Kayoko Mitsumatsu of Yoga Gives Back: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit…

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Kayoko Mitsumatsu of Yoga Gives Back: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Leadership means to lead and grow a community with passion and persistence and faith in your mission. Over the last 16 years, I have learned that I can always find help because my mission is authentic and I have total faith in it. Having faith in my mission is the only source of energy that keeps me going every day with deep conviction.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayoko Mitsumatsu.

As an avid yoga practitioner in Los Angeles, Kayoko founded Yoga Gives Back, yogagivesback.org, in 2007, to express her gratitude for the gift of yoga in her life. In its 16th year, Yoga Gives Back has provided more than 2,400 underserved mothers and children with microloans and educational funds in Karnataka and West Bengal, India. Yoga Gives Back’s growing global campaign has reached numerous US cities and 30 countries globally, supported by over 150 Ambassadors who are leaders in yoga and mindfulness communities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I am a documentary filmmaker by profession, working for NHK Japanese National Public Broadcaster for over 30 years since graduating from college in Tokyo. In 2006, I was producing a documentary program about Social Entrepreneurship here in the US and came to learn about Dr Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s revolutionary microfinancing success in developing countries to alleviate poverty, especially empowering underserved women around the world. At the same time, I was just starting to fall in love with yoga practice at home in Los Angeles with deep appreciation for its profound benefit physically and mentally from my daily practice, which led me to found a non-profit organization, Yoga Gives Back.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non-profit?

I was 47 when I started my daily yoga practice in Los Angeles. Very soon I started feeling the strong inner calling to give back for the benefit I was receiving from this ancient tradition of YOGA from India. “First half of your life is to experience and learn. Second half of your life is to serve others, with the wisdom you have gained in the first half.” I read this message somewhere during yoga philosophy studies, which really touched my core. I was ready to really explore a way to use my healthy and happy self and give back for all I have been fortunate to receive in my life, including a new gift of YOGA. I learned $6 billion was spent on YOGA per year in the US alone, while 75% of the population in India still live under the poverty line, earning $2 a day. It was so lopsided. I realized that “for the cost of one yoga class in the West, you can change a life in India with microfinancing.” I started sharing this idea with my yoga teacher, friends and studio owner and everyone supported it right away, to my surprise. Apparently, many yoga practitioners were looking for a way to give back but there was no charity in the yoga community that focused on giving back to India to express our gratitude. This was how Yoga Gives Back was born from a yoga studio in Los Angeles. In our 16th year, this movement of gratitude has now spread to over 30 countries worldwide, empowering more than 2400 women and children with micro-loan and education programs. Who knew!

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

We have two goals to effect change. One is to engage global yoga practitioners, estimate 300 million in the world today, to take action off the mat and give back to India with gratitude as yoga beneficiaries. By mobilizing the global yoga practitioners to give back, we develop the culture of gratitude and seed seva, selfless service within the yoga community. This is a significant social impact against capitalistic consumerism that otherwise dominates the mainstream yoga scene and brings the real goal of yoga, yoga in action, Karma Yoga.

Our second goal aims to effectively apply funds collected from global yoga practitioners to empower underserved women and children in India so they can build a sustainable livelihood and develop a sense of self-worth.

In our 16th year, we are now supporting annually 550 women with micro-loans to become financially independent, 600 young daughters with early education to avoid child marriage, 400 boys and girls with our five-year scholarship for higher education to achieve college degrees to end the generational cycle of poverty. Over 200 youths have now graduated with college degrees, earning salaries to help their poor families and becoming real change-makers in their communities.

We also launched new initiatives to assist eight poorly funded government schools with Science and Math resources, support the Pad Project to provide menstrual equity, as well as a Digital Center for computer literacy and access among poor girls and women.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

Our first scholarship graduate student is now a Doctor, who comes from a very poor family in Bangalore. I met him in 2007 on my first trip to India, when he was 15 and spoke no English. He wanted to become a doctor and serve his poor community where there was no clinic, which was also his mother’s dream. We started supporting his mother with micro-loans, and his education as he advanced to higher education. His dedication for his study and determination to become a doctor moved us. He also taught us the critical importance of higher education for the younger generation to end poverty. During the massive outbreak of COVID in India, he even volunteered to take care of newborn babies who infected the pandemic. Today, he is interning to become an oral cancer surgeon and serve the poor population who has no access to such surgery.

His inspiring success has not only transformed his and his family’s lives but also led us to launch our five-year Scholarship of Higher Education program 10 years ago, which is now funding 400 students every year.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

All yoga businesses should give back to help marginalized populations in India, instead of merely exploiting yoga to maximize profit.

All yoga practitioners should take action with gratitude and give back.

All yoga accreditation organizations could add ‘giving back’ as a pre-requisite for yoga teacher qualification as it is a fundamental goal of yoga, seva (selfless service for others) and Karma Yoga (yoga in action).

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership means to lead and grow a community with passion and persistence and faith in your mission. Over the last 16 years, I have learned that I can always find help because my mission is authentic and I have total faith in it. Having faith in my mission is the only source of energy that keeps me going every day with deep conviction.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non-profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

You should have total faith in your mission and that it is not for self-interest.

Can you financially sustain for the first few years while navigating revenue structure?

Do you have friends and supporters who will volunteer to help your activities?

Do your spouse or family members support your mission?

Are you open to criticism that could be helpful to grow your organization?

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama, Melinda French Gates, Alicia Keys, Malala

Can you share your favaorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

“Full effort is full victory” by Mahatma Gandhi.

This quote is essential in my life as it leads me to focus in the present moment to do my best without worrying about the outcome. I learned this truth when I was in junior high school in Japan, though I did not know Gandhi’s quote back then. I had to change my school every year at tender age of 12, 13, 14 due to my father’s business. Every time I arrived at a new school, nobody knew me and I had to prove myself from zero each time. That was when I realized that all I could do was do my best in everything, every opportunity. That was the only way to prove myself to my new friends and teachers. And after all, I realized that working though the path was not always easy. It was a very fundamental life lesson that proves to be true and effective in my life up until today.

How can our readers follow you online?

Website: https://yogagivesback.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YogaGivesBack/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yogagivesback/

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kayoko-mitsumatsu-7251919/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/YogaGivesBack

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Kayoko Mitsumatsu of Yoga Gives Back: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.