Tonight’s Meet a Mom, Yumi Kuwana, a 21 year resident of Greenwich, is the powerhouse behind the Global Citizens Initiative (GCI), a global social enterprise (NPO) with an aim to engage, educate and empower our youth (high school students) with the appropriate tools and skills to thrive in the 21st century as citizens of the world.
Yumi was inspired to found GCI by her own personal experience of growing up in Japan and the United States. Struggling with her own identity as a teenager, and what it meant to be both Japanese and American, she wanted to help other young people embrace their identities and cultures earlier in life.
Besides GCI, Yumi’s passions include spending time with her family, empowering women, and taking a holistic approach to health, wellness, and wealth, plus giving back.
Yumi believes the power of women and their network is incredible – something to not underestimate. Keep reading to learn all about her incredible work for our community, and the global community.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally? Names/ages of kids, etc.?
I am second generation Japanese, born in Boston, MA, yet grew up in Japan for my formative years. Then I came to the USA for college and graduate school, where I met my husband, and we lived in Japan for 9 years right after graduating. All three children were born in Tokyo. Then work opportunities brought us back to NY in 2002. It is hard to believe that we moved from Tokyo to Greenwich 21 years ago. Little did we know that this would become our home, where we raised our three kids, with our baby (not so young anymore) in the family about to graduate from college! How time flies by so quickly yet, we have built such incredible memories in this town. We were exploring moving to NYC from Japan but due to the wonderful and nurturing environment to raise a family, we selected to be here. The kids went to local schools in town starting from pre-kindergarten and now they have launched their respective careers, while balancing it with traveling on a global scale. Kiyo is 26 years old and lives in Tokyo, while Hiro is 24 years old and focused on his start-up. Alyssa is 23 years old and aspires to be a “virtual nomad.” We shall see where their journey takes them. Besides GCI, the not for profit I founded, my passion includes spending time with my family, empowering women, and taking a holistic approach to health, wellness, and wealth, plus giving back. Having spent half my life in Japan and half my life in the USA, I believe I can add a unique perspective to issues. www.yumikuwana.com
Where do you live in Greenwich and what do you love about Greenwich and your neighborhood/ what made you decide to move there/ how long have you been there?
We live in mid-country, close to the Audubon Center off Riversville Road, and love this neighborhood as it is quiet and surrounded by nature, yet approximately the same distance to the town of Greenwich, Armonk and White Plains. It is nice to have the space, privacy, and outside lawn/yard, where I have a garden to grow summer vegetables annually. In addition, there are areas to go hiking close-by including The Nature Conversancy preserves. Of course, the Audubon Center is a wonderful place to take walks as well. We live on a street with a cul de sac and our neighbors are wonderful and friendly. When our kids were young, they rode their bikes on the street and played outside often. Little did I know that my good friend from college lives in town as well as many of my graduate school friends are here. It has been wonderful to reconnect with them after being overseas for some time, and to have also developed some really good friendships with like minded people in town. I also have created a small circle of Japanese family friends where we share our Japanese culture. Greenwich is such a melting pot full of diverse backgrounds and people.
Can you please share about your professional background and career highlights – how did you come to start Global Citizens Initiative?
I have been in finance for over 35 years with experience of founding Cook Pine Capital LLC, VP at Morgan Stanley and Bear, Stearns & Co. My major clients included top tier hedge funds and global money management firms. However, ten years ago, I had this epiphany to start an NPO and launched Global Citizens Initiative Inc. (GCI, www.globalci.org), a global social enterprise (NPO) with an aim to engage, educate and empower our youth (high school students) with the appropriate tools and skills to thrive in the 21st century as citizens of the world. The Global Citizens Summit, our flagship program, was initially hosted at Harvard Faculty Club, then in Tokyo at Hiroo Gakuen, and now St Andrews in Scotland. The one-year Fellowship is a platform to identify personal passion, ignite global engagement and a launch pad for nurturing young Change-makers. I was inspired to found GCI by my own personal experience of growing up in Japan and the United States. As a teenager, I struggled with my identity, of what it meant to be both Japanese and American. It was only as an adult that I started to embrace and appreciate both countries and cultures, acculturate and find my own unique identity.
