Neighbourhood watch

It was while crisscrossing the country as an international student that this entrepreneur hit upon a scheme to shine a light on Japan’s lesser-trodden prefectures and their people. His venture now has global reach.

  • Location: Nationwide
  • Hometown: Singapore
  • Job: CEO & founder, Boundless

As an international student at Waseda University in Tokyo, Dennis Chia spent almost every spare moment of his undergraduate degree visiting the 47 prefectures of Japan. When volunteering in the Tohoku region after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 he began considering the role that he could play in supporting regional communities. His subsequent experiences in rural Japan culminated in Boundless, the social start-up he founded in 2017 with the purpose of building an international community to contribute to Japan’s revitalisation.

“Our main aim is to connect the global and the local, bringing international people to rural Japan,” says Chia. The company’s flagship project is Sosei Partners, an educational programme that takes students to lesser-known locations. At the heart of the project is the goal of fostering new relationships: participants gain firsthand insights about the realities of rural life, while business leaders, government officials and citizens gain fresh perspectives.

One of the destinations on Chia’s radar is Urahoro, a small agricultural town in Hokkaido’s Tokachi region. “It is trying to undertake many interesting projects in forestry, farming and fishing,” says Chia. “It also has a unique education system.” Since 2017 he has taken international students to study the town’s industries and contribute to the development of Tokomuro Lab, a community space in a former elementary school. The students workshop ideas to help the space evolve.

Boundless is also involved in the Local Creators’ Market, sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti). Chia leads an international communications team that strives to promote the crafts and wares of selected regions on the global stage.