In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster revealed a fundamental flaw in the Japanese higher educational system. The siloed disciplines and isolated theoretical training exacerbated the crisis by hindering critical communications between engineers, policy makers and others. As a result, educational reformers set about to create a new type of higher educational institution; one that was both interdisciplinary and focused on combining theory with practice. While reformers could have stopped there, they went further, devising an institution embedded in a local community that would confront another persistent problem: economic revitalization of a rapidly depopulating rural community.
In searching for a model for this venture, these reformers found an institution of higher education they sought to replicate – College of the Atlantic (COA). Remarkably COA, which was founded almost 50 years ago and is often cited as the most sustainable college in the United States, was founded on similar principles to revitalize the year round economy of Bar Harbor, Maine. In 2016, a prototype college program was created on Ōsakikamijima with the first students designing the future college. The group was drawn from Japan, COA, Babson, Brown and other schools recognized by AshokaU as being at the forefront of social entrepreneurship education. The program, called HELIO (Human Ecology Lab in Ōsakikamijima), was both a proof of concept and a demonstration of the ways that students could learn through community-based projects in sustainable energy, food systems, design thinking, entrepreneurship and community activism. With HELIO 2017 set to launch, the development of this new college continues.