ESMT Berlin alumna leads Marriage for All campaign in Japan

ESMT Berlin alumna Ai Nakajima put her MBA skills to work—not only for her professional endeavors, but also in her personal life, as she became one of the pioneers to launch the “Marriage for All” campaign, which demands equal rights for same-sex couples in Japan. Starting her professional career in the USA and then Germany, she moved into the FinTech industry after acquiring her MBA at ESMT. She is now working in Japan again.

We interviewed her on the occasion of “Sticks & Stones”, Europe’s largest LGBT+ career fair, which will take place on May 25 in Berlin. If you are interested the degree programs offered by ESMT and our efforts for diversity and inclusivity, meet us there.

Hello Ai, please introduce yourself: Where are you from? In which industry did you work before the MBA and in which industry do you currently work? How many years of experience do you have?

I am from Japan, and I was working in the banking industry before starting my MBA at ESMT Berlin. Currently, I am working at a crypto currency exchange company. I have more than ten years of working experience in finance IT and project management.

Why did you choose the ESMT Berlin MBA program? Why should candidates consider studying at ESMT and Germany?

I chose ESMT for two main reasons. One is the emphasis on technology in the MBA program, the other is the strong connection to multiple layers of German companies and government. ESMT provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know the culture and a variety of industries in Germany, from start-ups to big international corporations.

What was it like living in Berlin and being a student at ESMT?

Germany as a country recognizes same-sex marriages, and when I lived there, Berlin even had an openly gay mayor – this is something that is unimaginable in my home country even today. My colleagues from the bank and at ESMT did not bother at all that I had a female partner, and we did not have to hide that aspect of our lives.

How do cultural diversity and inclusion differ between German and Japanese work cultures?

Japan is much more traditional and conservative by nature. It was, and still is, behind in terms of diversity and inclusion. Japan is trying to change, but after my experience of living in Germany, I could feel the difference in terms of accepting diversity in the work environment between the two countries very strongly. For example, in Japan, people do not talk about their private lives in the workplace, but in Germany it is the opposite, everybody can speak openly about his or her private life.

What role do MBA education programs play in creating more inclusive workspaces?

The diversified demographics of my MBA class were a good start to recognizing diversity and creating an inclusive atmosphere to successfully complete group assignments. However, the students did not merely accept diversity – throughout the MBA year, our minds developed a sense of what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means and how we can make a positive impact on society.

Marriage for All, Japan

You were recently part of a campaign to push the Japanese government to afford equal rights and protections for same-sex couples. How did this come about?

We are following a similar path as the US Supreme Court in June 2015, concluding that the constitution grants the right of marriage not only to opposite-sex couples but also to same-sex couples. I am part of the plaintiff group to claim the same before the Japanese Court. The trial just started in February of this year. It will take roughly five years to go through the court proceedings and have a verdict. I hope Japan changes gradually towards more diversity in the near future. In order for this to happen, we need strong support from all over the world.

Is there any way you can tie in your learning outcomes from the MBA to your marriage campaign?

What I have learned during the MBA has surely helped me to be part of this campaign activity. The biggest impact has come from the leadership class. I can use my leadership skills in court, at events, or interviews and proudly represent the community. The group of plaintiffs and lawyers have diverse backgrounds, and we often have a challenging time to consolidate comments or to decide on the group’s direction. Therefore, I do exercise my negotiation- and problem-solving skills, which I learned at ESMT to help find consensus within the group. I have also been invited as a guest speaker at variety of events, and the presentation skills I learned have helped me to present effectively.

What are the next steps in the campaign?

In terms of court process, after going through the district court, the next step would be the high court, and the last is the Supreme Court. The non-profit organization “Marriage for All Japan” and the lawyers’ group will host events around Japan to promote our case, calling for equal rights. In order to make this campaign successful, we need strong and loud voices from inside and outside Japan. For example, in 2018, five foreign Chamber of Commerce offices requested the Japanese government to protect the LGBT+ community and implement equal rights. This type of visibility and strong pressure will have a significant impact.  At the moment, our problem is not widely known. Therefore, our first action is to reach out to a wider audience about the LGBT+ challenges in Japan.

For more information about the Marriage for All campaign in Japan, visit marriageforall.jp/en.

For more information about ESMT Berlin and our degree programs—Master’s in Management, Full-time MBA, or part-time EMBA—go to degrees.esmt.berlin or visit us on campus at Schlossplatz 1, 10178 Berlin.

Action and compromise: What I’ve learned from President Obama’s town hall at ESMT

Shan Qiao

Along with several other ESMT Berlin students, Shan Qiao attended the Obama Foundation Town Hall Europe with President Obama at ESMT on April 6. In this blog post, she shares her thoughts and experiences.

When then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Berlin in 2008 for the first time and gave a speech in front of the Victory Column, I was just over 20 years old. I remember watching that speech live on TV. I was probably as enthusiastic as the tens of thousands of people that were there cheering and shouting the famous campaign slogan “Yes, we can!”

I almost felt like I did 11 years ago when President Obama walked onto the stage at my home university ESMT Berlin on Saturday. I was sitting in the front row, having the privilege to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event in person. The crowd in the lecture hall was cheering. Everyone was excited and looking forward to the things to come.

