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Innovative Program Launched to Empower Women in Japan to Become Leaders for Social Change

Simmons School of Management, Fish Family Foundation Lead New Initiative

BOSTON (September 25, 2007) — In an innovative new program designed to help empower women in Japan to break through their traditional background roles and become leaders in social change, several Japanese women have come to Boston to receive intense exposure to American women's leadership strategies, and the strategies of successful American non-profit organizations.

The Japanese Women's Leadership Initiative, organized by the Simmons School of Management , is an unusual collaborative effort funded by the Fish Family Foundation and founded by Boston civic leaders Atsuko Toko Fish, Catherine Crown Coburn, and Mary Lassen. The Simmons School of Management is the only business school in the world designed for women.

Fish, a Boston civic leader who moved to Brookline, MA, in 1983, said she was so impressed with American women's leadership in non-profit organizations and social policy that she joined forces with the other women to design an initiative that would begin showing Japanese women how they can and should take a leadership role in helping solve Japan's growing societal needs.

Under the initiative, the women are paired for five weeks with executives of leading non-profit organizations in greater Boston, shadowing the executives daily to learn about successful practical strategies for dealing with a variety of social problems. The immersion is supplemented by tutoring and mentoring in non-profit management through the Simmons School of Management executive education program, led by SOM professor Patricia Deyton, a national authority in non-profit management. The women also are participating in the SOM's executive education program, Strategic Leadership for Women.

The women, who began their fellowships in early September and return to Japan Oct. 18, are keeping daily diaries and developing their own ideas for implementing social change in their native country. After they return, they will meet regularly among themselves; create networks with other women; and meet with a wide range of university, business, political and media leaders to begin a dialogue about social responsibility and policy change in Japan.

The partnering Institute of Cultural Affairs in Japan selected the women through a competitive process, including a written essay about personal goals for non-profit leadership and social reform. They must have seven to 10 years of experience in the social, political or business sector in Japan, and demonstrate a strong commitment to leading social change. Fish said the goal is to have the program grow yearly, ultimately building a network of empowered women in Japan who will support other women in social change, and, eventually, policy leadership.

Two of the women are working closely with leaders of two non-profit agencies: Ellis Memorial & Eldredge House, Boston's first settlement house, which has a wide range of educational and social services for children and adults; and the Web of Benefit in Wellesley, MA, which works throughout greater Boston to promote liberation from domestic violence. The third woman is meeting with a number of women executives of leading non-profit agencies in the area.

Co-founder Fish says that while there are numerous non-profit groups in Japan, most of them are small groups of volunteers working in their immediate community, with no experience in systemic social change. The groups often receive their direction and their funding from the government; donations are not tax-deductible.

Fish says Japan has growing social problems in areas such as domestic violence, trafficking from abroad, and lack of childcare and eldercare services. She said Japan's shrinking birthrate means that the population is aging quickly; if the leadership role is dependent solely on men, Japan will experience a shortage of labor and of leaders in social change. And while the traditional non-assertive role of Japanese women is changing, she says, the pace must quicken.

"Who will support our society if Japanese women don't help lead?" Fish asks. "Women must learn to lead and to become deeply involved in moving Japan forward. Our country needs them."

"Our hope is that women in this program will learn a great deal about social and political change from American women leaders and successful non-profit organizations, and then take it back to spread to other women. These women are passionate about helping their country. We want this initiative to be an important way to help empower them, to unlock their potential and the potential of other Japanese women to lead social change."

The women awarded fellowships in the inaugural Japanese Women's Leadership Initiative — all from Tokyo — are Masako Hiramatsu, Sun-hae Bae, and Yuka Hayasi.

For further information about the fellowship, contact Atsuko Fish at asiandv@atask.org or Simmons School of Management Professor Patricia Deyton at patricia.deyton@simmons.edu. Reporters contact Diane Millikan at diane.millikan@simmons.edu

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