Interview with NHCC Board President Timmy Wailehua

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I recently interviewed Timmy Wailehua, president of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, to get his thoughts on the new direction of the Chamber as it enters its next 50 years of service to the Native Hawaiian Business Community.

What is the main goal of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce?

Photo: Timmy Wailehua
“As we enter our next 50 years as the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, I want all to know that this sleeping giant has come out of the pandemic fueled to help Native Hawaiian businesses succeed and become sustainable in this economy. To accomplish that, we need to respect the vision of our founders to mālama Native Hawaiians in business and commerce through leadership, relationships, connections to economic resources and opportunities. We have evolved, making the transition from a working board to an executive director to expand and accelerate our ability to provide the resources and advocacy that Hawaiian businesses need.”

How does NHCC support Native Hawaiian businesses?

“In a variety of ways – from networking, Lunch & Learns, events, advocacy and more. One area of hyper focus is on increasing the growth and sustainability of Native Hawaiian businesses. Our Hoʻomana Program seeks to improve the success rate of small businesses. As you know, one in two businesses fail after five years. For Native Hawaiian businesses that number is even higher. That is unacceptable. Hoʻomana is designed to work around the busy schedules of Kānaka trying to build thriving businesses. Participants take part in only 18 sessions over three months, taught by experts at a time that is convenient. We also put the right people in front of our participants so they can hear and develop relationships with those who can help them accomplish their goals.”

How have you seen Native Hawaiian businesses thrive and recover post-pandemic?

“The pandemic took its toll on businesses. The virus impacted everyone. That’s in the rear-view now. Most important is what we learned so that we’re better prepared for the next major thing that comes our way.”

Why is it important to advocate for Native Hawaiian businesses?

“It’s important for people to understand that the mindset of the Kānaka businessperson has evolved. Once, we viewed ourselves as part of the larger business community. In the 70s, the Hawaiian Renaissance was our awakening. Kānaka saw themselves as a separate segment of commerce, with its own unique challenges – challenges that can only be addressed through ʻike Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian wisdom. Today, the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce looks to the values of our kūpuna as our foundation. We have challenges that are unique to our people and that is where we invest our efforts. We must be savvy at navigating Western business systems and norms while always staying true to our core values as Kānaka. We look to our past to build a thriving future. When the tide of Native Hawaiian commerce rises, all of Hawaiʻi rises!”