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Miwa Uehara’s relationship with coworking is closely linked to her childhood in her native Okinawa*. “I grew up in an environment where there were Japanese communities, Latino communities (Nikkei third generation who had returned to the island), families who had lived in Okinawa for generations, and communities of US-Americans. I saw this diversity but the different groups functioned without mixing with the others and I thought: why don’t we learn from each other?”
All this undoubtedly marked Miwa because she has made it her personal mission to connect people and help them learn from each other.
“I practice this from my coworking and from my edu-tech company.”
The coworking space that Miwa co-founded with her husband, Javier Ramirez, in Rancagua, Chile (87 km south of Santiago) is WeDo. Fifteen years ago, when Miwa arrived in Rancagua, “the city was very dull, it was an agricultural and mining city with an important wine culture and interesting tourist initiatives in the region.” Miwa saw in coworking an opportunity to be able to connect people with other people and to bring innovation to a region strongly anchored in tradition.
“In 2016 we opened our first 150 m2 space, one of the first in the region, and just a week before the pandemic in 2020 we opened our second 500m2 location, completely financed by private capital.” This space that Miwa describes as “a space for entrepreneurs and companies to come together” is actually the largest flexible workspace in the region. “The Valparaiso Latin American Coworking Summit organized by Chile Cowork was decisive for us because we realized that to grow we had to do it by creating private offices.” (I’ll admit that I felt a certain pride, as an integral part of the speakers who shaped the content of that conference, knowing that I had helped someone to grow their project.)
Today, in WeDo, you can find different people and projects that add value to the ecosystem of the region. You can find, for example, the Chilean headquarters of The Yield Lab, an agro-project accelerator that operates throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe.
In the case of Miwa, coworking is undoubtedly important, but WeDo is still the backdrop to develop other projects such as Empowered Women Entrepreneurs (EMP), which will start its sixth edition in June. The focus of this project is to support female entrepreneurship in its early stages of development. It is also the first initiative of its kind in the region and is supported by Corfo and several universities. Their sixth edition will incorporate a second program aimed at women with larger projects in order to continue supporting entrepreneurs on their journey.
COVID-19 arrived in Rancagua at a delicate moment: WeDo was inaugurating its second headquarters. “We had to close during phase 1 and converted all our initiatives to digital ones... Virtual offices also increased in this period.”
“When we started we were very inexperienced, but now we have linked up with many important players. During COVID-19 we went back to the cave [Miwa says candidly] and rethought a lot of things. We paused and redefined our goals so we could more easily get to where we want to go. When we came back, we came back with a new team that was more aligned with the new WeDo line and with a new communication line.”
The question no one has asked Miwa is: Why are you doing what you are doing? And her answer, according to her, is somewhat selfish. “As co-founder of a space I see coworking as a means to fulfil my role in life and my north is to contribute to the common good and I do it from the cowork or from my edu-tech project.”
And I thought... I wish this kind of selfishness was more widespread.
*Okinawa was an independent kingdom until 1609 when it became a vassal kingdom of the Satsuma Domain (it was also a tributary state of China, a necessary condition for trading with that nation). In 1879 Japan annexed the archipelago and deposed its monarchy. On March 26, 1945, the Battle of Okinawa began, lasting 82 days and changing the course of history of the island, which until 1972 was under the administration of the U.S. government.
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