Looking Forward to a Friendly Future Thanks to TOMODACHI

History is filled with the stories of men who had enough power to dare call themselves “Great” and tyrants who were so proud of the fear they spread that they adopted monikers like “the Terrible.”

But the leaders of the future are unlike the leaders of the past. And thanks to a week I recently spent with the participants of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, which has the Japanese word for “friendship” in its name, I am confident that we can look forward to a far friendlier future.

The word tomodachi suits the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program perfectly. Here I am (center) with some of the new tomodachi I met during the U.S. study tour.

The prestigious TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program (TMWLP) was run in partnership with U.S. Embassy Tokyo, the U.S. Japan Council, and MetLife. The program pairs highly-motivated Japanese female university students with their mid-career counterparts to network and exchange knowledge focused on the program’s five core competencies of leadership: global perspective, collaboration, resilience, self-awareness, and paying it forward.

I met the 2019 program participants during an eight-day study tour to Washington, DC and New York City administered by Cultural Vistas for the sixth-consecutive year.

Fostering a Global Perspective

For many of the young women I met, this trip was their first time in the U.S.—and for some, it was the first time they had ever left Japan at all.

But that was before. Not only do all TMWLP participants complete their programs with the same international experience in the U.S., they also participate in activities designed to foster a global perspective—which is different than merely traveling to a foreign place.

Program participants were in the capital for The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to Washington, DC.

Simply witnessing what was possible as a Japanese woman abroad made at least one TMWLP participant interested in opportunities to intern and work abroad herself. This participant confided to me that she had never before thought of working outside of Japan until she heard, with her own ears, Japanese women talking about their own successful international careers during one of the program activities.

In this evermore connected world, it is becoming more important than ever for these future leaders to be open to opportunities in the global workplace.


The culmination of the U.S. tour consisted of group presentations to be delivered on the final full day of the trip at MetLife offices in New York by groups of five participants. Many of the participants had never met previously, making collaboration a dominant theme throughout the week as the young women learned to work together in a very short amount of time.

The culmination of the participants’ study tour in the U.S. was at MetLife headquarters in New York City.

A different, more lighthearted, program activity focusing on collaboration involved a session where participants were asked to build paper airplanes. Each group had to create a story about a paper airplane and present that story to the group.

The young women showed their ingenuity, ability to work together, and creativity through these short stories. The lessons the participants learned through these exercises carried over during their final presentations, which were delivered with a focus on personal connections and encouraging each presenter to shine in their own way.

In addition to final group presentations, TMWLP participants also had many opportunities to present individually throughout their programming.


Participants focused on building resilience during a resilience workshop led by Nicola Shergold of the Wellbeing Project.

During the workshop, one participant shared a moving story of how, during her first year at university, she was so committed to taking on every opportunity to prove her dedication as a student, that she pushed herself to the point where she was experiencing severe health problems. These health issues negatively impacted her ability to complete her schoolwork. She realized that in order to succeed, she had to take care of her whole self, including her physical well-being.

She now makes sure she gets enough sleep every night, and that she takes breaks to focus on her wellbeing as often as she needs to, and has seen improvements in her performance at school since making these adjustments.


This participant’s story is not only one of resilience, but of self-awareness. Many of the other young women demonstrated their understanding of the value of self-awareness during a reflection session, where papers with the core competencies were placed around a room, and each person had to choose which resonated most.

Those who chose self-awareness explained that self-awareness serves as a foundation to the other core competencies. One must understand oneself to understand the world she inhabits; one must be self-aware to be grounded enough to work through tough times; one must be aware oneself in order to work effectively with others; and finally, one must understand who she is in order to share her best self to better the lives of others when she pays it forward.

Paying it Forward

The prompt for the final group presentations was, “What will the world be like in 10 years? Describe what kind of leader you want to be in the future world and why.”

While answers varied, the idea of paying it forward through leadership was clear in every group presentation. The professionals who volunteered their time to work with these young women throughout their 10-month program or during the U.S. study tour also served as a powerful example of what paying it forward means.

As beneficiaries of this shared knowledge, the participants have been equipped with the tools to develop into leaders, and are prepared to pay it forward to other young women who are just getting started.

The #FutureIsFemale

During a workshop in Washington, DC, Communications Consultant Barbara Greene told a brave yet nervous volunteer who had offered to share with the group “don’t worry, everyone here wants you to succeed!”

Barbara knows that when lift each other up, when we see each other as friends—we all succeed, as individuals, as women, and as a whole society. The networks created during TMWLP are far-reaching and rich, and we can’t wait to see where these young women take us as they develop into the future leaders of this globally connected world.

Through important lessons on leadership which are true to its name, the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program teaches that though many may strive to be leaders, there can be no effective leadership without friendship.

Since we know that the #FutureIsFemale, let’s hope that this message spreads far and wide as we await the friendly leaders of our future.

Eleven women stand with arms outstretched in front of an American flag displayed on the wall of a city building.

Please note that the reference to TOMODACHI in the title of this post is a reference to the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program.