One of the catalysts and inspiration to me was the research-based discussion paper Nurturing Our Next Generation of Global Citizens, with input from academics and thought leaders from the Harvard Business School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard College, Phillips Exeter Academy, Hackley School, and MY community in Tokyo and the greater New York area. My hope and goals are to provide the opportunity for an effective global education of all citizens – from all educational and socioeconomic backgrounds – and to contribute towards a better, more sustainable, and peaceful world. With technology taking over our world, it is more important than ever to think about ethical intelligence and what it means to be human.
For those of us who aren’t familiar, please tell us about Global Citizens Initiative?
GCI is a US-based not-for-profit social enterprise that engages, educates, and empowers the next generation of leaders from communities around the world to become lifelong, ethical leaders of positive change. We have 3 programs we offer: 1) a yearlong Fellowship for high school students, which is the gateway for a lifelong leadership program as a change-makers 2) a seminar program for high school teachers to learn about our global competence curriculum 3) a Global Collaborative Curriculum (GCC) for Schools. We are developing an ecosystem of change-makers by nurturing global competence, cultural exchange, and problem-solving skills. To ensure the inclusion of students and educators from under-resourced communities and schools, we have a Global Scholarship Fund. In this day and age, where mental health is a worldwide pandemic, we build authentic relationships among our young and provide them with transformative experiences. GCI’s Instagram handle: @gogci, https://www.instagram.com/gogci/
You have been incredibly active in the Greenwich community over the years. What are some of the local organizations you feel most passionately about supporting?
I have been involved in various organizations over the years, starting out with the YWCA Greenwich, CT Brava Award, co-founded a women’s circle called Greenwich Women’s Roundtable, where professional women meet and exchange ideas and learn from each other and thought leaders, while building a wonderful warm community. Recently, I have been engaged with Americares in Stamford, as their work is most impressive in delivering critical medicines and care to people facing poverty or disaster on a worldwide basis. For example, they have done an excellent job supporting Turkey and Japan after major earthquakes. I also admire the Greenwich Historical Society, not only in their leadership capabilities, but in the thoughtful manner, they work to preserve and interpret Greenwich history. Outside of Greenwich, due to my passion for GCI, I was fortunate to be nominated as Forbes Japan Top 55 Women Active with a Mission, 2016/2018.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding parts of running a non-profit organization?
The most rewarding part of running GCI, is to see the transformative experience and impact of so many youth from around the world, which often changes their trajectory in life. The most challenging part of running an NPO is that there is so much to do and not enough time in the day to do it all.
How do you find a balance with motherhood and Global Citizens Initiative? Any tips for the rest of the Moms out there?
Finding balance is very challenging and hard but I would say: 1. Hire excellent people and delegate 2. Self-care as you need to take care of yourself in order to be an effective leader 3. Hold tight to your values and ask the question: is this something I can and should do or can someone else do this?
Anything else you’d like to share?
I believe the power of women and their network is incredible – something to not underestimate. We can be a force for change and once a handful of women set their mind on things, change happens, such as Impact Fairfield Country, as they are changing and providing such value to non-profits in the community. It is so inspirational and amazing work. I am all about supporting one another and believe Greenwich Moms is such a valuable and important organization. I am so honored and grateful to be interviewed. Thank you.
We love to support local businesses. What are your favorite places when you are in Greenwich to:
Grab coffee: Coffee for Good and CFCF
Workout: Kaia Yoga
Go on a date night: The Cottage and Le Penguin
Go out for a girls night: L’escale
Go out to dinner as a family: Bianca Restaurant
Get your hair done: Hiro Salon
Have fun as a family: Greenwich Harbor Point Beach