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"You must do the things you think you cannot do. "

- Eleanor Roosevelt, Prominent human rights activist

Interview with Social Entrepreneur Kayoko Mitsumatsu, founder of Yoga Gives Back

By Sharda ten Hove on 28 August 2012

Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Dr Muhammad Yunus, Kayoko founded Yoga Gives Back in 2007. Being a dedicated yoga practitioner, she realized that for the cost of a yoga class an impoverished woman in India can start a business and a child can go to school. Seeing that yoga has its roots in India and as yoga practitioners we have so much to thank Mother India for, Kayoko wanted to give back. Please read this inspirational interview and be encouraged to help make a difference.

What does yoga mean to you and what has it brought you?

I entered into my first yoga class at the gym, as another type of physical exercise after years of volleyball, tennis, Tae Kwon Do, etc.
What shocked me soon was that physical aspect (asana) is just a small part of yoga. I was so interested in learning what Yoga is, which took me to study Indian philosophy and Sanskrit.
As my asana practice became almost daily routine, I also could feel that my mind was opening up with tremendous energy to serve others.
I started to say to myself, “what can I do with my healthy body and mind???”
Yoga has taught me very important lesson about life so far; your body is the temple which you can continue to work on and use it as a vehicle to better this world. 
I came to realize firmly that “first part of your life is to cultivate yourself, and second half of your life is to give and serve for the others”.

When and where did you get the idea to start YGB?

I am a documentary film maker as profession, and I was working on a project about Social Entrepreneurs in 2007. I studied about Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ revolutionary micro financing and its impact and potential to alleviate poverty. I learned that with 25 dollars a month, a poor woman can start her own business in India. While getting healthier and spiritually enriched with Yoga, I realized “for the cost of one or two yoga classes, we can change a life who needs our support in India, as a way to give back!”. It started from our yoga class, studio, local community and now it has grown to be a global campaign with volunteers in many US cities and the world, UK, Netherlands, Brazil, Hong Kong, Canada, Sweden, and it just keeps growing with so many yoga practitioners with interest in supporting our mission.

Your organization is rapidly growing, what is the success behind this?

People who have practiced yoga for some time definitely get YGB’s mission! They want to give back to India as Yoga has given so much to their lives, just as I did as a yoga student.
I also think our mantra “for the cost of one yoga class, you can change a life” is a crisp clear platform to anybody. You do not have to be a millionaire or do anything special, but donate one class fee and you are already contributing for a positive change in India. I also think Yoga community generally has strong cultural foundation with passion to contribute to positive social change. After all, that is the one of the purposes of Yoga—to realize that we are all one. Taking care of yourself is the first step for the next big mission. I have been very inspired and encouraged to know that there are so many people who are interested in supporting YGB’s mission to make a difference together. YGB seems to be providing an unique opportunity for many global yogis who have desire to give back to India, but have not had any means to do so.
we practice yoga YGB is founded through the principles of Dr Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank which is currently undergoing hard times enforced by the government of Bangladesh.
What is your opinion regarding this matter and how can we as a community of like minded individuals help support the Grameen bank and it’s founder?

This has been very upsetting, as this political action affects the poor women severely denying their hard work, pride and self-worth. Microfinancing has not only given money to the poor women but very importantly dignity as a capable human being. What Dr Yunus started with 40 women in the 70’s now has grown to serve 8.4 million poor villagers in Bangladesh. In addition, 97% of the Grameen Bank is now owned by poor women who have used micro loans, repaid, saved over the years, and build the foundation for the Bank’s operation. This is truly an inspiring model from a small poor nation. I do not know how to stop politically motivated Bangladesh Government’s attacks on Dr Yunus and Grameen Bank. We can continue to voice our opposition against them, as well as continuing to support the healthy practice of micro financing in the world in a way we can.

You also visit the women who have received loans. From all the women your organization has helped, is there a particular story that has stayed with you?

Jayashree is a poor woman in Bangalore, whom I have been visiting and filming since 2008. When I first met her she just got her first loan of 125 dollars from a local Grameen Koota micro financing institute. Coming from a very poor family, this was the only chance she had to give her two sons good education. She bought her husband’s rickshaw first, then sawing machine, repaying her loans fully every year. In 2010, she managed to send her elder son to Medical Dental College, which has been Jayashree’ s dream and also her family’s. Today, YGB is funding this son’s education fully and committed to support him till he graduates from the college.
All the poor mothers we support in West Bengal and Karnataka states want their children to get better education than them so that they can have better opportunities in the future. We now directly fund 103 mothers and children with micro financing and education funds and we are committed to provide funds for 5 years to each person to bring a real positive change in their lives.
indian entrepreneur women
What do you hope to accomplish with YGB and what is needed to reach this accomplishment?

I would like to see more and more yoga communities in the world to join us, especially for our annual global event “Thank You Mother India”. For our second global day this September, over 100 events in 14 countries are happening. We want to see this global event to grow bigger every year. If we continue to grow at the current pace, we could reach to support nearly 1000 mothers and children in India in five years. I am always seeking funding for YGB’s growing operation so that we can continue to have a healthy growth as a sustainable non profit organization, continuing to make a difference in India. Personally, I will continue to film our fund recipients and make short films to share with our global community online. In a few more years, I hope to make a film to clearly show how your contribution has truly made a difference in a mother’s or child’s life!!!

Do you have anything to share with our readers?

Join us this year between September 2014 and January 2015 by hosting a donation class or event at “Thank You Mother India”.
Register at www.yogagivesback.org/tymi.
If you want to donate or volunteer, please write to info@yogagivesback.org
You can also check our Causes page on YGB.

About the author

Sharda ten Hove

Founder, Ethical Vegan, Yogi, Social Activist

Sharda was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Descended from an Indian mother and Dutch father, she received a multi-cultural upbringing during which she gained a broad perspective on life.…  Read full bio