"Sanpo Yoshi" - Running Socially Responsible Businesses

By Tunde WaleTemowo | 3 min read
18th October 2017
"Sanpo Yoshi" - Running Socially Responsible Businesses

I recently learnt about a Japanese philosophy known as "Sanpo Yoshi". From my studies, I do understand that "Sanpo" refers to "three elements", while "Yoshi" means "good". The "Sanpo Yoshi" concept therefore refers to a three-way satisfaction that hinges on common good for three principal actors in a business transaction - the seller, the buyer and the society.

Sanpo Yoshi takes its origins from a period in Japanese history called the "Edo" period. Itinerant merchants from the middle belt of the country, known as "Omi Shonin" were believed to have built thriving businesses based on this philosophy. In 1750, a then-famous merchant named Nakamura was quoted to have summarized the whole essence of Sanpo Yoshi in this instruction to his son - "if you want to get healthy and lasting success in your business, you should consider not only your own benefits, but those of your customers and the communities you live and visit"[1].

This philosophy has been the foundation for corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives among companies in Japan over the years. Corporate bodies who place high premium on CSR also subscribe to this philosophy, even without direct reference to the Japanese example.

A major misconception that has thrived over time is that CSR is the exclusive preserve of big and thriving corporates. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the bigger entities might be able to create more social impact, nothing precludes SMEs from operating with a social responsibility mindset.

Bringing the Sanpo Yoshi concept closer home, lets' dimension what this means for the three stakeholders earlier identified.

  • The Merchant (You): your business should reward you, else you have no business being involved in it. While profits are very important, your business should also bring intrinsic rewards such as a feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction for doing what you love to do. It is these intrinsic rewards that often keep the entrepreneur going, even when the figures are not making sense (yet). Your staff should also benefit beyond just getting their pay cheques. Helping to build your dream should be a thrill to them. Your business enterprise (either within physical premises or a virtual environment), should be one that ignites the passion of your staff. Employees will not stay with you forever, but while they pass through, the impact should be positive and lasting.
  • The Customers: these are the people that pay your bills and keep you in business. "The customer is king" is not a cliche, but truth that has remained enduring.  The customer's place in any business cannot be over-emphasised. So, their delight should be your focus. Seek to exceed their expectations and empathise with their needs. Their interactions with your business should leave them yearning for more. Your pricing shouldn't just be competitive, but customers should leave feeling they got value, irrespective of how much they pay. In any case, the "right price" for any good or service is what both the seller and buyer mutually agree for it to be.  When they have to pay a premium, the experience should be worth the extra spend. 
  • The Society: the Omi Shonin built good relationships with their host communities. They ploughed back portions of their profits into making life better for the communities. They were said to have built infrastructure and empowered other citizens. It doesn't have to cost you millions for it to be socially responsible. In recent times, I have seen a Nigerian Bank led by its CEO, storm a major market in Lagos to sanitise the environment. You may want to take a cue from that. Mobilise your staff once in a while to clean up your area. Organise health talk for semi-literate artisans, or career talks in schools. Reach out to indigent students within your neighborhood and help with fees, books or uniforms. Or you may want to adopt a school and do some renovation. With some more resources, you can go beyond your immediate environment and reach out to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), whose population seem to be on the rise in the country now.

To encourage socially responsible businesses, the government has also provided tax incentives for CSR initiatives. You may want to talk to a tax consultant and take advantage of these. As you continually seek to run a profitable business, always remember it's not just about you. Your clients and the community should be better off by relating with you. That's the spirit of Sanpo Yoshi!

[1] Mutsuo Minowa (2017) "Strategic CSR by Integrating with Core Business - Case Study of Aderans Corporation". Lecture delivered at Leicester School of Business.


Tunde WaleTemowo
Tunde Wale-Temowo heads the Human Resources function of a specialized financial services institution in Nigeria. Prior to his current role, he had worked in the Management Consulting practice of one of the Big 4. He writes from Abuja.
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