Hanaka Koffron

Hanaka Koffron
Full-Time MBA Class of 2023


Professional Roles, Achievements and Activities

– 3 years of management consulting in Japan
– Recipient of Women in Business Scholarship
– Student Fellow for APAC region

– Wine, rock climbing, and Zumba enthusiast
– Special interest in napping and snacking

– MBA Batch of 2023
– Waseda University, B.A. Liberal Arts/Concentration in Global Governance, 2018

What is invisible but essential about YOU? or ESADE? or Barcelona?

One of my least favorite but most thought-provoking experiences as a working adult was when I was enlisted to join the project management team for a country-wide, government-run covid relief initiative in Japan. I hope to share my realizations while trying my best not to make this sound like a job application (lol).

I was born and raised in Washington, USA.  In 2014, I moved to Tokyo, Japan to study liberal arts. I was curious to explore my Japanese identity by building a life there. I stayed in Japan for 3 years after graduating where I blindly took a stab at management consulting in an “international” (pretty hardcore Japanese) company. 

I was working on a COVID relief initiative. It was a special project designed to help the Ministry of Economy & Trade provide SMEs with financial support as the pandemic and quarantine took a toll on their livelihood. The process involved an application for financial support, reviewing the application, and finally the provision of money.

My first role in the project management office was to track and report at the headquarters any potential issues across all other teams. I hated this job because I felt like I had so little control—why did I have to risk my life during the pandemic and go into the office to help those who were probably all at home staying safe? As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, I had no idea what I was doing because I don’t know how you predict all possible issues for such a large-scale program. Through much of the confusion, however, I realized what’s important is not having the answers but being able to ask the right questions—to not be afraid to ask for help because it’s ok not to be able to do things alone and it is better than not being able to do anything at all. So, at least I picked up a valuable life lesson. 

A few months later, I was spontaneously re-assigned to a different role, where I was overseeing (not singlehandedly, of course) the operations of the applications’ evaluation process. This involved about 50 processing centers throughout all of Japan, each with a couple of hundred part-timers looking for a temporary job, all working to manually review each company’s application and documentation. At this point, my pride was a little hurt. Already having had imposter’s syndrome as a business consultant with a liberal arts degree, I thought I had been moved due to my lack of contribution, and I was left feeling disappointed and extra demotivated. Surely I was capable of doing more than answering these operators’ questions like a customer support agent. 

This experience ended up sparking an important shift in my mindset on being a member of society. As I interacted with the operators, I realized that a). I don’t know anything about their background and skills, and that b.) we are all working on this ad hoc project with equal (no) experience or qualifications. While titles had given me a false sense of hierarchy, I had a moment of realization that we are all just equal members of a community with different roles, working together to keep the country and its citizens healthy through an extremely difficult time. It also reshaped my personal meaning of building a career, from “how do you want to make money?”, to “how do you want to help the people around you?”

Eventually, I moved back to the PMO where I worked on the most interesting part of the project—fraud investigation. While the various schemes we uncovered from companies trying to extort the relief package were sometimes too comical to believe, it reminded me that even in an almost ideal community, people will no matter what try to take advantage of the system. I also picked up some of my most valuable social survival skills, like maneuvering communication in a team of highly closed-off, hierarchical, and socially awkward people (my presence didn’t help). As my involvement in the job came to a close, I found that my experience wasn’t so much dependent upon the environment as much as it was on what I decided to make of it, and that with a positive attitude, I have the power to change my own and others’ experiences.

Ask anyone around me and they will say I definitely have more to complain about Japan and its problems, but the truth is through living and working there, I was able to appreciate the beauty of collectivism, a value with which I wasn’t familiar from my time in the US and found to be equally as vital in maintaining a healthy community.

Throughout my journey here in Barcelona and beyond, I hope to continue being able to appreciate and absorb the different “norms” of countries outside of my own.

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