JWLI empowers Japanese women to become leaders and to make positive social change and innovation in Japan.


unspecifiedThe Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative (JWLI) was founded in 2006 by three visionary women in Boston, Massachusetts: Atsuko Toko Fish, Mary Lassen, and Catherine Crone Coburn. JWLI brings emerging women leaders, referred to as the Fellows, from Japan to Boston to receive four weeks of hands-on experience and training with successful nonprofit organizations in nonprofit management and leadership development. During their stay in Boston, the Fellows will develop an Action Plan, which will serve as a step-by-step roadmap to make their dreams of social change a reality. After returning to Japan, the Fellows are expected to make a difference in their communities based on their Action Plans. The purpose of this program is for the fellows to share the knowledge and experience they acquired in Boston with other women and social sector leaders within Japan.

The Fish Family Foundation, operating in conjunction with other Boston-based nonprofit organizations, is administering JWLI in partnership with Simmons College School of Management’s Center for Gender in Organizations.

unspecified-1In 2010, thanks to the generous funding provided by the U.S. – Japan Foundation, JWLI expanded its vision to hold public forums within Japan. Held in 2010, 2012 and 2013, these public forums provided information about the nonprofit sector and the American approach to philanthropy with hopes to inspire women to take leadership roles. The Forum Program reached hundreds of Japanese citizens, advocating for their involvement in addressing the needs of Japanese society.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary, JWLI hosted the Tokyo Summit at Tokyo American Club on October 18, and it was a huge success. Nearly 40 women leaders and JWLI Fellows candidly explored the theme of Women Leading Social Change in Japan with the audience of over 300 people. Mari Kuraishi, a founder of Global Giving, gave us a powerful keynote speech sharing her journey to start the organization. The Summit showcased JWLI’s 10-year impact by highlighting 10 alumnae and their achievements. Under the theme of Women Leading Social Change in Japan, the Summit’s most important message to the participants was to take action and be a leader to make positive social change in Japan.

Fish Family Foundation

The Fish Family Foundation (the Foundation) is a private family foundation in Boston. The Foundation was established in 1999 to formalize the family’s tradition of responsibility to improve its community and to share the joy スクリーンショット 2015-10-24 9.49.20 PMof giving with future generations. The Foundation currently focuses on aiding immigration, at-risk youth, and people struggling with mental health.

JWLI Alumnae Association (JWLIA)

In December 2012, the Fellows formed JWLIA with a mission to share the knowledge, learning and experience of JWLI to other women leaders in Japan. In addition to assisting recruitment, and pre-program preparation and engagement of the Fellows, JWLIA hosts workshops and symposiums annually, which are attended by hundreds of people every year.


atsuko-toko-fish1 Atsuko Toko Fish retired as a U.S.-Japan cross-cultural consultant, and is currently involved with various social innovative movements as a philanthropist. She is also a trustee of the Fish Family Foundation. In the wake of 3.11, Atsuko established the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund – Boston (JDRFB) with The Boston Foundation (TBF) and the Japan Society Boston (JSB) to support immediate and mid-term recovery in the affected regions of Tohoku. Atsuko visited Tohoku several times after the disaster to assessed and evaluated the needs of the people and community. In the two years the fund was active for, JDRFB raised approximately $1 million and distributed 24 grants to 19 organizations and projects working directly in Tohoku. It has been reported by the grantees that JDRFB’s $1 million grants were leveraged to have $6 million of economic impact.

Atsuko also served as a board chair of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence (ATASK) for over 10 years, and a trustee of Simmons College. She was also a board member of The Boston Foundation (TBF), HANDS (Health and Development Service), the Japan Society of New York (JSNY), and Management Sciences for Health(MSH). She currently serves as an Overseer of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA), an advisory board member of Berklee College of Music, a board member of the U.S. Japan Council, and an advisory member of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative at Management Science for Health (MSH).

In recognition of her achievements to promote U.S.-Japan friendship, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan awarded Atsuko with the Foreign Minister’s Commendation in 2012. In 2013, the White House named Atsuko a recipient of the Asian American Pacific Islander Women “Champion of Change” award in recognition of her accomplishments for empowering women in both the U.S. and Japan.

Advisory Team

Susan Cohen is a Senior Advisor with the Fish Family Foundation. She recently moved from Toronto where she was the Executive Director of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, one of Canada’s leading family foundations. Before joining the Foundation, Susan spent more than 20 years focused on school improvement and student success. She has led innovative, collaborative organizations with significant reach and impact. Roles have varied from Director of Gifted Programs for the Brookline Public Schools to Program Manager, responsible for the province-wide development and implementation of standardized testing at the primary and junior levels in Ontario Public Schools. One step away from formal education, Susan also served as the Deputy Director of Education at Toronto’s science museum. She has a Masters of Education from Harvard University.

Patricia H. Deyton is the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and the Faculty Director of the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO), the internationally recognized research arm of the Simmons School of Management in Boston. At the School of Management, Patricia is also Professor of Practice in both the MBA and Undergraduate Programs and is Chair of the Nonprofit Concentration in the MBA Program. She teaches courses in Negotiations, Principled Leadership, Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy, Introduction to Management, Managing Diversity in Organizations (the capstone course in Management), and a travel course to Japan studying women’s leadership She also teaches Gender, Leadership and Management, and Nonprofit Management at the Harvard University Extension School, and the capstone course on Leadership in the Ph.D. program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons. Patricia teaches sections on Gender and Leadership and Gender and Negotiations in the SOM Executive Education Program. She was recently named to the Simmons’ President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. Patricia holds a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Masters of Divinity from Yale University.

Yumi Kuwana founded Global Citizens Initiative in 2012 to provide effective global education for all citizens, and to create an educational platform that contributes towards a better and more peaceful world. She was inspired to found GCI by her own personal experience growing up in Japan and the United States. Kuwana authored 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 School of Education, Harvard College, Phillips Exeter Academy, Hackley School, and her community in Tokyo and the greater New York area. Before GCI, Kuwana worked on Wall Street for 24 years including founding Cook Pine Capital LLC with her husband, a Wall Street veteran as well. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Dr. Mary Lee is an internationally recognized clinician educator and consultant. Trained as an internist, she was Tufts University School of Medicine’s first Dean for Educational Affairs, and later Associate Provost for Tufts University overseeing interdisciplinary programs and initiatives across the University. Dr. Lee has a particular interest in how leadership training, faculty development, innovations in educational technology, and open access can transform professional education and global health. She continues to provide national and international strategic planning, accreditation preparation, leadership training, faculty development and curriculum planning. Additionally, she enjoys travel, gardening and oil painting.

Dr. Emily Reichert serves as Chief Executive Officer of Greentown Labs, the largest clean technology startup incubator in the United States. Emily started her career at Arthur D. Little as a Ph.D. scientist and progressed into R&D, business development and general management roles. Prior to Greentown Labs, she was the Director of Business Operations at the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry where she helped grow the angel-funded startup into a sustainable contract R&D business with a mission to minimize environmental impact of chemical products. Emily also served as a MIT Sloan Fellow in Innovation and Global Leadership as well as a Venture Labs Fellow at Flagship Ventures, a Boston-based Venture Capital firm. As an avid outdoorswoman, Emily has experienced adventures in many corners of the globe including, tree-climbing in the Amazon, swimming with sea turtles off the island of Fernando de Noronha, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, trekking the Andes of Ecuador, and cycling along the Danube River bend north of Budapest.

Sylvia Vriesendorp has over 35 years of experience working in the health sector developing countries with a focus on capacity development of health professionals, public health managers and leaders to improve the performance of the health systems at national and local levels. Since 1986 she has worked in various positions at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), a nonprofit public health consulting organization based in Washington DC and Boston, MA. She has made multiple trips to Japan to work with the Foundation for Advanced Studies in International Development (FASID) and HANDS, a Japanese international development NGO. As leader of the MSH team, she has received JWLI fellows during their stay in Boston, since 2014 for a brief workshop on leadership in the NGO field. Born, raised and schooled in the Netherlands, she has made the United States her permanent home since 1981. Aside from her native Holland and the US, she has lived and worked in Afghanistan, Lebanon and (North) Yemen.

Final Reports

Associate Partners

The concept of the Associate Partners was born to create mutually beneficial partnerships between JWLI and like-minded organizations to foster the next generation of women leaders and to advance women’s empowerment in Japan. Contact Kozue Sawame if you are interested in becoming an Associate Partner.