Diversity and inclusion is gaining momentum in Japan. Rising Star Yu Shinagawa is championing that.

On the occasion of Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Day, Wedu caught up with Yu Shinagawa, the Founder and CEO of An-Nahal and a Rising Star at Wedu. She is on a mission to help Japan embrace diversity and inclusion.

An-Nahal helps Japanese companies and leaders create inclusive workplaces, where individuals of diverse backgrounds—women, those from the queer community, and various nationalities and ethnicities—feel not only welcomed and heard but also contribute to shared growth. The start-up also supports foreign nationals establishing businesses in Japan. Her work is motivated by her deep belief that differences should be celebrated; because they are an opportunity to collaborate rather than exclusion and division.

In the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, Yu was busy building An-Nahal. After almost five years in the business, her company has now secured diverse clients, including the City of Yokohama. Her team recently concluded the Y-SHIP 2023 with the City.

Read our conversation with Yu, where our Marketing and Communications Associate, Bidhya Maharjan, discusses topics such as diversity and inclusion in Japanese society, the joys of being a Rising Star, and her learnings from the Leadership Intensive & Coaching Certification offered by the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI).

Please note that the interview has been edited for brevity.

Why is it important to have inclusive societies that celebrate the differences among its members?

When I was a teenager, I had a chance to meet with a Vietnamese woman in my city. Her family had fled their country due to the Vietnam War. They lived in the same prefecture as I did. But she and her parents had fewer educational and career opportunities than I did simply because she was not Japanese. The difference was what kept her family from being a part of Japanese society. This was one of the turning points in my life.

The second pivotal moment was when, at the age of 19, I was selected to participate in the Japanese Cabinet Office’s Ship for World Youth Program. There I had a completely opposite experience of what I had with the refugee family in Japan. Spending two months with participants from 13 different nationalities at the programme made me realise how powerful our differences are. Our diversity means that we have different strengths and perspectives, and when we collaborate, its outcome is powerful. This was in stark contrast to the experience of the Vietnamese refugee and her family, where their differences were seen as a barrier to entry into the Japanese community rather than being celebrated and utilised.

What do you think is important for entrepreneurs? Any advice for fellow entrepreneurs.

Take action right now. Being an entrepreneur is not just about founding a company, it’s an action. If you have an idea in your mind, you have to act on it. It may not go the way you thought it would. But once you have tried, you can decide whether you want to continue doing it and whether it contributes to your community. If yes, you can change your plans and keep doing it. If not, you can switch to doing something else and you know your idea is not for you.

Take action right now. Being an entrepreneur is not just about founding a company, it’s an action. 

Secondly, define what’s an “acceptable risk” to you. Challenges and uncertainties are the norm for an entrepreneur. So, when you invest in your idea, define what failures you can take on and recover from easily. For example, if you invested 1,000 USD on your idea and it failed, you will likely move on from it easily. But the same cannot be said if you invested larger sums. So, take risks that you are ready to accept the consequences of.

What do you appreciate about being a Rising Star at Wedu?

One of the best choices I made for my leadership journey this year was attending the Leadership Intensive & Coaching Certification offered by the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI), which was made possible by Wedu. As an entrepreneur, every day is filled with challenges. I could not take time to step away from my daily routine and take time off for myself. But during the 10 days I spent in Bangkok early, I could focus on learning and reflection. 

One of the best decisions I made for my leadership journey this year was attending the Leadership Intensive & Coaching Certification offered by the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI), an opportunity made possible by Wedu.

We [her fellow Rising Stars Xin Lu and Socheat Nhip] were among the youngest members of the cohort. The BECI programme provided me the chance to engage with and gain insights from exceptional leaders of vast experience from across the globe. It helped me connect and learn from them. At the same time, I believe, as younger leaders we could bring diverse perspectives to the room. The programme prioritised self-reflection for coaches, in addition to coaching skills. I was very glad to have taken part in this programme through the incredible support and scholarship from Wedu.

Lastly, seeing other Rising Stars grow and do impactful work in the community sharing their work. I feel a sense of solidarity with them.

What were some of your important learnings from the BECI Leadership Intensive & Coaching Certification?

After attending the BECI coaching programme, I feel more confident about my coaching skills. I am a Certified Gallup Strength Coach, there was much for me to learn with BECI. I learned that understanding myself and self-grounding is central to being a coach and creating psychological safety for our coachees. I am also using other tips from the programme in my work with my clients at An-Nahal.

With the coaching programme, I have built a foundation for my self-confidence. I previously held onto all parts of my work. For the first three years of founding my company, it was difficult for me to hand over tasks and ask for help from others.  Now I delegate my tasks to my team members so I can achieve our goals together and at scale. The success of the Y-SHIP Convention with Yokohama City was all thanks to my team. I could not have done it without them.

Are you interested in learning more about Yu’s work?

Connect with her on LinkedIn here. Or learn more about An-Nahal’s work at its website or at Note.

Will you join our community of allies in closing the gender leadership gap? 

Wedu is committed to supporting women leaders like Yu reach their full potential. Our community of allies create opportunities for and champion women leaders. Here are two actions you can take today to close the gender leadership gap:

  1. 💁🏽 Mentor a young woman leader. As a Wedu mentor, you can help nurture the leadership potential of our Rising Stars across South and Southeast Asia in an eight-month online mentorship programme. Become a Wedu mentor today at here.
  1. 💁🏽 Give to Wedu. With one-on-one mentorship, women’s leadership courses, and education funding, our work helps women leaders realise their changemaking ambitions. Donate here.

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