Just over a decade ago, Mie Kajikawa became the first Japanese female to become an intern for an NBA club.

In addition to her time with the Detroit Pistons, during the second-half of the 2004-05 season, she’s also had an active role in other sporting activities, such as the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, and the 2016 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Bid Committee.

These days, Kajikawa is working to inspire other young Japanese women to step up and seek opportunities to become executives for sports clubs, leagues and sports business entities.

Last fall, Kajikawa and Next Big Pivot, a general incorporated association to promote globalization for Japanese basketball, where she serves as representative director, organized a training program for female college students who are enthusiastic about blossoming on the business side of sports in the future.

Nearly 50 students applied, and six earned the right to become the trainees on the program through the selection process.

After the group took a pre-training program with the B. League, one of the supporters of the project, in early August, they flew to New York for a 10-day training visit in mid-September.

Kajikawa, who served as an intern in the community relations department for the Pistons, laughed off the idea that she approached the program from a feminism standpoint, insisting people should be given equal opportunities regardless of gender.

“You rarely see female Japanese leaders, and our young people don’t even question it,” said the 45-year-old, who was inspired to start the program after witnessing the dazzling changes in the Japanese basketball scene, including the formation of the B. League, over the past couple of years.

“But I wanted to convey what I’ve seen and experienced. And I thought it would better for them to actually go over there (the U.S.) and see through their own eyes, although it was just for 10 days.”

During the trip to the Big Apple, the students mainly visited NBA-related sites, as the league is a top-rated organization in terms of diversity and inclusion. The NBA received an overall grade of “A” on the 2016 report card issued by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which is directed by University of Central Florida endowed chair Richard Lapchick, who is also an advisor for Next Big Pivot.

The trainees visited the headquarters of the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, the NBA Store, Special Olympics New York, Columbia University and Madison Square Garden among others, and received presentations from female leaders and managers. At the NBA headquarters, they received an office tour and a panel with some of the league’s female leaders.

“They shared their own experiences regarding how they overcame the hurdles they faced as females with us,” Kajikawa, who earned a master’s degree in sports management from Ohio University, said of the panel.

One trainee said in a statement: “It was beyond my imagination. I didn’t expect (the female leaders) would talk to us with that much passion. It was truly valuable that we received messages directly from those women and it has become a turning point in my life. Now I believe my future will make a drastic change.”

Kajikawa hinted that her Next Big Pivot project could expand the program to other sports.

On the night of Feb. 23, Next Big Pivot will host a charity dinner at Minato Ward’s Tokyo American Club, supported by the Olympics and Sports Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

The trainees will make a report on what they learned through the program while Japan Basketball Association president Yuko Mitsuya will make a keynote speech there. The charity is also meant to raising funds for the program going forward, and there will also be a silent auction.

The dinner may have up to 80 guests. Anyone can apply for a seat by paying a participation fee of ¥25,000.

The application deadline is noon of Feb. 20. See details at bit.ly/2j7F6gv

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