Ka Wai Ola

Peter Apo, Trustee, O‘ahu This is the fourth column in a series. The first three columns suggested that OHA’s governance model is antiquated and begs restructuring, revisited the constitutional intent and mission of OHA, and cited the need for OHA to consider revising its strategic plan. The first three columns can be accessed at PeterApo.com.

This column explores the need for OHA to ramp up its communications strategy as vital to carrying out its fiduciary duty to OHA beneficiaries especially (1) in the interest of transparency and (2) with a much heightened sense of awareness of the multiplicity of target audiences OHA needs to reach in order to establish a 360-degree sweep to include all of Hawai‘i in carrying a message of how and why OHA is relevant and important to every citizen and institution.

OHA does not exist in a vacuum. But its communications strategy tends to be incestuous—aimed to Hawaiians only— and diminishes the importance of seriously reaching out to the broader Hawai‘i community in building bridges of understanding.

Wherever the road may lead with respect to Hawaiians’ vision of a future, it is not a road we can travel alone. No matter the political, cultural, or quality of life ambition Hawaiians may conjure up, it’s a road that cannot be traveled without the support of all of Hawai‘i.

The communications revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century has collapsed the world so that, like it or not, no society is an island. Most important about an inclusive communications model for OHA is that we should be seeking help, support, and in some cases even guidance from the broader community.

The existing communications model OHA has put into play over the years has and does put out a lot of information. That’s a good first step. But formatting information and mounting it on OHA institutional platforms is not necessarily communicating. Information is good only if it is presented in ways that make it interesting and turns it into knowledge.

OHA is perched on a $550 million dollar pedestal with an annual operating budget of some $45 million dollars with 175 employees. We are not even close to acting like a $550 million dollar institution. And I wish to be clear that I am not calling out OHA staff for fault. They, like the Trustees, are victims of the governance model. As much as OHA does not like to think of itself as a state agency, with respect to communications, we act like a state agency. I leave it to the reader to figure out what I mean by that.

OHA leaves all communications strategy and programming to administration. Trustees have no staffing capacity or budget to execute a Trustee-level communications program. One tell-tale sign of our lack of sophistication is Trustees have no official spokesperson to handle crisis communications with the media. Trustees do not have a communications strategist who is pro-active in anticipatory communications strategy.

It seems a no-brainer that there should be a Trustee-level communications initiative that would establish a Trustee speaker’s bureau to arrange for speaking opportunities that, at the least, would have Trustees delivering a basic “What Does OHA Do” presentation to both beneficiary groups and community organizations.

Finally, there is little reach out at both the. Trustee and administrative level to Bishop Street. Nor is there any year-round strategic relationship building with the policy-making bodies of the state and counties.

OHA’s mission statement is “To Raise A Beloved Nation.” What are we waiting for? All we have to do is act like a nation beginning with communicating like one.

Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.