Given the current global racial and religious tensions, it may sound utopian to envision a world in which people of diverse nationalities and cultural backgrounds live in peace and harmony by honoring the differences of others.
For Ikuko Atsumi, however, this is not a wild dream but a distinct possibility, providing we change our mind-set and accommodate a paradigm shift.
Atsumi is not just a dreamer but a committed activist. Currently, she is embarking on a project to promote “global education” for children in Japan by applying her 25-year experience and knowhow in global business training in the United States.
“Globalization is evolving into a new belief system that requires us to experience a complete paradigm change. We need to set up a global perspective in our mind’s eye and wear a multicultural lens to really see this enormous transformation,” observed Atsumi, 68, head of the nonprofit organization Future School of Global Education.
Born in Nagoya as the sole daughter to two educators, Atsumi started her own career in education. After teaching at Aoyama-Gakuin University in Tokyo as an associate professor, she was invited to become a research fellow at Harvard University in 1979.
In 1983, she ventured into the business world by setting up a pioneering consultancy in cross-cultural business training in the suburbs of Boston.
In 1985, Time magazine featured her business training and, helped by the media coverage, her firm began to receive orders for seminars, lectures and executive training from numerous blue-chip U.S. corporations, Atsumi recalled.
Since 1983, she has conducted more than 1,200 business seminars for over 15,000 executives on four continents in collaboration with her partner instructors from more than 50 countries.
“I realized that many executives of my client corporations believed their way of doing business was universal. However, they were wearing a U.S. cultural lens and were unable to consider the perspective of any other nationalities. By the same token, people from all different countries tend to see the world through their own native cultural lens,” she acknowledged.
In the mid-’90s, Atsumi worked with her team of native instructors from different countries to develop a new training tool for executives, called Cultural World Map.
The training tool aims to infuse a paradigm shift into the mind-set of executives from home-country-centered thinking to global thinking, and from intolerance of cultural differences to innovative use of the richly diverse people and cultures in the global arena.
This training tool later turned out to be the basis for her program of global education for children.
While her business continued to thrive, her view of life changed dramatically as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
“I was so shocked by the 9/11 incident. I felt I must do something. In the end, I determined to devote the rest of my life to global education for children in order to create a world without war and terror by raising children’s awareness as a member of the global village,” she remembered.
In collaboration with her partners, she developed a unique educational program, named 10 Steps to Reach the Global Village.
To concentrate on the promotion of the new educational venture, she set up a new company, Multicultural Playing Field Inc., in New Jersey in 2004. It eventually incorporated her executive training business.
In the educational program, which targets people aged 7 to 15, children travel freely throughout the Global Village Land.
Riding on the global coaster they design, children meet Anne Frank, learn that more than 1,000 wars have occurred since her death, talk to street children in Brazil and orphans in Africa, recognize different rules in different cultural codes, and even launch a toy company as a multicultural team.
At the end of the journey, children work out Ground Rules for the ideal Global Village, organize a Kids’ Summit and declare “No More Wars.”
In summer 2007, Atsumi shifted the base of her activities from the U.S. to Japan by setting up a subsidiary of her U.S. firm.
She has since been energetically promoting the educational program by visiting schools, local boards of education and even the education ministry, organizing public demonstrations of the program and speaking at seminars.
Tokyo Joshi Gakuin, a private high school for women in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, has become the first Japanese school to adopt her program as its regular course.
Twenty-five of third-year students of the school’s junior high school division took lessons under the program for four consecutive days in mid-July.
At this school, the program, which consists of 21 lessons, will be taught for 12 days, including four days in July, five days in December and three days next March. About four hours will be spent to finish two lessons a day.
“Due to the government’s rigid regulation on public schools’ courses of study and selection of educational materials, it is not an easy job to have public schools adopt my educational program, whereas private schools are more flexible and receptive,” Atsumi admitted.
However, another private school and one international school are considering introducing her educational program, which costs ¥1 million, including the fee for a specially trained instructor and a set of teaching materials for students, according to Atsumi.
She is currently planning to organize a public demonstration of her program this fall in Nagoya and is also working on the municipal government and the local business community to open a theme park based on the Global Village, where children can visit and experience the 10 Steps to Reach the Global Village.