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The sustainable generation: Young employees leading NEC’s mission to change the world

Nov 11, 2020

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a foundational component of the shift towards a future economic system that balances growth and sustainability. As the drive for sustainability grows worldwide – particularly among younger generations – NEC continues to set the standard in public-private sector partnerships. By leveraging its cutting-edge ICT, AI and biometrics technologies, NEC is pursuing real-world solutions for a sustainable future—and this pursuit is being led by some of its youngest employees.

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The sustainable generation

As a company whose purpose is focused on social value creation, contributing to the achievement of all 17 SDGs has been a front-and-center goal for NEC since their adoption five years ago. Driving these initiatives is NEC’s Global Relations Division, comprising diverse and predominantly young professionals, who work with International organizations, governments and academia around the world to discover opportunities, develop partnerships and take on new challenges for a brighter future.

One of the rising stars of the division is Ms. Marie Mazuka. After developing a passion for humanitarian work during her university years, Marie joined NEC as a new graduate in 2019. “I chose to pursue a career with NEC because I found that their values aligned with mine. ICT was always an area that I was interested in, and NEC’s reputation for leveraging technology to improve the world gave me the sense that I could do work with a true purpose. When I learned about the opportunities at the Global Relations Division, it felt like the perfect match.”

Marie quickly adapted to her position, and within a few months of joining she was rewarded with a key role in the team organizing NEC’s involvement in the 2019 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7). Held every three years, TICAD is a conference for the promotion of high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners led by government of Japan. As an official side event to TICAD7, NEC and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced a global collaboration and partnership for biometrics technology advisory and services.

“Being part of NEC’s TICAD7 team gave me the opportunity to truly understand the strong need for biometrics, AI and other cutting-edge technologies in the humanitarian sector, as well as the high expectations placed on companies like NEC to provide those solutions. In addition, WFP has received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its efforts to combat hunger over time. I am proud to be able to collaborate with such organizations, and at the same time, I would like to contribute further to solving global issues.” explains Marie.

Marie reports directly to Division Manager Mr. Cristiano Blanez, a Brazilian national originally from NEC Brazil but now based at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. “The thing that really impressed me about Marie when she first joined was her enthusiasm for the work. She brings this passion that makes it feel like, for her, nothing is impossible.” says Cristiano.

“TICAD7 was her first assignment, and it was amazing to see her thrive and grow in front of our eyes. Immediately after being assigned the role, she came back to us with literally dozens of questions, and as we worked through the answers with her, she collated them all in an Excel sheet. She understood that she would need to be able to explain the details to partners, customers and fellow colleagues from multiple divisions across NEC, and this was her way of gathering all the necessary knowledge in an organized manner.”

Now in her second year at the company, Marie is playing a prominent role in NEC’s partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Simprints Technology Ltd., on a project to boost child immunization through the launch of the world’s first scalable child fingerprint identification system. Child fingerprints were previously thought to be impractical for identification since young children’s fingerprints tend to be blurred due to their softness. The project members are working to try to overcome this by optimizing NEC’s unique fingerprint authentication engine for toddlers, and using fingerprint images taken with Simprints scanners. The project aims to give children aged 1 to 5 a digital ID linked to an accurate, complete Vaccine record, supporting Gavi’s mission of promoting immunization, saving lives and protecting children’s health.

Since signing an MOU with Gavi and Simprints in June last year, Marie and the rest of the joint team have been working towards scaled testing of the technology, which was due to launch in April this year in Bangladesh and Tanzania. The testing schedule was delayed, however, when both countries were placed on COVID-19 lockdown. Simprints has since implemented measures to mitigate the risk of infection, and field operation testing was finally launched in Tanzania in August, and in Bangladesh in November as local lockdowns were lifted. For the remainder of 2020, testing will focus on confirming the viability of the fingerprint identification system, and from 2021 the focus shifts to testing the overall immunization system operation.

Mr. Mitsuhiro Hirai, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which is a founding partner of Gavi, said, “We recently had the pleasure of receiving Marie’s attentive support when working together for a presentation by NEC’s chairman and then-chair of Gavi, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to members of the Diet. We have very high hopes for humanitarian-private sector partnerships and the combination of ICT and local expertise to provide solutions for people in need.”

The pandemic has brought a range of new challenges to this project, but Marie is taking it all in her stride. "The coronavirus has made the project unpredictable at times. Essentially my role remains the same, and like so many other people around the world, we have learned to adapt to working and communicating remotely.”
She is hopeful of being able to travel to the sites before too much longer, so she can see the system in action.

Looking ahead, Cristiano believes that the Global Relations Division will play an essential role in the future of NEC. “The way we do business will continue to change, because the world is changing, and I really believe this division is one of the key inspirations to shift our business model for the better. I think that Marie and our other younger members – who I refer to as our ‘younglings’ – are enabling this change in a very organic way. They bring this new mentality, new ideas and new approaches.”

“The work we are doing at this division with international organizations is strongly connected with the DNA of NEC. Of course, as a company we need to ensure that it is sustainable. Our goal is to bring people together to create solutions for society, and turn those solutions into something that benefits everyone involved. That is of course a major challenge, but it is certainly possible.”

Guided by its vision for social creation, NEC aims to further deepen its ties with international organizations, governments, private companies, and universities to promote sustainable business initiatives that address the root of social issues around the world. It is clear that NEC’s young professionals will continue to play a crucial role in this pursuit.