees to be harvested for production, solely for the convenience of humanity, leads to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. But we cannot blame this problem simply on the rubber producers. Myanmar still does not have any large industries, and rubber production provides a livelihood for people who reside in mountainous areas. Most of the rubber produced is used in automobile tires, and there are several Japanese firms among the world's top tire manufacturers. I believe that to solve a problem in situations like this, it's more important than anything else for people connected with the problem in many different ways to learn about the current situation and the environmental and social issues related to it, to share their ideas, and to work together on solutions.


Individual Learning Experiences and Interactions Prove Valuable Even Today

Originally I hoped to get in to a veterinary science college, but I failed the entrance exam and went to ICU instead. I selected ICU from among the many universities available because of the opportunities to learn in English, and to pursue studies in biology, the area I was interested in the most.

One thing I really noticed when I entered ICU was the high level of English proficiency among students. The student body was diverse, including international students from around the world, Japanese returnee students, and students who had been on study abroad. This environment made me want to learn how to use English in practice, and I went on study abroad in Australia for one year. I believe that the reason I was able master English during this study abroad experience was that I had already built solid foundations through rigorous study of English at ICU.

One thing I remember especially from my studies in the biology major is the lab experiments in cytology and genetics where we used real organisms. I feel that I honed my powers of close observation through the process of these experiments, apart from just producing results. My current job gives me many opportunities to handle data on environmental matters, but it's not possible to perform accurate analysis if you just look at the figures themselves. This is because the conclusions that we can draw from data depend on who created the data, how, and for what purpose. This means it's really important to pay attention to the processes of data creation too. I believe that the grounding for this kind of viewpoint was laid not only by the classes I took at ICU, but by the opportunities ICU gave me to conduct thorough experiments individually and in groups, and the training I received in analyzing results, thinking in depth about the meaning of those results, and writing reports on them. ICU's liberal arts education also encouraged me to pursue a broad range of interests other than biology and take classes outside my major. This expanded my horizon and had a big impact on my life after graduating.

ICU is a small university and students work closely with faculty, so I gained many lasting memories. For example, there was a time in fourth year when I was struggling to decide whether to find a job after graduation or to go on to graduate school. I had been hunting for graduate employment opportunities mainly in mass media because I wanted a job where I could communicate my strong interest in environmental and social problems to wider society, and I had just received a tentative job offer from one company. But I was also interested in studying environmental conservation in more depth at grad school. I shared my dilemma with one of my biology professors, Professor Haruko Kazama (now an ICU Professor Emeritus). She said to me: "Many graduates decide they'll go back to grad school after they've found a job, but it's no easy task to make the switch to grad school after you've entered the world of work. If the option of grad school is open to you now, it's certainly something you should consider." These words really helped me organize my thoughts. I immediately rejected my job offer and decided to go to the UK and enroll in a Master's program at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Kazama's kind words of advice ended up having a great influence on my life course.

Another experience that left a strong impression on me was the interaction with Professor Benjamin Duke (now an ICU Professor Emeritus), who taught me in an educational studies class. There was a plan at the time to build a trash incineration facility in the Nogawa Park precinct adjacent to ICU. It was clear that this plan risked grave damage to the landscape and environment, so I joined Professor Duke in a campaign to collect signatures in opposition to the plan. I thought it was typical of ICU that professors raised their voices against things that are too important to ignore, and my own interest in environmental and social problems grew deeper. The experience I gained in collaborating with many other people and taking action toward resolving problems still serves me well in my work today.


ICU Faculty Strongly Aware of What They Want Students to Learn

ICU's critical thinking and liberal arts education has given me a major advantage when tackling complex issues such as environmental problems. I need to interview diverse stakeholders, pursue dialogue consistently as I deepen my understanding of their standpoints, identify why the problem has been so difficult to solve thus far and what parties need to collaborate in order to improve the situation, and work toward a solution. I also need to acquire new knowledge essential to the nature of the problem at hand, rather than focusing on a single field of expertise. I believe that my studies at ICU played a major role in enabling me to perform this kind of generalist role.

My ability to cooperate with diverse people across the world in my work today is also grounded in my learning experiences in ICU's diverse environment. Even when I was studying there, ICU had students from a wide variety of countries and regions: not just Europe and North America, but also China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. I genuinely feel that being part of such an environment in my student days made it significantly easier for me to collaborate with people of different nationalities and languages when I began working.

Alongside my main job, I've also been a part-time lecturer at ICU since 2010. One thing I've noticed about the faculty members around me is the strong teaching focus on what kinds of learning opportunities students should be provided with. All faculty members are attuned to things such as what they want students to learn, and what kind of classes and tasks are needed in order to achieve that, spending many hours planning their classes in advance. Surely this is helping ICU students to develop the capacity to identify and solve problems for themselves, and to make their mark in global society.

What the world needs as we move toward 2030 is people who can contribute to the realization of a sustainable society. However, it's up to each individual student to decide what they will study. ICU is a university that offers learning on a grand scale, with students proactively selecting their own combination of study and research topics from a wide range of specializations, and developing the abilities they will need in order to achieve their own goals.


TOBAI, Sadayosi
Chief Executive Officer,
WWF Japan

1990 B.A. in Arts and Sciences (Biology)

After graduating from ICU, TOBAI, Sadayosi went to the UK to pursue graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained a Master of Science. He joined WWF Japan in 1992, and worked in areas including conservation of major wetlands in Japan and the launch of the Yellow Sea Ecoregion Project , in positions including Conservation Director and senior director. After working as the representative coordinating WWF's conservation directors in 23 countries across the Asia Pacific, he took up his current post in July 2020.