We Are A Trust, So Who Is OHA’s Primary and Only Customer?


Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Welcome to my December column of Ka Wai Ola!

During the year, we looked at the question of self-assessment which was: “What is our Mission?” This month I will discuss: Who is our Primary Customer?

We don’t have “customers” – we have beneficiaries…customer is a marketing term! We have clients, recipients, patients, kūpuna, and haumāna!

Rather than debate “language,” I want to ask the question: “Who must be satisfied for OHA to achieve results? It’s when you answer this question that you define your “customer.” I know it is very tempting to say, “But there is more than one primary customer!” However, effective organizations resist this temptation and keep to a focus – the primary customers – our beneficiaries.

Identify A Primary “Customer”

Let me give you a positive example of identifying and concentrating on the primary customer in a complex setting like OHA. Right now, the latest survey of our mission to our beneficiaries is: To increase people’s economic and social independence. OHA has over 35 programs and, for over 36 years, they have helped the physically handicapped, single mothers who want to get off welfare, older workers who have been laid off, kūpuna and elderly with no place to live and who need caregivers, people with persistent mental illness, those struggling against long-term chemical/alcohol dependency, and those needy of affordable rentals/housing. All of these people belong to the primary customer group: Persons with Multiple Barriers.

Our primary customer is not necessarily someone you can reach; someone you can sit down with and talk to directly. Primary customers might be infants, or endangered species, or members of our future generation. Whether or not you have active dialogue, identifying the primary customer puts your priorities in order and gives you a reference point for critical decision-making.

Our “Customers” Are Constantly Changing

Often, the customer is one step ahead of us. Their numbers will change as they become more diverse. Their needs are more critical in this environment today…their wants and aspirations will evolve. They are customers that we, OHA, must satisfy to achieve our results. These may be individuals who really need the service, want the service, but not in the way it is available today. An OHA that is devoted to “results” – always with regard to its basic integrity – will adapt and change as their customers’ (beneficiaries’) needs do. Know your customer, your beneficiary!

Stay safe and mālama until next year!

Hauʻoli Kekemapa! Mele Kalikimaka! Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!

A hui hou,
Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa

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Leinaʻala Ahu Isa, Ph.D. was elected an “at-large” trustee in 2014 and currently serves as Board of Trustees vice chair. She has held elected offices in the Hawaiʻi State House of Representatives and the State Board of Education. She served on OHA’s first Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund Board. Retired as the Executive Director of Small Business Management at UH Mānoa, she also brings a wealth of business knowledge as Hawaiʻi Pacific University’s Chair of MBA Programs, and Professor of Business Management and Entrepreneurship courses. She is passionate to serve, with a strong ethically-driven fiduciary duty. To contact, call (808) 594-1877 or email: TrusteeAhuIsa@oha.org.