Chizu Matsushita, Climate Change Coach
Tales of people applying a coaching approach to our climate problems.
Chizu Matsushita, originally from Japan, is a professional facilitator and coach. For close to 20 years, she worked in international humanitarian assistance, living in different parts of the world, moving from one place to another every few years. Settling in the Netherlands five years ago was, therefore, a massive personal and professional transition. Since discovering the power of facilitation and coaching in 2019, Chizu has embarked on the new journey of developing her platform, Synergy Facilitation. Our Co-Founder Zoe Greenwood speaks to her in more detail.
Zoe: Tell us about what you do and how it links to climate change?
Chizu: I aspire to create spaces where people come together and share their concerns and ideas about how to address common challenges such as the climate change. I also help individuals to gain clarity about their personal and professional purpose, addressing these challenges. I want to do that through facilitation and coaching.
Zoe: You are a professional certified coach, can you share more about how you came to coaching, and specifically how a coaching approach benefits the work that you do?
Chizu: I had worked with refugees who are victims of persecution and conflict. Ensuring the participatory community development and inclusive focus group discussions were at the heart of what I did in the humanitarian work. After leaving the fieldwork in 2016, I learned of facilitation as a profession. Then I realised that part of what I did as a humanitarian worker was called facilitation. During the facilitation workshop I attended in 2019, I noticed many of the experienced facilitators were also coaches. I realised that facilitation and coaching both focus on empowering others, teams and organisations on the one hand, and individuals on the other. Later that year, I started attending a coach training programme that has inspired me profoundly. Before, I had thought that coaching was all about helping others change. The training, though, allowed me much-needed time and space to reflect on who I was. That means what tendencies and judgment I held and how vulnerable I was to the patterns I had developed over the years. The coach training was a process of deepening self-awareness. That is how I came to coaching.
Zoe: You worked in humanitarian relief and crisis response. How does that fact shape the coaching approach that you take?
Chizu: The humanitarian work gave me such a strong sense of purpose that I did not mind living in a challenging environment. Working in an isolated field location means that I was close to those I was meant to support. For example, I lived in places with scarce resources, where what people could do was simply make the most of what was available. I once lived in an isolated town in the middle of the African continent, where I used charcoal to cook and boil water for bathing. Although I knew about environmental concerns around the use of charcoal and felt a pinch of guilt every day, we had no other means to boil water. On a monitoring trip to a remote village, I bathed in the river for a few days. Among all that, I worked in a very tensed team of just a few individuals, headed by a manager who was, if I think about it now, emotionally very vulnerable. She had perhaps no other means of protecting herself than making team members confront with each other. Imagine that we, just a few expats in the office were fighting with one another while we only had each other in that isolated village. On top of that, I was personally struggling as the values I had were not understood or shared by the local people. By then I already had years of experience working in different cultures, but it was the first time for me to feel the dread and pain of not being understood who I was at the core. Honesty, sincerity, diligence and so on that I held as core values were not acknowledged there, I felt.
I lived a life like this for close to two years. What I did not realise at that time was that I was suppressing my feelings, which, in a way, changed part of who I was. I gradually grew numbed to the human sufferings around me over the years. I stretched and put myself into the corner. Years later, during the coach training programme, I realised how I had overburdened myself in the past, doing what I believed as my dream job.
There was also a moment during the training when I was overwhelmed with guilt and regret. I felt sorry about not having been as empathetic as I could have been to my colleagues, refugees and others I worked with during years of fieldwork. When I was in deep pain myself, it just did not occur to me, at all, that my colleague sitting in front of me, or even the manager, might also be in pain.
In that moment of realisation, I wished I had a personal coach beside me at that time, someone who could walk side-by-side with me when I had challenging times in the field. The coach could have helped me clarify my vision and my original purpose of work as to why humanitarian fieldwork was my dream job. Essential of all, a coach could have assured me it was natural and all right to feel pain and suffer in the way I did. A coaching conversation could have helped me regain empathy towards myself and others around me – colleagues and those I worked for.
This feeling of regret and wish is driving me now to aspire to become an empowering coach. I want to support humanitarian workers and all types of peace-makers, environmental activists, healers, and restorers working hard to bring peace to the world and create a healthier globe every day.