Back in 2008, people imagined that once Obama had been elected the world would somehow dramatically change for the better – overnight. The culmination of these high hopes was the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, shortly after he started his first term.

President Barack Obama at ESMT Berlin

In hindsight, it is obvious that no one could live up to such high expectations. And President Obama has since been criticized for not delivering on all of his campaign promises. Despite the excitement ringing out throughout the halls of ESMT, I think we all were more sober than the crowd of 2008.

The importance of compromise

Radical changes just don’t happen overnight – or even within four or eight years for that matter. At least not the kind of changes we would like to see. In his town hall speech at ESMT, President Obama reminded us that “when you start trying to radically change things quickly, the track record has not been great.”

Indeed, I think we should be grateful that our societies are organized in a way that people with different opinions are able to express them and be heard.

“You have to recognize that the way we structure democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you,” the President said. “That by definition means you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want.”

Pointing to examples like his passing of the Affordable Care Act and the Paris Climate Agreement, President Obama stressed the importance of compromise in making progress within a democracy among citizens who don’t agree with a given policy.

Full lecture hall at President Barack Obama's town hall event at ESMT Berlin

I think the value of compromise is often underestimated. Of course, it means that you, or the representatives you elected will not reach each and every goal on their agenda. But it also means that no one can impose their ideas, which you might not agree with, entirely on you.

Taking action

Being open to compromise, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be politically active and complacent about the future you desire. Quite the contrary – the President urged us young people to stand up and fight on behalf of our generation.

“You would not let your grandfather or grandmother decide what clothes you wear or what music you listen to,” he said. “So why would you let them decide the world you’re going to live in and the politics that you’re going to be subjected to.”

I was particularly impressed that President Obama explicitly discussed the “Fridays for Future” movement – these thousands of people protesting all across Europe, calling for ambitious action on climate change. Some German politicians have ridiculed the movement, saying that such matters are for professionals to sort out, not for children running in the streets.

“A lot of those people can’t vote, they’re too young to vote yet,” the President said. “But they know what’s going on and they’re making change. Those habits and that sense of power that they’re developing now is going to carry over for the rest of their lives.”

People raising their hands at President Barack Obama's town hall event at ESMT Berlin

It felt good to hear the President is taking the concerns of the young generation very seriously and actually trusts and encourages us to take matters into our own hands. That is – unfortunately – something you rarely hear from politicians these days.

I would like to thank President Obama for sharing his inspirational thoughts. I hope the other people attending the event and those watching via the internet are as inspired as I am.

Photo credits: The Obama Foundation

Starting Over In A New City

I have met a lot of people who dropped everything to go start over in a new place but I never thought I would be one of them. Leaving behind family, friends, a career (or at least that’s what I thought it was at the time), comfort, routine, everything you’ve built for most of your life. It sounds exciting but the beginning is always overwhelming. What gave me the extra push to do it are the words of my former company’s CEO, who said “growth and comfort do not coexist.” Indeed I was comfortable and so were all the people in my closest circle of friends and family. Most of us lived in the same little neighborhood of Astoria, New York our whole lives and had plans of getting married there, raising our kids there, taking our grandkids to the park together. It is a typical Astoria family thing to do and for some reason I couldn’t bare the thought of living that “typical” life.

Did I work this hard to be “typical”? Did I reach a certain level of comfort in my life that I thought was sufficient to continue this way? I was too comfortable it bothered me because I knew I wanted to do something crazy on my own without having the pressure of the society I lived in holding me down.

And now, here I am, writing this blog post from my apartment in the whimsical neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. Everyone called me crazy for leaving the perfect life situation to start over and be “alone” in a different country but I never felt happier in my life. I’m finally living by myself, meeting new people from all around the world (some of which have become my best friends), trying new foods, learning German (a language I never thought I’d want to learn), interning at one of the largest e-commerce companies of Western Europe and doing it all on my own.

It’s all happening thanks to ESMT Berlin. I found the perfect masters program to help me pursue a specialized higher education without being in debt for the next 20 years of my life. Located right in the heart of Berlin, only steps away from some of the most historical landmarks in Europe, ESMT opened so many doors for me that helped me learn about myself and about the people around me. As the only American in a class of 89 students, not only am I debunking some myths about Americans (like that we use more credit cards to pay our credit card bills or that we are obsessed with McDonald’s) but also rapidly increasing my cultural competence, allowing me to travel to new countries and better connect with locals. Some of my classmates have become my best friends, joining me on my adventures to discover the city and giving me their support during tough times, like when my grandfather passed away in September. This experience has been magical so far and I am excited to see what the future holds.

If you’ve read this far, it either means you’re somewhat inspired by what I had to say…..or you just like to read. Either way, I hope you never let yourself become too comfortable with your life situation. And if you do, I hope this post inspires you to do something crazy in your life that will give you the opportunity to learn about the world and about yourself. Whether it be moving to a new city, pursuing a different career, volunteering to help people in underdeveloped countries, learning a new language, or following a different dream, do something that prevents you from living a “typical” life.

