Huliau… A Time of Great Change


Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeThis is a reprint of my October 2016 article. Hope you find it timely reading in this time of turmoil here at OHA. #ONIPA‘A#FutureStrong! #StayStrongFirmSurvive

Over 40 years ago, “management” was a very bad word in nonprofit organizations. Management meant ‘business,’ and the one thing a nonprofit was NOT, was a business! Today, nonprofits understand that they need management all the more because they have no conventional bottom line. Now they need to learn how to use management so that they can concentrate on their mission. For years, most nonprofits felt that good intentions were by themselves enough. (Peter Drucker: Managing In A Time of Great Change, 1995)

And although OHA is a state public agency with a high degree of autonomy and is responsible for improving the well-being of Native Hawaiians, it does take on a nonprofit perception. It has an asset base of nearly $600 million, plus land assets across the State, making it the 13th largest land owner in Hawai‘i. As Trustees, we are primarily tasked with setting up OHA’s policies and ‘managing’ the agency’s trust as its top fiduciaries. We have to have discipline rooted in our mission. We have to manage our limited resources of our ‘āina (land) and money for maximum effectiveness. And, we have to think clearly what results are best for our beneficiaries. We also should NOT be suing each otheralso NOT bullying each other at the table where we are to take care business of bettering the lives of our beneficiaries! It asks these three essential questions: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? You cannot arrive at the right definition of results without significant input from your ‘customers, your beneficiaries’ … and please do not get into a debate over that term.

In business, a customer is someone you must satisfy! If you don’t, you have no results. And pretty soon, you have no business. In a nonprofit, whether you call the customer a student, a kupuna, (beneficiary)…or anything else, the focus must be on what these individuals or groups value—on satisfying their needs, wants and aspirations.

Protesting excavating Maui Sand Dunes with Iwi Kūpuna with Clare Apana. – Photo: Courtesy Lei Ahu Isa

The ‘danger,’ Drucker explains, is in acting on what you believe satisfies the customer. You will inevitably make wrong assumptions. “Leadership should not even try to guess at the answers; it should always go to customers in a systematic quest for those answers. And so, in the self-assessment process, you will have a three-way conversation with your board, staff, and customers, and include each of these perspectives in your discussions and decisions.

OHA, in my humble opinion, can expand our vision by listening to our beneficiaries, by encouraging constructive dissent, and by looking at the sweeping transformation taking place in our society.” We have vital judgements ahead: whether to change the mission, whether to abandon programs that have outlived their usefulness, and concentrate resources where we can match opportunities with our commitment to help build community and change lives.

Mahalo nui loa, A hui hou, Trustee Leina‘ala