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2# NPO Founder Interview: Michael Clemons from YouMeWe

Updated: Apr 4

Welcome to our second episode of our "NPO Founder Interview" series!

In each episode, we'll be chatting with the inspiring minds behind various Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs). Our goal is to dig into their personal stories—finding out what motivated them to start their NPO, the challenges they faced, and what keeps them going.


Get ready to discover the unique journeys of NPO founders and stay tuned for a monthly dose of inspiration !


 
YouMeWe Logo


Getting to know you 🔍


Can you tell us more about yourself?


I’m originally from Napa California, from a family of 13 half and step siblings. I was the first one to leave the country. Back in 1989, I had the opportunity to follow a friend to Japan, it was a euphoric experience as it was the bubble economy, it felt like everyone won the lottery. After coming back to San Francisco I started to look for jobs in Japan and eventually came back to work as an accountant at the University of Maryland, based in Yokota. During the same period, I was working as an English teacher to earn more money as the dollar was weak, commuting around 4 hours a day. A few years later I started a banking job. 



Michael Clemons


What triggered you to start the NPO?


In 2007, I was appointed COO at Barclays Securities.  At that time my roommate in college had his 1st child born with Down syndrome so I had that in my mind. Second, I was asked to play Santa Claus in an orphanage and I never really left after that.


I was mostly handling numbers at my banking job and felt like something was missing so I started an initiative called the “Speakers Series” where we invited interesting people to share their stories during lunch time in Bloomberg. One of the invitees was a lady who lost her child to Down syndrome and created this community to gather people who had a family member with Down syndrome. The concept evolved and they launched the Palette Bakery


I initiated the “Colleague Appreciation Day”  where employees bought cookies from the Palette Bakery, the sales were up to 700 000 JPY that day, everything was sold out, they made an enormous profit, employees got to thank each other and raise awareness to this cause at the same time. 


In 2008, someone approached me to request money to organize the Designing Artists Academy, an annual summer arts camp in Tokyo that offers children in orphanages a unique opportunity to experience arts. It was during the Subprime financial crisis but Barclays managed to assign over 2 million USD for charity just in Asia.



 

Launching the NPO 🚀


Tell us about your journey until the launch of YouMeWe


During my time at Barclays, I launched a program where employees come together to focus on different charitable activities. This program is still going on today as part of YouMeWe.


In 2011, when I was working at Nomura, we raised over 20,000 USD from employees' pockets to donate to the Japanese Red Cross after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 


In 2013, through Living Dreams (Note: at that time, Michael was the director of partnerships, the NPO is focusing on building digital literacy for Japan’s orphans and foster children), we established the Digital Citizenship Program and bought 350 PCs for children as it became a requirement for people to be connected.


Donors had donated over 50 million JPY to the Tohoku Region for Living Dreams, and the money was used to clean radiated soil and to continuously monitor radiation levels in the region with the remaining balance for the computers.


I always had something in myself to look after kids who couldn’t defend themselves.



Michael Clemons with kids


A bit of figures


In Japan, over 3 million children live below the poverty line. Despite having 600 orphanages in the country, only 5% of them had access to Wifi, and only 9% of the children in these orphanages were attending university.


Moreover, 33% of these children are behind their educational level due to various reasons stemming from their unstable living conditions. Now 100% of the homes have Wifi, over 30% go to university yet the 33% who are behind remains.


With YouMeWe, we were founded to provide support to 33,000 children in orphanages and 14,000 children in foster care. However, there are still 2,953,000 children in Japan living below the poverty line who need assistance.


In 1990, Japan changed its laws regarding child abuse. Failure to report witnessed child abuse is now considered complicity. The number of reported child abuse cases surged from 1,500 in 1990 to 250,000 cases in 2022.



YouMeWe was officially founded in 2018


YouMeWe is focused on providing a foster home in a safe environment. We work with a program in Nagoya called YouKiKai  where we train parents who lost their child due to abuse. They can undergo training and, under supervision, regain custody of their children.


"The Empower Village” is a place like home for youth who are beginning to live independently. YouMeWe offers them technical support, supplies, and a place to study. Even after turning 18, the kids are always welcome to the Empower Village whenever they need it.



The kids have control over the future and if they don’t know what they want clearly, I tell them that, what they want is the opposite of what they don’t. And then work to have a clear direction.



Michael Clemons

How do you balance your job/family /YouMeWe?


As a stockbroker, my day always starts at 4 or 5 AM. During the day, my kids are in school, which is their responsibility, and since they are doing well in school, I can focus on my job. The kids know that nothing comes for free; this is my vision, and I make sure to share this with them.


I was surprised to discover that one of my daughters is interested in single mothers; she spends a lot of time watching YouTube videos about this topic. The other one wants to help people in situations similar to Helen Keller's.


I have a passionate lifestyle, but I am constantly looking at my calendar as time is precious. It’s like managing a "time wallet." It takes a lot of discipline to maintain a strict, organized schedule.



How many people are working on YouMeWe right now?


  • The “Diplomats” consist of 4-5 people working daily.

  • A total of 300 people are registered, especially during COVID-19, but the recurring volunteers are typically around a dozen.

  • Roles include Area Managers and Home Coordinators.


If you want to know more about YouMeWe and how to help us, there is the YouMeWe Clubhouse, an online event platform where discussions on upcoming events take place. It provides an opportunity for people to learn about how they can contribute and help the community.


Michael Clemons

 

Conclusion 🧭


What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their NPO?


Do it, but it's important to have a dedicated board that is committed to raising awareness and funds, aligned with your objectives. You also need to find people who are seeking solutions alongside you.


How can people get involved to support YouMeWe?


  • Internal Roles: Volunteer Management /Financial Management / Communication Coordination / Project Management / Liaison with Donors

  • External Roles:  Area Managers / Home Coordinators / Dedicated Volunteers for Each Home

  • Skill Development: Encourage individuals to learn various skill sets and become super users. Provide certification to enable them to train others effectively.


Any upcoming events you want to promote?


We are collaborating with a couple of NPOs and organizations 


 

The FULL interview in video:

(In English)





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