Feature Interview: Cosmo Fujiyama and marrying your mission

I am so excited to share this interview with you! This woman has been a mentor and inspiration to me ever since I met her. The teleseminar of this interview will be up soon with even more great advice than is included in this text. I met Cosmo last summer when I was interning in D.C. for a global organization that works in the field of social entrepreneurship. When I met her on the first day of my internship, I knew she had an energy that I had never felt before. She continues to be a driving force in many’s lives and she is one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever had the fortune of working with.

Tessa: Cosmo, I know you are always up to exciting things and I’d love for you to share with our readers and listeners what you are working on currently.

Cosmo: My name is Cosmo Fujiyama and I’m currently living in Brooklyn, New York. I am a second year graduate student at New York University’s graduate school in Public Service, where I’m studying to get my MPA with a focus in policy, management, and social entrepreneurship. I have the pleasure and honor of being selected to be a Reynolds Fellow in social entrepreneurship. It’s a really incredible cross campus program that selects fellows from all of the different schools at NYU and for our two years in graduate school we get to work together with all of the cohort members on our different initiatives. It’s been an incredible community.

I also work for Ashoka as a member of the global search team, which is Ashoka’s arm for human capitol development and building out our different talent needs. So I work on the global recruiting team, the search team.

In my free time I love playing ukulele and singing, it’s a growing passion of mine. Also, I’m very much interested in interested in generally studying and learning, both at school and in my work how we inspire how we inspire and motivate young people.

I really believe in preparing the next generation to become leaders and figuring out ways how young people can really marry their mission in life.

Tessa: So I’m curious on how you got to where you are and your interest in entrepreneurship, what endeavors have you been involved with in college, life after college, and currently?

Cosmo: You know, I think my passion for young entrepreneurship and young people getting involved and solving problems really does come from the lessons that my parents taught me. Both of them emigrated from Japan in the 80’s, I was born in San Francisco. Both of them were avid skiers and would ski all winter long, that’s actually how they met. The lesson in skiing is, if you’re a skier you have to learn how to fall to get up.  You have to learn that falling is a part of the journey. I think this leads right into entrepreneurship. We have so many opportunities and the ability to really put ourselves out there, but knowing that might come with some stumbles and falls is really important.

Through my undergraduate career and to where I am now I had the opportunity to travel, step on different mountains, and take different journeys. My Dad was so supportive of me going to Honduras, going to Nicaragua, going to the Dominican Republic. When I went to Honduras my sophomore year with a non-profit organization for a short-term learning trip, I really was transformed. I was so deeply touched by what I saw that I wanted to understand why I felt that there was more I could do after I came back. My brother and I started a non-profit in 2005 called Students Helping Honduras because we wanted to figure out a way where we could make a long-term sustainable difference in the community.

We have built over 12 schools, have an entirely sustainable village with 300 people who have access to secure housing infrastructure, water, recreation, and schools as a result of people coming together and collaborating. For me to be able to see Hondurian leadership step into the role that I was leaving after being there for 3 years was amazing. I go back every year to visit my colleagues and my brother and I love seeing the growth and it’s incredible what can be accomplished.

Tessa: So did that experience help you decide that you wanted to go to graduate school?

Cosmo: You know, I think that I definitely feel that my experiences have a story and a connection. My parents have always pushed me to pursue my passion and purpose. They taught me to ask tough questions and not be afraid to fail or fall. When I was in Honduras, every day I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a great partner, my brother, who has incredible strength and talent. We were able to really build this movement and when I saw the growth of the organization, I saw the growth personally of me as well.

I always knew my passion was in inspiring young people to pursue what they felt were the solutions to the challenges they saw. I wanted to go to school because I knew that would be the place to really start to understand tough questions and start to ask those questions and really learn and tackle them. I really wanted to team up with people to be able to do so. I was really hungry to kind of zoom out and see the big picture.

Tessa: Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you hope to be doing?

Cosmo: Well I have been able to work for an organization that I deeply respect and I’ve had really interesting opportunities that have shaped the way I look at my life and I think in this space of social entrepreneurship I want to master what it means to really balance. I see myself mastering what it means to be both an intrapraneur and how to help a company to really reach its mission. I feel that mastery of balance is something I want to do for the rest of my life and what that means in managing time. I also know that social entrepreneurship is a 24/7 type of field and we want to be creating a better world both in our personal and professional lives.

In the short term, I want to participate in the living library that is graduate school as much as possible. I want to contribute to the dialogue with my expertise as much as I can and also to deliver the best in my work and insights.

Tessa: So I’m curious, through all of this, what do you find is your biggest struggle?

Cosmo: I think there’s this short-term struggle of moving to a new city (I just came to New York in 2011), where there are so many opportunities and interests colliding. I think my biggest struggle was learning when to say no. It was really learning what opportunities to seek and why and realizing where my time is best spent. I had to look at it that it wasn’t a loss if I wasn’t in two places at once, but really being present where I was. In a city like New York, can you say no in order to say yes to where you really want to be.  I think where you really want to be is where your values are.

Tessa: So most of our readers are women, and I’m curious to know who the women are that have influenced you throughout your journey.

Cosmo: That is a great question. I think specifically about a couple that come to mind. Erin Krampetz is my mentor, she works at Ashoka. We meet up for coffee periodically and I find her somebody that is so passionately committed to her work of building multiple changemaker campuses around the world and challenging everyone to ask the question of what it means to be a changemaker. When I speak with her I’m inspired by her commitment to her work and her long-term vision of the work and her humility. She has a way of being personally passionate and professionally being relentlessly brilliant.

I’m also inspired by people such as Susan Davis, who is the president of BRAC, who through the Reynolds program has served as my mentor and I also meet with her regularly in NYC. She is a woman who is incredible and running a wonderful organization. Whenever I reach out to her she is always so giving of her time to meet and speak with me. She helps me think about different approaches and people she can connect me with to accomplish what I want. She has taught me that if you do what you do best, you will inspire other people and create value and to not think that you’re never not enough.

Tessa: What advice do you have for women in business, women who are trying to decide their career paths or just any advice you would like to give.

Cosmo: You don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know, so ask. My first angel investor was due to an ask. We had to ask for her support. I had to put myself out there and apply for graduate school and for these fellowships in order to get the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve really had to know what’s out there and pursue them. I think asking for time and kindness from yourself is also really important. I think another piece of advice is to sit next to people at dinners. Be open and honest and don’t network and smoosh. Just share your story and really connect with people. The more we ask for help and the more we give of ourselves, the more doors will open. As women in particular, I think that the more leaders we will have coming up out of high schools through this. We will see the audacious leaders that we so deeply need in boardrooms, in schools, in startups. May we be leading our lives with a reflection of both the purpose of pursuing the challenges and solving these problems and social challenges, but also not be afraid to ask for the help we need from each other.

I’m happy to connect with anyone who is reading this or listening to the podcast who wants to hear more about this. I’m happy and able to connect with people via Tessa, if anyone in particular would like to connect.


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