Helping Nonprofits Empower Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities

With the introduction of the President’s American Jobs Act, I am reminded of the critical role nonprofits play in rebuilding our economy.  For the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, we know that small businesses and community organizations play a significant role in this effort, whether providing housing counseling and servicing community health clinics or hiring our long-term unemployed and providing important training and language assistance to transition AAPIs into 21st century jobs.  To support these groups in the critical work that they do, we recently created a Guide to Federal Agency Resources to provide vital information on federal grants and programs. 

Though Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities face significant economic challenges, there are tremendous non-profit assets and leadership on the ground making a world of difference in their communities.  And we found out recently the incredible impact they have had, improving the quality of life of NHPIs around the country, especially on the islands.

The Initiative recently partnered with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement to host a Pacific Islander Philanthropy Forum in Honolulu for their Annual Convention.  The purpose of the forum and workshops that followed was to increase the more than 1000 participants’ knowledge about foundations and philanthropy and the work of the growing number of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community-based organizations.

The growth of NHPI community-based organizations and their ability to address numerous challenges in their communities is truly astounding.  These organizations tackle significant health, poverty, and education disparities, and high unemployment rates by re-connecting to their histories and traditional practices of farming, fishing, and building sustainable projects that honor and preserve the land and also create jobs.  Following the all-day forum, the Initiative, foundation and community leaders conducted site visits on Oahu and Kauai to see what this work looks like on the ground.

We visited Native Hawaiian charter schools on Oahu and Kauai that are exploding at the seams, but documenting great academic success among their students because, for one very important reason, they are grounded in building self-esteem, knowledge and appreciation for the Native Hawaiian culture and language.  Almost half of all charter schools in Hawaii are considered Native Hawaiian immersion schools and located near Native Hawaiian communities or homelands.  The Native Hawaiian community has utilized the charter school movement in a unique way by not only supporting youth at-risk and improving overall education outcomes for all children in Hawaii, but by also preserving the Native Hawaiian language and culture.

In addition, we visited projects on Hawaiian homelands and in Kalihi Valley, Oahu; a Native Hawaiian health clinic; and MA’O Organic Farms where AAPI Commissioner Kamuela Enos spends his days.  MA’O employs, trains and educates young people to be farmers, and supports their education at a local community college. 

The Pacific Islander Philanthropy Forum is one example of how the White House Initiative seeks to empower communities and build a more economically vibrant and healthy society for all of us by highlighting and supporting community assets in AAPI communities.  The forum would not have been possible without the support and leadership of Mrs. Irene Hirano Inouye who is President of the U.S.-Japan Council, Chair and board member of the Ford Foundation, and board member of the Kresge Foundation; Robin Danner, President & CEO of the Council on Native Hawaiian Advancement; and the many foundations and organizations that supported this effort.

Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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