Ken Moriyama

Ken Moriyama (MPP 2012) has always been driven by a desire to make a positive impact on society.

Starting out as a social entrepreneur in international development, Ken worked with citizen-sector organisations such as Grameen and BRAC to reach rural communities in Bangladesh and Nepal without access to basic infrastructure. Through these collaborative projects, they built solar home systems and gas pipelines which would improve access to energy and electricity in these deprived areas. Yet each step of the way, Ken found their work was slowed down by bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles.

“There was a feel-good element to being a social entrepreneur but I often felt the progress wasn’t quick enough. I began to feel I should learn how to communicate with governments more effectively. I found out about the Master of Public Policy (MPP) because my wife studied at Oxford – one day I was flicking through her alumni magazine and read about the opening of the School and the course. I looked at a lot of other top public policy programmes across the world, but being an entrepreneur, I thought it would be interesting to get involved in this university start-up.” 

Ken was accepted into the inaugural MPP class and came to Oxford in 2012. During his time at the School, he relished the opportunity to learn more about theories that interested him with the professors who had written about them. Ken explored the base of the pyramid theory with Professor Sir Paul Collier and discussed climate change with Professor Dieter Helm. 

“The course only lasted one year but it felt like much longer. I made a conscious effort to get to know my classmates on a personal level and as we were a small class, we became very close. I also became very close with Professor Sir Paul Collier and continue to visit him and his family in Oxford whenever I am in the UK.”  

After the course, Ken was determined to return home to Japan with his learnings from the School and contribute in some way to the public sector. After moving with his family to Osaka, Ken was approached about launching a new social enterprise, a vocational training programme for high school drop-outs in Vietnam. After reviewing the labour markets across Vietnam, where earning potential is drastically limited without a high school diploma, and consulting with chef friends in Japan, he decided to launch a Japanese culinary school in Hanoi.

Through his network in Osaka, Ken was able to approach Japan’s top culinary institute and convince Chef Yoshihiro Murata – one of the best chefs in the world with seven Michelin stars – to work on the project. Chef Murata helped Ken and his colleagues to produce a rigorous Japanese cuisine textbook for the audience of Vietnamese students. Once the School launched, it took on a cohort of 100 students every three months. 

At the same time, Ken was learning more about the use of social impact bonds to improve public services in other countries, and he could see the potential impact of using this approach in Japan. With two other colleagues, Ken co-founded K-Three in 2016, a think tank which became the first organisation to implement social impact bonds in Japan’s healthcare sector.

K-Three began exploring how to utilise blockchain in the public sector, social impact measurement and management, as well as facilitating better public-private partnerships to drive innovation. Throughout this process, Ken developed an interest in behavioural science.

“I have always been a supporter of evidence-based policymaking. However, while it sounds great in theory, implementing and practising it is much more difficult in the real world of policymaking. In the UK, the Behavioural Insights Team has managed to use behavioural science to improve implementation and optimise traditional policy tools. I wanted to do the same in Japan.”

Within K-Three, Ken set up a small behavioural science unit and started discussing ideas with bureaucrats in Japan who were interested in behavioural science, and with other organisations internationally undertaking this work. Through this research, he started to see that there could be space for combining behavioural science with machine learning to get more interesting results.

Ken decided to apply for 500 Kobe Accelerator, a public-private partnership programme co-hosted by 500 Global based in Silicon Valley and Kobe City, that helps early-stage technology companies reach their potential through education, mentoring, financing and networking. He found a top machine learning engineer from UC Berkeley and took on a behavioural science researcher from Johns Hopkins University to join him in the venture. For the next two years, from within K-Three, the group began to formulate ideas for the products they could create by combining behavioural science and machine learning.

In July 2022, the unit was officially launched as a spin-off company named Godot Inc, where Ken is now leading a team of fourteen as CEO. The company has created a personalised recommendation engine which combines machine learning and behavioural science and which is being used in public health areas (such as improving cancer screening and vaccination rates) and gaining traction around the world. The company has backing from Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and the World Health Organization and Ken was recently honoured at the 22nd Japan Venture Awards, winning the SDGs Special Award. 

Yet this isn’t the only project Ken has been working on recently. On the side of Godot Inc, Ken has co-founded PolicyGarage, a non-profit public policy innovation network of local governments, ministries and agencies, research institutes, and the private sector in Japan. The network promotes evidence-based policymaking to improve the public sector by using elements of behavioural science and design thinking. The network now counts with over 1,000 members across the country and contributed to the establishment of 14 government nudge units. 

“Godot does a lot of cutting-edge technology R&D while PolicyGarage does awareness and capacity building of design thinking and behavioural science in the public sector. My colleagues in both organisations are fantastic – it is great to work with people who are equally motivated to make a difference in this world. I want to build a world where my children can have a better future. And one way we can do that is to try to build a world where growth is inclusive and diversity is celebrated. That is why I am interested in using technology to try to enhance the things that make us human.”


February 2023.