Community Spotlight: Michael Sugihara, Executive Director at Emerging Leaders Initiative


Michael Sugihara is the Executive Director at Emerging Leaders Initiative. This role allows him to create spaces that produce whole-life breakthrough by connecting mentors with mentees.

He has gained experience through years of work in the nonprofit sector and has operated in positions ranging from Program Manager at Peer Health Exchange to his current Executive Director role.

Michael has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.

Share a little bit about yourself!

I’m married to my amazing and beautiful wife Jacqueline and have two wonderful sisters, one brother-in-law, and two super cute nephews.

I’m Japanese American, which is not something that I actually desired to really speak about until the last few years – my mother’s family and extended family all experienced the WWII internment camps. Growing up in a Japanese American and Japanese Christian church community were both key shapers of who I am today.

I also enjoy new cooking recipes, exploring the outdoors. When I’m not in Chicago, I love visiting new restaurants and coffee shops, and playing beach volleyball!

You have a history of working in the nonprofit sector. How did you get started in the field?

By accident, but really, God’s leading! I had gone to school for pre-med because I was told that since I was good at science and math and wanted to help people, I should be a doctor. Often times people see what we’re good at and place a label on us but in self discovery we can see that we might actually be called to something else. I soon discovered that I actually wasn’t passionate about becoming a doctor or treatment-oriented care and really desired to assist in developing and empowering people to be healthy.

With no really understanding of how I could do this, I took a risk my junior year summer and joined a friend of mine who was literally walking across America to raise awareness and funds for an international orphan care organization. By getting to know their work, I started to see the potential of what non-profit work could be in terms of impacting lives. After planning to join this organization in Haiti, I felt convicted that I was pursuing this for the wrong reasons. I wanted the “Service Award” and to be seen as doing the “most” good. So, I had to say “no.” Still seeking, I returned Chicago and joined an AmeriCorps organization called City Year to try and discover what God had for me.

Tell us more about your role at Emerging Leaders Initiative as the Executive Director. What’s the best part about your job?

Emerging Leaders Initiative started in 2016 and I was one of their first employees. Through the years I have had the incredible opportunity to be present with people in moments of their biggest breakthroughs – when they begin to experience more fully God’s design and purpose for their lives. Ultimately, it’s amazing to see someone believe what they are called to be and let go of the current reality.

What role has mentorship played in your development personally or professionally?

Mentors have been an incredible resource all throughout my life. Today, I have at least four individuals that I connect with every quarter both in Chicago and around the country. This long term mentorship has allowed them to see me grow, make mistakes, and have moments of celebration. It has provided an irreplaceable space and I’ve learned that there is never a time or place where mentorship is not valuable.

What do you wish you knew when you were just beginning your career?

So much, but often if we actually knew how everything would work out, we would be less inclined to start. If I actually knew all of these things I know now, I wonder if I would have taken the step. However, I can say I wish I had taken time to really get to know myself.

What is one piece of advice would you give to today’s young professionals?

You are not indispensable. Honestly, things can and will keep going without you. Let this provide you with freedom – care for yourself, take time to understand your priorities. Put God first, and your health second. You can only care for others as much as you allow God, yourself, and others to fuel you. There are more times when we need to stop moving and instead move closer to Jesus.

Emerging Leaders Initiative’s mission is to help emerging leaders discover God’s design for their lives – addressing brokenness to help restore self, the workplace, and the world. Interested in becoming a mentor or mentee?

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