Japan Single Mother Support Association
The Japan Single Mother Support Association helps single mothers and their children achieve emotional and financial independence and stability by providing supporting programs such as individual counseling, community-based events, and group discussions. In this interview we spoke with Ms. Michiko Enari, representative director of the association.
A photo of taken at a soccer match - with members gathered to discuss children’s education and afterschool lessons／photo (June 27, 2021)
What spurred you to start running the Japan Single Mothers Support Association?
Before founding this association, I had a chance to attend a mothers’ lunch gathering from my previous workplace and, by chance, those of us who gathered were independent single mothers. Through talking with them, I realized that although everyone's situations and circumstances were different, there were common secrets for single mothers to achieve financial independence. At that time, I thought to myself, "If only someone had taught me those secrets first, I wouldn’t have had to go through all that pain and trouble", which led me to establish the Japan Single Mothers Support Association.
What are the secrets to becoming an independent single mother?
In a nutshell, it comes down to the mindset. Single mothers who do not act based on their emotions, but rather look to the future and ask themselves, "What should I achieve for this child?" often earn a relatively large income and become self-supporting and independent. Also, even when you want to blame others, it is important to be able to instead ask yourself "what could I have done differently?" Blaming others is easy, but it won’t let us learn or grow ourselves.
What do you think would help single mothers who have difficulty achieving financial independence?
We are aware that, since everyone lives in a different environment and has differing experiences, even if we share these secrets with each other, not all mothers can be financially independent. For those mothers, we believe that financial support from the government is necessary. The mindset that all single mothers deserve government grants, and the social structure that tolerates this, are things that I see as problems. Granting government awards to all single mothers actually stops those single mothers who could be financially independent with just a little encouragement from doing so and leads to smaller grants for those who really need help. A social structure which does not encourage single mothers to become independent will create more harm and no good.
Does the association mainly focus on financial independence support?
I mentioned financial independence as an example because it is the most common problem faced by single mothers and it is the one that I have faced myself. However, single mothers face a multitude of struggles, such as concerns about being with their children, about their jobs, and about the inability to spend enough time with their children despite being financially independent. Through the operation of this association, I have learned that there are all kinds of problems that single mothers are facing and we hope that we can be a guide toward happiness for single mothers who are currently struggling.
A class given by the Japan Single Mother Support Association
What were some of the difficulties you faced?
Since our establishment, we received many inquiries, so we felt that there was a great social need for our services. However, we did not have a mechanism to monetize the business, so we had a lot of trouble in terms of funding. At first, the only source of income was "lecturing fees," but during the course of our activities, we realized that we were receiving many inquiries not only from single mothers, but also from companies. So, we were able to successfully match the needs of both parties, and gradually we were able to create a system that would allow us to monetize our activities.
In order to continue our activities, we, as an association, need to be self-reliant and not just rely on donations, so we believe it is necessary to provide valuable services for a fee, rather than just responding to single mothers' requests for advice. If we can secure funding for our activities, we will be able to diversify our support program, expand it nationwide, and implement various initiatives, which will in turn lead to more effective support for single mothers. While I say this with great confidence, it is only recently that we have been able to create an environment in which we can become self-reliant, and the first six years after our establishment were especially difficult.
How did the association utilize the FIT funds?
With a small number of staff, our challenge was determining how we could expand our activities and respond to everyone’s needs. Therefore, we decided to implement Salesforce in order to achieve DX (Digital Transformation), for which we used the funding. Until now, we recorded consultations through paper records, but the information and knowledge were something limited to residing in the minds of those involved. With the introduction of Salesforce, we are now able to record and create a database for each consultation, and furthermore, analyze and categorize member information. This has allowed us to use the data to determine the effectiveness of solving problems together rather than just providing funding to our members. Although we have a small number of staff, we are now able to effectively respond to requests for consultations from all over the country.
What kind of support does the Japan Single Mothers Support Association hope to receive from society?
Despite COVID-19, we have been very fortunate to receive financial support from a lot of people, which enabled us to undertake new initiatives and we are very grateful for that. On the other hand, in addition to financial support, it would be very helpful to create a social environment in which single mothers are able to work in their hometowns.
There are many talented single mothers who sacrificed their careers in choosing to have a child. Recently, awareness for this issue has finally emerged in society, but it will take more time for society to smoothly accommodate them. For example, it would be helpful to single mothers both financially and emotionally if companies with large national operations would provide more opportunities for single mothers in their hometowns. Most single mothers have limitations around the number of hours they can work, but we urge you not to discriminate based on this and instead consider how they can play an active role in your company. In Japan today, perhaps the greatest support for single mothers would be to have SMEs become more active in creating employment opportunities for them.
What are the future goals of the association?
Our mission is to support single mothers in need; however, our ultimate goal is for society as a whole to change, for the problems of being a single mother to be resolved, and as a result for the "Japan Single Mothers Support Association" to cease to exist.
Ms. Enari, Representative Director (center) and FIT2022 Organizing Committee Members (from the left; Ms. Yamamoto, and Ms. Miyamura)
Japan Single Mother Support Association