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IMI Visiting Scholar Researches Multicultural Leadership as Obama Campaign Volunteer

By Karen Santiago, Video by Adele Pham

MOTOO from adele pham on Vimeo.


For those of us who have had the unique opportunity to meet Motoo Unno, the one phrase we might best use to describe him is infectiously energetic. Infectious because of the pure passion he applies to every endeavor, and energetic because he seems to have an endless list of such endeavors. Three quarters of the way through a two-year sabbatical with the Intercultural Management Institute at American University, Motoo (as he prefers to be called) has researched, written and published his ninth book, and is halfway through his tenth, which will be his first English-language publication. He has conducted lecture series on on his research in intercultural management, attended many professional conferences, traveled the United States, cheered at many a baseball game for his favorite Japanese players, and perhaps the most intriguing, knocked on 1,186 doors as a grass-roots campaign volunteer for President Barack Obama.     

Motoo is a professor of Intercultural Management at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan. His work--most recently on multicultural leadership in Japanese subsidiaries in India and China--made him the perfect candidate for the sabbatical position at IMI. Upon arriving in Washington, D.C. for his sabbatical back in April of 2008, he came complete with his own traveling library and goal: to meet Barack Obama. Included in that library were several books on Obama that had been translated into Japanese. Well in advance of the election, I was surprised so many books even existed, let alone has been translated into Japanese. Motoo had been studying Obama--every speech, every article, every appearance, every book, his history, and his family--not as an avid Obama supporter (which he did become), but instead for research on  multicultural leadership.  It is his belief that a culturally diverse background is an increasingly important characteristic for good leadership in our global society, and that Obama's multicultural background serves as an asset for his presidency. 

The Obama research trail took Motoo across the country where he attended both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, interviewed numerous supporters of both parties, attended multiple volunteer events, and even visited Obama's old stomping grounds in Chicago. The result was a book that highlighted not only our multicultural leadership, but the grass-roots process that helped him get elected.

Motoo has been more politically engaged then most Americans I know, myself included. And within a short amount of time he acquired a vast, intricate understanding of the U.S. political system--one that differs substantially from that of his home country, Japan. The video above provides a light-hearted glimpse into Motoo's experience as an Obama campaign volunteer in Virgina.'s infectiously energetic.


About the FilmMaker

Please note that the filmmaker is not affiliated with the Intercultural Management Institute or American University.

Adele Free Pham is an independent filmmaker based out of NYC. Her documentary "Parallel Adele" has screened at numerous festivals nationally and abroad, and is distributed by Third World News Reel. Currently she is producing "The Transition", a documentary on Obama campaign workers after the election and its effect on their lives, as well as "Fine Threads", portraits of South Asian teenage women growing up in Queens, NY. Adele has lectured at several colleges and universities on depictions of mixed race and minority populations in mediated culture. She also has a background in journalism and web design. Visit for more information.