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Bilingual project aims to be a springboard to women’s empowerment in Japan

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

While various programs and courses for women’s empowerment in Japan exist, the focus is generally limited to either the Japanese market or the international community, with nothing in between. However, a new bilingual program aims to cross language and cultural barriers and help all women move ahead in their professional and personal lives — sharing with and learning from each other in the process.

This innovative project is known as the Springboard Work and Personal Development Programme for Women. Originally created in the U.K. by the Springboard Consultancy 28 years ago, it has since been delivered to more than a quarter of a million of women in 45 countries. The program aims to be relevant to women of any background, at any age.

Fiona Creaser, an associate professor in the University of Kitakyushu’s English Department, participated as a university student in Britain 18 years ago. She is now one of the multinational team bringing the Springboard Programme to Japan.

“I attended a conference in the U.K. and listened to an inspirational speech by a feminist architect, who talked about creating physically safe spaces for women. I thought it would be a great idea to create a safe space for women in my university — if we couldn’t create a physically safe space, then perhaps we could have a virtual safe space, a network from which women could voice their opinions. This was when the idea was born to introduce Springboard to Japan,” Creaser says. She reached out to others in her network to form a core team of five.

“We decided each of our roles by looking at our strong points, which range from the ability to create a vision to business acumen, familiarity with the intricacies of both languages and envisioning the implementation of the actual program itself,” explains American Christine Pearson Ishii, who owns a translation and editing business. “How could we take this award-winning program and modify it so it could be used by any women in Japan, regardless of ethnicity or nationality?”

The program consists of four full-day workshops run over a period of three months, together with a workbook in both languages, which participants go through in between.

“Each session has one female guest speaker, so four speakers in total for the program. It helps participants to reassess their resources and experiences they have in both work and personal life, and supports developing their own goals and planning the steps to achieve them,” says Reiko Koyama, who works for a consulting firm associated with Waseda University. Participants are encouraged to stay in contact and share their progress between sessions, creating peer-to-peer support.

The workbook was authored by Liz Willis and Jenny Daisley, and translating and finetuning the existing 300-plus-page volume for use in Japan was a major undertaking.

According to Koyama, while the English title remained the same as the original U.K. version, coming up with an appropriate Japanese title for the workbook was challenging. “The English title ‘Springboard’ itself can evoke an image of ‘leap’ or ‘jump higher or further’ for English speakers. However, simply translating this into katakana does not mean anything for Japanese speakers, who would immediately think of the spring season.”

In the end the team decided to leave “Springboard” in katakana and create two subtitles to convey the message. They stayed in close contact with the Springboard Consultancy in the U.K. to ensure the Japan workbooks remain faithful to the spirit of the original.

The workshops are also fully bilingual, with the trainers using English and Japanese simultaneously for mixed groups of participants.

“One of the biggest challenges was the time. Since we needed to fit everything in the time set for a monolingual workshop, we had to be well-organized,” recalls Naomi Yukimaru, a faculty colleague of Creaser’s at Kitakyushu University. “The other challenge, especially before the first workshop, was gaining confidence in doing the workshops in our second languages. What we found as a solution was sharing the trainers’ manuscripts amongst ourselves, so that we all know what the others would say.”

The teams cast their collective nets wide to recruit participants for the pilot program from a variety of places. In addition to advertising through the university and the local media, they visited local businesses to explain the program in person.

“Inclusivity is an integral part of the program, and so I went to ask for advice from the manager of the gym I attend. It is specifically for disabled people — I myself was born with one hand,” says Creaser. “Finally, because of our efforts we had a group of very diverse women who came together.”

American Sheila Ryan Hara traveled 90 minutes each way for all of the workshops but says the effort was well worth it for the insights and new self-confidence she gained.

“The only thing holding me back is myself, so I’ve decided to speak my truth, especially in work. I believe the current opportunities opening up to me are the result of the positive energy I received from the whole Springboard team,” she says.

A teacher and translator, Hara has also recently embarked on a new career path as an inbound labor coordinator.

With the continued support of the parent organization in the U.K. and along with fellow Japan team member Sonoko Saito of Kitakyushu University, the women are excited at the prospect of rolling out the Springboard Programme nationwide.

“We are planning to build on the success of the program in Kitakyushu and expand it to other areas of Japan. We plan to run the program both in companies and communities to reach as many women as we can from all different walks of life,” says Ishii.

For more information about Springboard in Japan, contact Christine Pearson Ishii via cpearsonsb@gmail.com. Your comments and queries: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp