Pono leadership for Hawaiʻi

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Dan Ahuna, Vice Chair, Trustee, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau A new wave of political leadership is rising in Hawaiʻi, and the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action’s (HAPA) Kuleana Academy is seeking to level the playing field by empowering grassroots community leaders with the tools and skills they need to run for office.

Kuleana Academy is a four-month leadership development and non-partisan candidate training program hosted by HAPA in partnership with other leading public interest organizations in Hawaiʻi.

Many Kuleana Academy participants apply to the program because they have been bumping their heads against the wall at the County and State level on issues that matter most to their communities. Some never imagined that they would enter the realm of electoral politics, but find themselves reflecting, “If not me, who?” and “If not now, when?” Often after exploring various avenues for serving their communities, many are finding that seeking elected office is in fact their kuleana.

“So many of our people are struggling to stay in their homes, to afford the cost of living in Hawaiʻi, to holdon to our traditions and culture, and to protect our natural resources…I knew in my naʻau that I needed to step up and run for office,” states Tiare Lawrence, Kuleana graduate from Maui.

Participants from across the pae ʻāina gather over five weekend-long retreats to focus on the development of their leadership, immerse themselves in a variety of policy issues, and develop the skills to run for office or to support others’ campaigns. They learn from various elected leaders about their experience of running for and serving in office. They meet with key policy experts, and work with a variety of specialized trainers.

“For new candidates, the barriers to seeking public office can seem monumental. Learning the ins and outs of campaign finance and reporting,mapping your district, canvassing, public speaking, and deepening your knowledge of important policy issues can be daunting,” stated Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, J.D., M.B.A., Kuleana graduate, from Molokaʻi.

The program was developed to address these barriers to entering the political arena. Kuleana Academy provides participants with the tools and trainers that they would otherwise not have access to.

However, Kuleana Academy does not just focus on the technical “how-to’s.” Over the course of the program participants examine the core values that they lead from. Their leadership development is grounded in deep personal reflection. As participants articulate their values, they learn from each other and become accountable to each other. They are encouraged not to just blindly seek office, but to also question the very power structures and roles that they may one day enter.

Hauoli Sinenci from Hana, Maui states, “Hawai‘i’s leaders are sworn to its Constitution and to sit below the great seal and motto, ʻUa Mau Ke Ea O Ka ʻĀina I Ka Pono’! The Kuleana Academy teaches the ‘Pono’ way!”

Participants often cite the network of fellow Kuleana graduates, program partners and trainers as one of the greatest assets they leave the program with.

As Sandra Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino, Esq. a graduate from Oʻahu states, “Kuleana Academy is a grassroots program that is dynamic and collaborative. It builds the capacity of emerging leaders who have a strong desire to effectively serve the public…I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about different views and build a strong but diverse network with some of Hawaiʻi’s best and brightest leaders. This program will drive positive change in Hawaiʻi.”

Due to high demand, HAPA is offering a Fall 2017 Kuleana Academy. HAPA is currently accepting applications until the end of July. Visit www.hapahi.org to learn more.


Editor’s note: By invitation, this column was written by Anne Frederick and Tiare Lawrence, respectively the Executive Director of HAPA and Kuleana Academy graduate.


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.