Mayumi Uejima-Carr says she has Amazon algorithms to thank, in part, for her current job. Its reading recommendation of “Connecting the World With 20 Yen” by Masa Kogure, a book about social entrepreneurialism and the NPO Table For Two, was just the push she needed to set her on a new path.
Back in 2010, Uejima-Carr moved from Kobe to California, even though she was seven months pregnant with her first child at the time.
“I wonder why I did that?” she recalls laughing.
Her American husband, who works with the U.S. Navy, was being transferred back to the United States and she decided to go with him, despite her condition.
It wasn’t the first time she had lived overseas. From 2002 to 2004 she studied in the U.S. to gain a Master of Business Administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, in Arizona. Before and after her MBA, she also experienced working for two big American corporate companies at their offices in Japan. The first was the digital, technology and strategy service Accenture in Tokyo and the second, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. When she made the move to America, however, she says she was ready for something new.
“I wanted to do something meaningful through work, not just further a career or make money,” Uejima-Carr says. She also wanted her cultural background, as a Japanese woman in America, to be a part of that work. But there was one further consideration — her husband’s job required that they move every few years, so it also had to be something flexible.
After brainstorming with her husband, she decided to research health-related ideas that would connect the U.S. and Japan and ideally be in the field of social entrepreneurship. And that’s when Amazon came into play.
Uejima-Carr began reading a lot of books, especially ones on social entrepreneurship, which led to Amazon suggesting Kogure’s book. A former consultant at McKinsey & Company Inc., Kogure detailed Table For Two, a Japanese NPO which he founded to help address the global food imbalance.
When Uejima-Carr reached the end of the book, she discovered that at the time of writing, Kogure had plans to take the organization to America.
After a quick Google search and a “passionate email,” Uejima-Carr made contact with the U.S. team, which was based in New York. Though they were not hiring, she took a flight from San Diego, where she was living, and met the team. When she returned to San Diego, she had their blessing to set up a chapter on the West Coast.
Since then, Uejima-Carr has moved from volunteer to president of Table For Two USA. She’s also moved from San Diego, which she says misses, to Washington D.C., where she’s closer to the center of power and policy. This, she says, is where Table For Two needs to be to help make progress in the battle against obesity — to influence food education, and lobby to direct funds to undernourished parts of the planet.
Part of Table For Two’s food education program takes members into schools to talk to students about food and nutrition. It’s one of the areas that Uejima-Carr sees her cultural background as helpful. For elements of the Wa-Shokuiku program, the NPO draws on what’s happening in Japan.
“Japan is serious about food education, and it’s not just about nutrition, but also appreciation for food, manners and learning about the environment where food is grown,” she says.
The food education program, she explains, covers everything from how to cook healthy food, teaching children to have an appreciation for food to manners and learning to eat smaller portions to understanding different concepts such as mottainai (don’t be wasteful).
“For many American students some of these concepts are very new,” Uejima-Carr says.
Her daughter, despite only being 7, is already following in her mother’s footsteps, and is a committed Table For Two advocate. “She calls herself ‘Table For Two kids president'” Uejima-Carr says, laughing.
Uejima-Carr became particularly interested in health and diet, during her first year at Accenture, which she joined straight after university, when she had to take a month’s leave of absence because of overwork.
“I quickly learned that it’s not a good idea to work too much,” she says. “Even if the salary is good, if you get sick you can’t enjoy your life.”
During her recuperation, she reconsidered the value of food and the benefits of a healthy diet, realizing that “food could be the best medicine.”
It was her life in America that also helped Uejima-Carr re-evaluate her lifestyle. When she made the decision to take time off from Accenture and commit to an MBA in the U.S., she recalls that she was a very serious and diligent student.
“I was in the library until it closed at 1 a.m.,” she remembers. “Close to midnight (and after) it used to be mostly Asian students in there, and people called it ‘China Town.’ It’s a stereotype, I know, but it’s also true too that many Japanese students, like myself, tended to work too hard — non-stop, not going out.”
After spending time with her new friends, who were drawn from all corners of the world, she learned from them that life is not just about hard graft.
“Maybe it’s OK to give 80 percent,” she says. “But we should know how to enjoy life too.”
Now having lived in America for the past eight years, Uejima-Carr has a son and daughter who, she says, are “very proud of their dual nationality.” Her experiences, she explains, have made her more attuned to what diversity in society actually entails, as opposed to her perception of what it was like while living in Japan. The current political climate has also accentuated these differences.
On the day of U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Uejima-Carr recalled that she was in Washington and the atmosphere was “very tense, with Trump supporters and protestors both gathered together.”
“I went to a ramen shop on the day of the inauguration and there were both, pro- and anti-Trump diners,” she says. “The funny thing was, they were all happily enjoying their ramen. I felt like maybe food really can help connect people.”
For more information on Table For Two, visit www.tablefor2.org/home.
Name: Mayumi Uejima-Carr
Profession: President of Table For Two USA
Key moments in career:
1997 — Begins work for Accenture in Tokyo
2004 — Completes MBA in the U.S. and moves back to Japan to work for Eli Lilly in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture
2010 — Moves to San Diego
2012 — Begins volunteering for Table For Two USA
2015 — Becomes president of Table For Two USA
Weaknesses: Matcha cookies and parking tickets!
Things I miss about Japan: Shinkansen and automated Japanese baths
Words to live by: “Follow your passion and success will follow you.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5