After more than two decades in corporate and private Finance, Yumi was looking to contribute in a meaningful way outside her work and family endeavors. After much research, she founded Global Citizens Initiative, which brings teens from around the world together to find concrete ways to solve local problems—and implement these plans back in their home communities.
Tell us a little about your background…
With an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a 25+ year career on Wall Street (Bear, Stearns, and Morgan Stanley), people may think that my path has been smooth. It was not.
I was born in the USA, raised by Japanese parents, and blessed with a solid family foundation including two brothers. My parents—my father was a professor with a Ph.D. from Harvard—fostered in me a deep respect for education and discipline. I lived in Japan from the ages of 8 to 18 and later, 29 to 38. My personal experience of growing up in Japan and the USA, with exposure to people from around the world, has profoundly molded me. Receiving an education in two leading countries with two very different educational systems and cultures has allowed me to become bilingual, bicultural, and defines my identity.
However, life was not always easy. I felt like I was always trying to catch up rather than feeling confident and comfortable in my studies or my peer group. My dual education opened up windows into each culture, but it also exposed blind spots. Because of this unusual background, I was bullied when I first arrived to Japan at age 8 as I did not speak Japanese fluently—and again at age 13 because I spoke English better than the teacher! As the saying goes, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered.” However, this was a type of character building and developed my “grit” for persevering through tough situations. It has also helped me gain empathy and flexibility in my approach to people and situations.
As a teenager, I tried to assimilate and become American rather than to acculturate and pick the best of both cultures. It was difficult to understand what it meant to be both Japanese and American. During my youth, this confusion and lack of self-confidence in my own identity affected me. It was only as an adult that I started to embrace and appreciate both countries and cultures and find my own unique identity.
When did you start to think about making a change?
I founded Cook Pine Capital LLC (CPC) in 2004 with my husband, Eiichiro Kuwana (we met at business school), which leveraged both our experience in finance. At CPC, we create customized hedge fund and private equity portfolios for ultra-high net worth families. Over the years, as we gained these families’ trust and confidence is our services, they started to ask us for assistance in more intimate, family-related issues.
Around this time, I began to feel that my career in finance was not really fulfilling my heart and soul and that I wanted to do something more meaningful vs. “shuffling money” and dealing with investments. As much as it was interesting, it was not touching lives in the way I hoped to. As I was consulting with wealthy families through Cook Pine Solutions, LLC, I thought, they can use my help but they can actually get anyone’s help. I wanted to help others too without such means, including economically disadvantaged kids.
What is your next act?
My next act is to engage, educate and empower our next-generation teens to be globally conscious and competent citizens by educating them and encouraging them to become change agents. This is done via my social education enterprise and nonprofit organization, the Global Citizens Initiative (GCI). GCI’s mission is to globalize education, mobilize youth into action and create an ecosystem to nurture our next generation of globally-minded citizens to lead our world in hopes for a better and more peaceful world.
Our flagship program is our yearly summer GCI Youth Summit (GCYS), where 24 high-caliber students (called scholars) from around the world, ages 16 to 19, gather together in the US for 9 days of engaging lectures and activities. Upon arrival, they participate in an Outward Bound program that helps to break down barriers and build trust, then take part in small academic classes led by Phillips Exeter faculty, on the topics of engagement, ethics, excellence, and leadership. The format of these classes is based on the Harkness pedagogy of discussing issues on engagement, ethics, excellence, and leadership around a table, with 12 scholars and a faculty member. Lunch is with faculty or peers, followed by exploration time, service projects, and thought-leader lectures and discussions led mostly by Harvard faculty. It is a very high-touch program and truly transformative in nature as our scholars create lifelong friendships.
Faculty have included Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, an expert on global leadership; Howard Gardner, founding father of multiple intelligences; Jack Meyer, founding partner of Convexity Capital; Maggie Hassan, Governor of New Hampshire. They all contribute pro bono.
The Summit emphasizes a “glocal” approach: Think global, act local. Each scholar identifies a pressing issue in the area of equity, education, or environment (the 3 E’s), identifies a solution in their home community while collaborating with their teammates, and formulates a plan of action around their idea, one that can be implemented back home in the next nine months. The program culminates with student presentations of these plans.
We are nurturing our scholars to take action and be change agents when they return home. All 24 scholars are matched with business professionals, including mentors from McKinsey, BCG, and the private equity/hedge fund world. These mentors guide them through the implementation of their local service project.
We rely on our network of over 300 heads of schools and educators around the world to recruit scholars. Tuition is $5,500 but there is financial aid available for applicants, on a need basis. I appeal to my community, including family, friends, and the network I’ve developed through my career in finance, for funds to pay for scholarships for the economically disadvantaged.
Our Youth Summits are hosted at the Harvard Faculty Club, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and our 2015 session included students from Afghanistan, India, China, Rwanda, Somalia, Belgium, Japan, and the United States. We really try to identify each and every scholar’s personal talent and passion and filter that through to their projects. Our goal is to encourage our scholars to believe in themselves and know that their actions will make a difference.
Watch these 3-minute videos to see our youths in action:
- 2015 Short Documentary (10 minutes) of the Summit (the Power of Harkness)
- 2014 Summit and GCI’s mission in a Nutshell: (3 minutes): Focused on the longer term Vision
The Summit is rewarding to me as it is truly touching teen lives around the world by giving them a chance to interact with other teens they would otherwise not have met, expose them to thought leaders and experts, and provide them with unique opportunities to make a mark in this world. I also love getting to know them and I learn so much from them; they give me new energy and inspiration. Having three teenagers myself, I have a deep desire to nurture them as global citizens.
GCI is also meaningful to me because the rewards of helping others are so much greater than helping myself. I receive so much joy and happiness by helping young leaders. I feel that GCI is my legacy and contribution to this world and it touches my soul. This project is a culmination of all my experiences put together: My path until now (mother, finance, education) is all coming together into one mission through GCI. This is truly my passion, my calling in life, and I feel I am moving from greatness to significance through this journey. However, there is so much more I need to learn as I evolve and become a better person.
Here are a couple of examples of GCI scholars who are having an impact back home through our program:
Karishma from Kenya is working on an affordable water filter (under $10) to provide clean water to her Mombasa, Kenya community. She has filed a national patent with the assistance of GCI and we are now working on an international patent together.
Krissy from New Hampshire has created a nonprofit organization, “Solar for Our Superheroes,” where she provides the superheroes (local civic citizens, i.e firemen, teachers, and policemen) with a solar panel. This will allow for these superheroes to save energy and pay less on their electric bills. Good for all: Save the environment and save money for the superheroes.
How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
While it was not hard to take the plunge, it was an interesting journey to get to the launch stage of GCI: A seed planted in my mind, lots of research, then the support and encouragement of many mentors. It took more than two years for me to launch GCI, which was approved as a nonprofit in April 2014, when I was 50.
GCI came about after I heard this concern from some of the wealthy families I was advising at Cook Pine Capital: “How can we nurture our kids to be bilingual and bicultural kids?” Given my own experience, both personally and as a mother raising three multi-cultural kids, I decided to delve into this issue, ultimately researching and writing a discussion paper about raising “Our Next Generation Global Citizens.” This work benefitted from the input and support from academics and thought leaders including those from Harvard Business School, Harvard School of Education, Harvard College, Phillips Exeter Academy, Hackley School, and my communities in Tokyo and the greater New York area. I loved researching this topic, both for myself and to be able to share my new knowledge with others who will find it useful, mostly parents.
I also sought out mentors and advisors for further learning and attended the Think Tank on Global Education and Future of Learning (FOL) Conference at the Harvard School of Education.
My in-depth research—and encouragement to take action on that research—inspired me to launch GCI in order to share my knowledge and put the research into action. My resulting proprietary Global Citizens Roadmap is a framework to assist parents as they nurture their children for the 21st century; it is a guide to raising kids intentionally in our globalized world. Emphasis is placed on the importance of family as a foundation. I feel blessed to have the support and guidance of my family, friends, and mentors as I continue to research this field of global education with an emphasis on family, language acquisition, cultural sensitivity, and character development.
What challenges have you encountered?
There are so many challenges as a start-up:
- Money factors and fundraising (I hate asking for money)
- Without much funding, I have to do most of the work, so I am working on this 24/7 (I finally have been able to hire a full-time person, which is helping a lot)
- Organizing and running a Summit is all new to me so I am learning on the job
After our first Youth Summit in the summer of 2014, I was over-exhausted and stuck in bed for two weeks. I thought, can I do this again?
The psychic value and rewards of empowering youth and making a difference to their lives have kept me going. Also, a very supportive husband, and my three kids are now ages 19, 18, and 15.
They are my treasure and my life. Family and friends also give me valuable input, moral support, and donations. And my mother especially is a pillar in this project: She passed away three years ago but gave me the strength and might to get this far; she said “have a dream, dream big and follow that dream.” This is my passion and dream!
What have you learned about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned that I have perseverance/grit and an addictive personality.
My experience in start-ups—I helped start Giftken.com, the Japanese branch of GiftCertificate.com, during the Internet bubble—showed me that start-ups require 150% of one’s focus and attention. The project becomes a huge part of one’s life in order to be successful. This experience was a good foundation to GCI.
To get GCI to its current level has required me to be persistent and not take no as an answer. It has required grit and perseverance to come through on things. There are many days where I am focused 100% on GCI and do not sleep much. It really requires full dedication and passion as money cannot really motivate one to take it to this level. It requires the heart to be involved and a collaborative team. I am a micro-manager and like to be involved in every detail of GCI. However, I have been learning that it is time to delegate by hiring more members and creating a supportive team to move forward. The magic happens when we are able to tap into each team member’s “slice of genius” and combine this to create the “collective genius,” as my professor and mentor Linda Hill states often.
What advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife or who might be interested in starting a nonprofit?
There is good value in thinking carefully and planning. However, sometimes you just need to get going and do something and this will evolve over time. You may not have the perfect job or work at the beginning but over time (including some reflection time) you will be able to identify something that touches your heart and you are passionate about. However, you need to stick with your gut and remember to not ignore that “sixth sense” that can be more important than your rational side. Women have a strong sense of gut feel but oftentimes ignore this, but we need to listen to that inner voice carefully.
If you are thinking of starting a nonprofit, talk to others who have done so and do a lot of research. Then find a good accountant and lawyer. Make sure to get some of the funding and backing first before you launch. And while any start-up requires an engine and leader to bring the idea forward, it then also requires a transition; that leader must collaborate and delegate tasks in order to make an organization sustainable in the longer run. This transition is tricky. In addition, the biggest success factor in any organization is the human capital. It’s all in the execution!
What resources do you recommend?
Multiple Intelligences Around the World by Jie-Qui Chen, Seana Moran, and Howard Gardner
Wealth in Families by Charles W. Collier
Robin Sharma’s blog: The 8 Forms of Wealth
For empowering change: Changemakers
What about resources focused on women reinventing themselves in midlife?
What’s next for you?
The long-term goal is to create a global citizenship curriculum and share this with schools around the world but also to create an ecosystem of global citizens including a virtual platform. We think 24 is a very good number for one session of the GCI Youth Summit but we will most likely expand the number of sessions to other parts of the USA and around the globe. In addition, we are considering reunions and increasing our age group to include college students down the road, as we are all about empowering teens.
Contact Yumi M. Kuwana at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those parents who have talented children interested in engaging with other teens from around the world, encourage them to apply to our annual Global Youth Summit.
For those interested in becoming a possible strategic partner or advisor, kindly reach out to me via email.
For schools interested in global education and becoming a possible strategic partner school, kindly email us at email@example.com.
For those interested in becoming mentors to our high-caliber scholars who are nurtured to be change agents, kindly email us with your background at firstname.lastname@example.org.