Sadako Ogata (Japan):
RET was founded in 2000 by Mrs Sadako Ogata, (1927-2019) as she was ending her second term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR). Mrs Ogata’s vision for RET was to bridge a massive gap she had witnessed during her tenure as the head of the UN Refugee Agency: education for youth. During crises, donor priorities were always for life-saving basic needs as food, water, shelter and child protection. Budgets rarely stretched far enough to reach the needs of young people. This had tragic consequences as crises tend to be evermore protracted, often lasting for years or even decades. It was estimated that the average time in exile was of 17 years.
If adolescents and youth are not given any opportunities, they will become extremely vulnerable to illegal activities, gangs, underage labor, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, violence and more. RET provides them with the skills to confront these threats, develop their resilience to become self-reliant.
At inception, RET acted exclusively in refugee camps using education as a tool. However, as refugee migration patterns changed and new crises emerged, the paradigm shifted in different parts of the world and the methods we had developed specifically for refugee camps, proved to be adaptable to young people in fragile environments in general. Today we still work in refugee camps, but the majority of our work is with urban, peri-urban and rural refugees, with host communities, with internally displaced populations, with adolescent soldiers, with victims of natural disasters and more.
Remembering the Late Sadako Ogata
Mrs. Ogata lived a life devoted to helping all generously, ensuring protection, empowerment, and solidarity with refugees, with vulnerable people in need, but most critically with vulnerable young people. She was inspired by the young generation; she worked wholeheartedly to restore and rebuild the lives of young people whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed in their home countries due to discrimination or violence. She believed in youth as actors of positive change and in education as the best tool to mitigate the impact of conflict on youth, and lay a solid foundation for peace and development. She refused to see young people become despaired and their hopes shattered.
And so, she pledged when she founded RET in 2000:
“Education should be a promise, not a dream.”
For all who met Sadako Ogata, be it for an hour, a day, or a lifetime, she taught us how to live well through her example. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Mrs. Ogata have lost an inspiring mentor. We promise her legacy will continue through the support RET offers to vulnerable young people around the world.
Mrs. Ogata leaves behind an organization that only she could have inspired, and her spirit will forever be the foundation of RET.
President & CEO
RET Staff Worldwide
Founding President for the RET, Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Former President of JICA
Mrs. Ogata served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000, whereby she was re-elected to the post three times over this period. Before her career at UNHCR, she was the Independent Expert of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990. From 1982 to 1985, she acted as the Representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. During 1978 and 1979, Mrs. Ogata was Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, having served as Minister there from 1976 to 1978. In addition to her professional career, her academic career has been noteworthy, as she was Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1989, Director of the Institute of International Relations at the same University from 1987 to 1988, and Professor there from 1980. Prior to this, she had multiple teaching roles in many different universities around the globe. She received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, an M.A. in International Relations from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in 1953 and a B.A. from the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo in 1951. She has written numerous articles and publications, on issues of immigration, refugees and conflict. After her retirement with UNHCR, she lived in Tokyo with her family and continued to work in her various roles, one among which was her position as President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency from 2003-2012.