Zoe: Can you say more about how you think coaching could contribute to building a more peaceful and healthier world?
Chizu: When I explain to people who do not know what coaching is, I often use the metaphor of a runner/cycler who accompanies a long-distance runner. As a child, I had such a companion when I was running an ekiden-relay. The companion cycler’s presence and cheering were so encouraging and comforting that I could keep running at the maximum of my power. A coach is not a teacher, trainer or even a mentor. That means a coach does not give advice or teach any specific skills or knowledge. A coaching approach from the stance of non-judgment can truly empower another individual by helping them remember who they truly are and want to achieve. That is what I like about coaching.
Reading or hearing about a remarkable achievement makes me think of those who supported the accomplishment behind the scenes. Some time ago, I heard about a former Eritrean refugee in New Zealand, Mr Ibrahim Omer. He became a parliament member after rebuilding his life in the country, starting as a cleaner and working through poverty. In his speech, he said his achievement was “the result of the overwhelming support that I have received. It is because of the people that I have met along the way.” (https://www.newsroom.co.nz/my-name-is-ibrahim-omer)
That immediately brought me memories of my colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency. Also, I was able to picture those ordinary people who trusted his ability and passion throughout. It takes courage and patience to keep supporting and trusting someone, as it is much easier to put the hope aside and give up helping. When I listened to his speech, I was filled with admiration towards those who supported him, as much as Mr Omer himself.
I also think about a Japanese woman called Ms Ruiko Muto whom I worked with closely recently. She is an advocate for a sustainable lifestyle and an activist to bring justice to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster victims. Despite her roles as a leader of many movements and victim groups, her gentle and calm manner struck me as her spoken and written words are full of compassion and care for others. In her books, she invited those other activists in the world to unite, assuring them that it is natural and ok to feel lonely and scared to continue working. Getting to know her personally made me want to continue supporting people like her.
A coach can offer a unique role in supporting those who help others thrive in their given roles in a society, like Ms Ruiko Muto and those who supported Mr Ibrahim Omer.
Zoe: And what are your hopes for the future in terms of humanity and global action to tackle the climate crisis?
Chizu: I hope to help create a supportive atmosphere where individuals who work to tackle the climate crisis can widen their network while overcoming frustration, fatigue, anger and helplessness. I recently organised and facilitated an online event on the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. It was not an event to pursue anti-nuclear power activism or even an awareness-raising event, as some people may have thought. My intention was to offer a safe space for people interested in the topic and cared about the victims and evacuees’ current situations. The space turned out a place of both collective and individual dialogue of those who attended, to reflect on the thoughts and feelings they had, and think of what they wanted and could do next. I hope that, in this way, people can connect with their like-minded buddies, look for and learn from the facts, and think together about options available and make a choice to address the climate crisis and create a better world.
Zoe: Finally how did you come to know about the Climate Change Coaches and where do you think we can most add value to climate leadership?
Chizu: Late in 2020, I wondered how I could connect my coaching practice with my interest to address climate change. So I entered the words ‘coaching’ and ‘climate change’ in a search engine. Then the result hit the Climate Changes Coaches; it was as simple as that!
I would like climate leadership to position the climate crisis in a bigger picture, within the overall global contexts of intermingled and inter-related social challenges. For example, environmental disasters and human displacement are interlinked, so are conflicts and forced displacement. The issue of access to water and energy may also be tackled as an equality issue and from the angle of environmental impact, not only as a development agenda. Competing for priority attention does not help, either. I would like platforms like Climate Change Coaches to encourage leadership to foster collaboration across sectors.
Those who are part of Climate Change Coaches could support local activists at the grass-root level. They are ordinary persons around us, working on small and every-day issues at a time. As a coach, I would like to support them as if I am their running companion, cheering, encouraging and empowering them with reminders of their original purpose and vision. I am glad to have found you, Climate Change Coaches. I am excited to work together and stay connected with other coaches.
Chizu can be reached at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chizu-matsushita-032a4831/.
A big thanks to Chizu for speaking with us.