The TOMODACHI-Microsoft iLEAP Social Innovation and Leadership program is designed to cultivate a new generation of Japanese social entrepreneurs and community leaders (ages 18-25) who are prepared to make a positive difference in Japan, the United States, and around the world. Program participants are selected from a highly competitive, nationwide pool of applicants,to participate in an experiential leadership training in Seattle, Washington. At the core of the program, Scholars work on a Team Project with prominent businesses and receive business mentoring from recognized Japanese American leaders in the Seattle community. Scholars also take classes in leadership and entrepreneurship, work with technology advisers to grow their ideas, and conduct site visits to social businesses and organizations. The program is run during spring pand summer also involves alumni activities back in Japan.

Why the Social Innovation and Leadership Program?

We believe that the best way to transform a country and culture is to invest in the leadership development and entrepreneurial thinking of its youth. The program is an investment in people and the relationships that form the social infrastructure for future innovation. Specific to the TOMODACHI-Microsoft iLEAP Social Innovation and Leadership program, we focus on participants who have overcome significant challenges in their lives and have demonstrated a strong desire to transform these difficulties into a positive future. Here are some video links of some Scholars speaking about the events of 3/11/2011:

How Does the Social Innovation and Leadership Program Promote Cross-Cultural Exchange Between the United States and Japan?

This program is fundamentally cross-cultural as Scholars come from Japan and learn more about how to act professionally and live in an American context. Because the program is highly experiential and hands-on, Scholars are consistently interacting with Americans of diverse backgrounds and origins. This program is not a “study/exposure tour” where groups seldom have sustained interactions with their hosts.

One of the things that sets this program apart is Scholars’ experience working with Team Mentors and Scholars develop relationships that can last a lifetime. We feel that there is no comparable “study abroad/exposure tour” program for Japanese young people like the iLEAP program.

From past Scholars:

  • iLEAP has taught me there are many ways to live and many paths to take that I’ve never thought about when I was in Japan or even come across. I’m confident now to believe what I love and my choice.”
  • “I learned that the power of communication between America and Japan can change the world.”
  • “Hearing about Japanese Americans’ history and community from people from USJC was a great experience.”
  • “I was inspired by the fact that Seattle is one of the most advanced city in terms of social innovation. Also I was able to reconfirm what made me excited, and other Site Visits with my group members were helpful to experience it as well.”
  • “I personally think that the best way to learn foreign language is to immerse myself in that language for a long time. Since I had no Japanese in my host family’s house, it was easier for me to train myself just to speak, hear, and think in English.”

How Does the Social Innovation and Leadership Program Empower the Next Generation of Japanese Leaders?

This program provides a professional and experiential training for Scholars to learn more about their potential as leaders, how to develop and advance project plans in an entrepreneurial manner, and how to think and act in a global arena. Through our monitoring and evaluation activities, we have seen how graduates of the program are taking their experience into their new jobs and using it as a leverage point for new opportunities for themselves. The following quotes from some of the Scholars speak to how this program empowers Japan’s next generation of thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs.

From past Scholars:

  • I think this program changed my life. This reminded me my dream and hope for my own future.
  • iLEAP program gave me BIG chance to transform of myself. Thanks for iLEAP, I could have wonderful community where I have deeply trust and acceptance.
  • What I really realized after coming back to Japan is it’s all about how I am, not where I am or what I do. How I am is the key to change the society and I deeply understand what I learned at iLEAP.
  • I now understand my leadership style and will go back to my community (in Tohoku) and be a more influential and compassionate leader for others.
  • One of the words from the program that stick in my mind is, “Everyone is a leader in any way, since you lead your own life”, and now I’m sure that I have more confidence in myself. I believe this is partly because I was able to get rid of some assumptions about a leader and future like “A leaders should be like that” or “I have to make my career vision clearer now”.And this wouldn’t have been happen without having honest dialogue with many people especially a certain person I admired and me myself, so I really appreciate opportunity and supports I got in five weeks.

What are Group Projects, Team Mentors and Technology Advisers?

During the program, participants work together into small teams to conduct a Group Project under the guidance of a Community Partner. The Group Project is designed to provide them with a real-world challenge in leadership and social innovation and to contribute something meaningful to the work of community-based organizations and social businesses in Seattle.

Each Group Project team is assigned a Team Mentor and a Community Partner.

The Community Partner is the “client” of the team and, in pre-program consultation with iLEAP, will come to the team with some challenge to solve in their business operations. The Community Partner could be a small non-profit organization or a larger for-profit business with a social mission. Past Community Partners have included Microsoft, Goodwill, Global Partnerships, JungleCity, and the University of Washington.

The Team Mentor is an individual who provides advice, perspective, and feedback to the student team.

The Technology Adviser is an individual who is there to answer question about technology and its best application for Scholar’s projects.

Quotes from past Scholars on their experience with the Team Mentor:

  • Every conversation with my mentor was very impactful. I was able to deepen what I learned from leadership seminars with my mentor who has lots of experience as a leader. I now have the ability toreflect on what kinds of leadership I want to pursue.
  • Having a mentor was my first-time experience and it was very meaningful. We talked about not only group project that we worked on, but also our career, lives, passion and family…he gave me different perspectives that I wouldn’t have gained if I had only stayed in Japan.
  • Through the interactions that I had with my mentor, I gained more confidence in speaking in English and being who I am.

How to Apply to the Social Innovation and Leadership Program

Please apply from here.


To learn more about our graduates, click here.