I spent six days in Japan exploring a possible relationship between COA and an evolving educational entity in that country. I will encapsulate that experience in a series of 6-8 blog posts beginning with this introduction.
It’s Jay’s fault. Jay Friedlander, COA’s Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business, convinced me to attend the Ashoka U Presidents’ Experience at Brown University in 2014. Ashoka is the organization founded by Bill Drayton in 1980 to foster a change in the way the world understands entrepreneurship. The world would be a better place, Drayton surmised, if the power of creativity and innovation in the business world could be applied in full force to the social (read: human ecological) difficulties we face. Among the throngs of these social entrepreneurs at the conference, we met Hiromi Nagao.
From 2010 until just recently Dr. Nagao was president of one of the most admired women’s colleges in Japan. Like every other women’s college in Japan, Hiroshima Jogakuin University was more of a finishing school for girls, where the finality was for the alumnae to become the wives of the business elite. Dr. Nagao wasn’t satisfied at all with that end-state and managed to champion some significant reforms during her four-year term at HJU. Annoyed by what they considered to be a radical bee in her bonnet, the all-male, all-octogenarian board chose not to renew her contract.
Though close to a retiring age, Dr. Nagao wasn’t going to go down quietly. The 4’11” woman is a whirlwind of intensity, smarts, and vision and is entirely focused on educational reform in Japan. After meeting Jay and me at the Ashoka U meeting, she became enamored with the College of the Atlantic and thought we might have something at COA that could help realize her ambitions.
Six months went by before Jay and I heard back from Dr. Nagao. To be honest, when I received the email from her in the summer of 2015 I had somehow managed to forget her story. The email from Dr. Nagao asked if Jay and I would be interested in visiting her and her colleagues in Japan. I remember internalizing her email as: “we want to start a college in Japan based on the COA model.” I couldn’t afford to leave MDI in August, but Jay was able and excited. (It’s no secret that Jay thinks with his mind, heart, and belly. Japan was his gastrological Mecca.)
Jay made an enormous impact on Dr. Nagao and her colleagues during his short trip and further fueled Dr. Nagao’s interest in COA. In November 2015 I received a second invitation. In Japan, titles are meaningful. “We want the president and we’re willing to pay for your trip so we can discuss mutually beneficial collaborations. I still read, “we want to start a college in Japan based on the COA model.” Armed with a very serious dose of curiosity and a sense of pride fueled by Nagao’s interest in the college, I left for Japan on January 15, 2016.
Proceeding with caution, proceeding with a sense of managing expectations, but proceeding nevertheless felt right.