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Sustainability in the South Pacific

Hungry for Leadership
By Jeffrey John

Upon entering the the deluxe harbor-side home in Honolulu, complete with with hot tub, swimming pool, and boat dock, Rocky Mountain Institute consultants Natalie Mims and Lionel Bony could have thought that they were stepping on to the set of a popular television reality show.

Here in this scenic setting, Natalie and Lionel were joined by nine other young adults. The men and women hailed from both Hawaii and Aotearoa (New Zealand) and had come together with the intention of living and working closely as a team for the next several days. It was indeed a terrific setting for tackling the project at hand—one that would require intense development of a sustainable agriculture plan for Kamehameha Schools.

Selected as fellows of the First Nation’s Future Program (FNFP), these young men and women gathered as participants of a partnership between Kamehameha Schools, Aotearoa tribes, and Stanford University. Each year, the FNFP partners select a few young community leaders to spend time studying and researching at Stanford University in California, in New Zealand, and in Hawaii.

The 2008 project assigned to the FNFP Fellows was to help understand the agricultural value chain within Hawaii and specifically how the land owned and managed by Kamehameha Schools could help foster food and agricultural sustainability in Hawaii.

Having learned about Natalie’s and Lionel’s extensive work on the 2006 Hawaii Whole Systems Project, which addressed the state’s dependence on food imports (see box on page 13), Mawae Morton, the strategic resources manager for the Endowment Group at Kamehameha Schools, explained, “[Kamehameha Schools] knew RMI had the freshest and best information to date and would be in a good position to help with this year’s FNFP project.”

The main goals of FNFP are to build community-level, values-based leadership in order to strengthen indigenous and conventional knowledge for integrated solutions to managing local resources. Natalie and Lionel, with their combined years of consulting experience on RMI’s projects in Hawaii, seemed like the perfect pair to have on hand if the Fellows needed any support regarding strategic guidance and content knowledge. And that’s how the young RMI consultants found themselves working to preserve the future of this island paradise with such a select and highly motivated group.

Kamehameha Schools is the largest private landowner in Hawaii with over 360,000 acres zoned for agriculture and conservation. The goal of gathering the FNFP Fellows is not only to help Kamehameha Schools understand the local food value chain and how it applies to managing their land, but even more importantly, to develop the leadership necessary to follow through on the right whole-system solutions. As Morton put it, “It is common in Hawaii and across Polynesia to look seven generations ahead of our time.

There is a need for developing the next generations of leadership who are able to look at multiple dimensions and not simply economic dimensions. RMI offered a way to bridge between our indigenous knowledge base and the best of western thought and academia.”

The culmination of a two-week certificate course at Stanford and three-week projects in New Zealand and Hawaii was the workshop Natalie and Lionel attended with the Fellows in Honolulu. Its purpose was to define food sustainability in Hawaii and identify key opportunities for Kamehameha Schools’ use of the land. The workshop brought together individuals involved at every level of the food and agriculture value chain. Participants ranged from the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii to Whole Foods and local farmers.

Neil Hannahs, the director of Kamehameha Schools Land Assets Division, said, “RMI’s facilitation made it a better workshop. We ask our Fellows to take on very complex subjects in a very short period of time, so having consultant expertise helps them ramp up faster and RMI was a very effective guide. RMI is an expert in facilitating workshops and synthesizing information. Because of the nature of RMI’s work … you have mastered how to think through an issue. Our Fellows come from a wide variety of backgrounds—some have this ability, but some don’t.” Working with RMI allowed the FNFP Fellows to create a whole-system framework to attack the problem.

RMI also helped encourage and cultivate the Fellows’ leadership skills. Hannahs pointed out, “Natalie and Lionel knew they were in a supportive role … and they allowed the Fellows to shine. How can you encourage leadership from the next generation if you do not rely on the Fellows to step forward? We do not want to shelter the Fellows from taking the risk and making the mistakes.” The First Nation’s Future Program is guided by the Hawaiian saying, “Ma ka hana ka’ike,” which means, “In the work there is knowledge.” Morton explained that it is a simple principle of experiential learning. “Through doing you learn,” he said, “and then our Fellows retain what they have learned for longer and they are driven back to the classroom with a focus.”

This year, the FNFP Fellows’ main concentration was on the land. “Aina ulu,” another guiding Hawaiian principle, asserts to “grow that which feeds us.” Hannahs explains, “Stewardship of the land and literally ‘growing the land’ becomes an inspiration for our own growth. As we bring people to the land, the land becomes a classroom we cannot afford to buy.”

With “Aina ulu” in mind, Kamehameha School officials recognized prior to the Fellows’ gathering that the community was hungry for new leadership. The local food market and the industry were in need of better coordination One of the most valuable ideas to come out of the workshop was this: If you compress the value chain and organize the marketplace of producers, you will ultimately gain a better understanding of the demand profile.

Understanding the local food producers means that the future leaders of this movement need to understand the farmers. As Mawae Morton reflected, “Seeing ranchers and farmers, who are used to wrangling cattle and breaking their backs in the fields, get an emotional reaction to our young people’s willingness to lead is very powerful.”

Rethinking this system is a tremendous challenge and it is inspiring to see young local leadership rising to confront it head on. Hannahs added, “By bringing production and consumption closer together on the value chain it helps the farmers. Right now [farmers] are at the most volatile part of the chain—they assume the most risk and receive the smallest margins.”

Mahinapoepoe Duarte, executive director of Paepae O He’heeia and one of the 2008 FNFP Fellows, may understand this challenge more than anybody—she has more than ten years’ experience cultivating cultural sustainability in Hawaii. After the workshop she observed, “The real benefit happens on our follow-through. The workshop offered a good venue for dialogue, but it is in acting on the ideas that we discussed where the true value of the workshop will be revealed.”

So, it is with a great challenge on the horizon that the future leaders of a more sustainable Aotearoa and Hawaii move forward. With RMI’s guidance, Kamehameha Schools and Stanford University are encouraging the values-based community-level leadership necessary to sustain a hungry community isolated by 2,000 miles of water.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work closely with the Fellows,” says Natalie. “Lio and I were able to provide them with help on the workshop, and the Fellows offered us a fantastic cultural perspective that we would not have heard otherwise. They did a great job of pulling the workshop together and working under pressure, together as a team.”

--Published Fall/Winter 2008

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