70 Years of Budding Businesses

Photo by Lawrence Tabudlo

Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i and its new president, Melody Calisay, provide business owners with the tools they need to succeed.

For 70 years, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i has served the business community as the oldest Filipino chamber of commerce in the United States.

The nonprofit, which consists of hundreds of entrepreneurs, business executives and leaders, aims to promote Hawai‘i’s businesses and strengthen links between Hawai‘i and the Philippines through various programs and workshops.

To honor its seven decades of work, the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i is hosting an anniversary and installation of officers event on July 27 at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort.

“It is my honor to be the running president on the 70th anniversary of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce,” says Melody Calisay, who has been a member of the organization since 2012. “That shows the endurance, the persistence, to have a successful and excellent organization. Seventy years, for me, is a testament for the Filipinos, how they work hard.”

Calisay, who was born and raised in the Philippines, has a Ph.D. in agronomy and soil science from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She previously worked for the state Department of Health’s Environmental Management Division for more than 20 years. Now retired, Calisay has been focusing on her own business, which distributes Filipino products in Hawai‘i.

While the presidential role with the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i comes with a slew of responsibilities, Calisay proves to be up to the task.

“I think as a business owner, I know what businesses need and how they can improve their business,” Calisay explains. “We can provide them the tools on the entrepreneurial (side) so they can have an idea and enhance their economic growth.

“The Filipino Chamber of Commerce has a lot of good programs that are currently in place right now,” Calisay continues. “One thing I would like to emphasize is improving the mentorship, workshops and training. I believe that with these workshops and seminars, it will enhance their (members’) business and entrepreneurial skills. It will give them the latest tools that they can use for the business and provide them with confidence.”

To prepare for her new role, Calisay has worked closely with outgoing president Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy.

“Susie Berardy did a very good job during her term and she’s helping me a lot — giving me all the guidance and she will act like a shadow for me when I take over,” Calisay says.

One of Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i’s upcoming workshops takes place at 5:30 p.m. on July 30 at Honolulu Country Club. The leadership workshop, which is open to members and nonmembers, features Sonia Aranza, a global diversity and inclusion strategist.

Being that networking is such an important aspect of business, Calisay is committed to being actively involved in the Quad Chamber, which consists of four chambers of commerce: Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i, Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i Korean Chamber of Commerce.

“I believe that each of us has their own stronger points and I want to utilize, and coordinate and collaborate with them on how we can help each other,” Calisay says.

In addition to providing members with the resources they need to help their businesses thrive, the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i also believes in giving credit where credit is due and acknowledges those who demonstrate excellence via its Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year award, which was established in 1988 by past president Cecilia Villafuerte.

Shortly after the Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year award was created, the Young Filipino Entrepreneur award was launched to recognize the entrepreneurial skills of business owners under 35 years old. Calisay notes that more than 30 years later, Villafuerte’s vision continues to enhance the Filipino business community and inspire others to open their own businesses and move up the corporate ladder.

The next Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year award is tentatively scheduled for next April. Some of the things the organization takes into consideration when selecting the awardee include participation in the community and proof of business growth under the nominee’s direction.

While the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i does a lot to help those in the business realm, it also supports high school students through its foundation. Its scholarship program, which is funded by proceeds from the organization’s annual golf tournament, has distributed more than $300,000 in higher education scholarships in past years.

Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i is always looking for new members — and membership is open to all ethnicities — and it’s not necessary to already have an established business.

“As long as you think you will benefit from the organization, you can apply,” Calisay adds. “Don’t do any shortcuts when you do the business. You have to do the business in the right way and be honest doing your business. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of challenges, but hard work and perseverance always pay off.”

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Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy
Immediate past president of Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i

Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy has been a member of Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i since 1996.

“This term as president has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career and I will be forever thankful to the chamber membership for entrusting me with the role of their president,” Berardy says of her time as president, which spanned from July 2023 through June 2024.

She says she found community outreach service to be particularly fulfilling and recalls how Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i sprang into action and sold T-shirts to raise funds for those affected by the Maui wildfires.

Before Berardy’s term as president came to a close, she encouraged Melody Calisay to run for the position.

“I firmly believe that the people we put into office to run our organizations should be of the highest moral caliber, which reflects our community to not only Hawai‘i, but also the world,” Berardy shares. “As chamber president, you will find yourself in front of local and world leaders, and being a leader of character is essential in representing our community. Melody possesses those character traits and I am proud to have her lead the chamber.

“We are the oldest and largest Filipino Chamber outside the Philippines and with that distinction comes great responsibility to measure up to the high standard set by past presidents that have come before us.”

Berardy hopes community members will join Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i saying, “Best of all, we are not just parties and dinners, we roll up our sleeves and get to work, creating opportunity to bridge our two communities between the Philippines and Hawai‘i.”