ESMT visits Harvard

Berlin to Boston

As soon as I landed in Boston, my network went off and I was doomed to the very existence as to how would I reach my hotel now. Thanks to my back up plan I had a few screenshots guiding me. I decided to take the snapshots to a passenger outside the train station. The nightmare struck me, how will I ask him the way? I was curious and hoped he could speak English so I went and asked the direction speaking English very slowly. To my astonishment, he replied quickly and fluently and then I realized I actually had landed in the USA and I can speak English freely =P. He topped it off by ending the conversation with “Sub theekh hah” (Urdu) which means “All is good”, making me realize that the people from my part of the world i.e. Pakistan and India are everywhere. I had landed in Boston where the weather was fairly similar and my journey ESMT visits Harvard begun.

HPAIR CONFERENCE

Well coming back to the conference, the reason for my trip and the million-dollar question what was HPAIR? HPAIR is an internationally-recognized student-run organization at Harvard College. It offers a forum of exchange to facilitate discussion of the most important economic, political, and social issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region. Past speakers at the conferences include Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, President of Singapore S.R. Nathan and former President of Goldman Sachs Philip Murphy. I was honored to be selected where I represented my country and university at this conference. I had to go through a series of 4 to 5 essay questions for the application and then had to undergo a Skype interview to land the title of becoming a delegate to this delegate.

There is a common misconception that this is the statue of Mr. John Harvard when in fact it was one of his students who posed for the sculpture

My Experience

The HPAIR conference was an amazing experience, meeting delegates from various parts of the world. The delegates represented top universities from around the world and the experience to network with them was unparalleled to anything. I took the lead in starting a conversation as for every country I had a friend already thanks to the diversity ESMT Berlin offers =). The language classes surely paid off as I started interacting in German with a few delegates who were proficient in German.

Our very first day comprised of keynote lectures by Mitchell Dong and Jon Liechty. Mitchell Dong is currently the Managing Director of Pythagoras Investment Management. Jon Liechty is currently the vice president, Regional Operations for Starbucks Asia Pacific. The following day we were able to network further with Mr. Michael Eckhart, Managing director at Citigroup and Caitlin Iles, Partner at Capital xx. It was an amazing experience sharing the same room with such great motivational people with whom I could interact and discuss further on Asian economy, future of Asia and especially the south Asian region current and expected growth.

My Track

The following day I could speak my vision regarding the future of South Asia in my respective track of governance and diplomacy track. The governance and diplomacy track further allowed me to discuss my vision and approach with esteemed delegates and experts in the field. Mr. Nima Baiati who is the Senior Director of Product Management and Corporate Development at Absolute Software. Dr. Gordon M. Goldstein currently the Managing Director at Silver Lake Partners and Dr. Nazli Choucri, Professor of Political Science at MIT. The topics took a turn and soon in our next panel of discussion we were in discussion regarding geopolitics, regionalism and nuclear tensions amongst the Asian regions. I could reflect my thoughts on the mentioned topic of discussion with various esteemed colleagues such as Mr. Frederic Graire. (served the French embassy in various roles in Pakistan and India).

Final words

To cap it all off we had amazing international and cultural nights. It was an honor to wear ESMT’s shirt and wave the flag of Pakistan. A symbolic gesture that made me happy and proud at the same time. The international night was the final night where we bid our farewell to various colleagues. Colleagues that had become friends over the course of 5 days sharing intellect and vision for the future. The experience to go through those 5 days was magical and surely I would recommend anyone who considers himself/herself a future leader of Asia or has a profound interest towards Asian economy, policies and international relations should opt to apply for this experience. Go and get an experience of meeting all kinds of amazing people will be my final sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Football and ESMT Berlin

Football at esmt berlin

It was the last minute, a throw-in ball came in between two defenders. It was only the keeper that stood between the paths to victory. This was not a FIFA World Cup final, nor was it Ronaldo up against Buffon. This was just a bunch of exuberant, energetic master’s in management students from ESMT Berlin playing football.

The energy was high and the passion intense as the ESMT MIM students tackled their way across the football field. I ran against the wind on the pitch, racing past defenders and succeeding to score. I was a thousand miles from my hometown, yet I felt like I was at home.

We quickly came together as a team, admiring and appreciating each other’s performances. It was as though we had known each other and played together for years. We gave each other generous nicknames, such as the “Pakistani Benzema”, the “Lebanese Bazooka”, and “Milan’s Pirlo.”

What makes ESMT Berlin speciaL?

It was interesting to see the talent that the different countries had to offer. I definitely amazed people who had thought that Pakistan did not know anything about football. Coming from a non-footballing country, I felt special playing with Germans, Italians, and Spaniards. This dream is made into reality at ESMT Berlin, where we have 39 different nationalities studying for the MIM 2017-2019 Program.

On the football pitch, I realized that the students from ESMT Berlin’s MIM Program are special. Not only are they focused on academia, they are equally involved in extracurricular activities. ESMT Berlin is a perfect mix of diversity in all aspects, yet somehow, together under one roof, we are all trying to reach a common goal and helping one another along the way. I think that is what makes ESMT Berlin special.