Trustees Working Together: From One Year to the Next!

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! As 2024 begins, join me in reflecting upon some exciting accomplishments by OHA trustees in 2023.

While there is a rich diversity of perspectives and styles on the board of trustees, 2023 was a year in which we worked together to achieve significant outcomes for Native Hawaiians. I was proud to work with my fellow trustees on projects for the Hawaiian people which are dear to my heart.

Last year, OHA’s trustees reinforced our commitment to education, housing and further protection of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund. OHA also pursued efforts that seek to enforce the State of Hawaiʻi’s constitutional obligations related to the Public Land Trust. These initiatives contributed to the wellbeing and advancement of OHA beneficiaries and all residents of Hawaiʻi.

Dozens of nonprofit organizations throughout Hawaiʻi received over $8 million through OHA’s grants program in 2023. $6 million was allocated to support Hawaiian-focused public charter schools on the islands of Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi. $1.5 million was approved to help develop a housing database that connects eligible Native Hawaiians to occupancy-ready housing. OHA trustees also issued grants to connect beneficiaries to apprenticeship programs which provide job-readiness training. The board also authorized funding to support Hawaiian arts and events.

When wildfires broke out on the island of Maui and destroyed the town of Lahaina, OHA’s trustees sprang into action. It was my privilege to join fellow trustees in volunteer service, such as collecting goods and food items to aid survivors.

OHA was happy to allow other organizations to use our warehouse space in Kakaʻako as a staging ground for the collection and transport of supplies to Maui. Understanding the great task ahead, the board committed $5 million for the recovery efforts in Lahaina. And we also committed ourselves to long-term collaboration with relevant community groups and state and federal agencies.

Trustees also worked together to further protect trust assets that we steward for the Hawaiian people. OHA’s administration was directed to adopt policies that promote greater transparency and accountability. OHA implemented recommendations from the State Auditor to improve OHA’s internal processes. The board approved forwarding the findings of the Plante Moran forensic report to government authorities as an effort to deal with past “fraud, waste, and abuse” and prevent it from occurring in the future.

During the 2023 legislative session, OHA sought to grow its financial resources by lobbying the legislature to lift the residential restrictions and raise the height limits at OHA’s properties at Kakaʻako Makai, now known as Hakuone. This effort will increase the affordable housing supply in Honolulu and generate substantial revenue for the trust. OHA also joined the Public Land Trust working group with other state agencies, which seeks to produce an accurate inventory of the PLT and show OHA’s exact pro rata share of the PLT income and proceeds.

Finally, but very significantly, in 2023 the OHA trustees successfully conducted a rigorous search process for recruiting an outstanding new CEO. Ka Pouhana Stacey Ferreira will bring a high level of leadership and experience as she manages the organization and implements the directives of the board.

Looking back on what OHA trustees accomplished in 2023 gives us confidence that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of 2024.

Going into the new year, it is essential that we continue connecting Hawaiians to affordable housing, quality education, and job-readiness programs. At the same time, OHA must further protect and build the Hawaiian trust by exercising accountability and pursuing revenue generating projects. E Hana Kākou! Let’s work together to make even greater progress in 2024 for Hawaiians and all residents of Hawaiʻi.