Lead by Example

Duane Kurisu (far left) speaks to Pacific Century Fellows’ Class of 2018 about Kahauiki Village and its positive impact on the island homeless population.

It’s an otherworldly experience to stand aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier with the only view for miles being the vast Pacific Ocean. Indeed, it’s an event that not many civilians can say they’ve experienced, but for a group of local leaders, their overnight stay on the USS Carl Vinson was one for the books.

“That was a bucket list item, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Dylan Ching, vice president of operations for O’ahu and Kaua’i with T.S. Restaurants.

Ching is part of Pacific Century Fellows’ recently graduated 37-member Class of 2018, and their excursion to the aircraft carrier was just one of many events over the past year and a half that helped broaden their horizons and give them glimpses into various areas of industry that impact the state. That is, in fact, the goal of Pacific Century Fellows, which Mufi Hannemann started more than two decades ago. (Fun fact: Gov. David Ige was part of the organization’s first Class of 1997.)

At its core, Pacific Century Fellows aims to nurture Hawai’i’s leaders by fostering connections with people of varying professions and backgrounds — all for the sake of making Hawai’i’s future brighter. The idea, says Hannemann, is to get different perspectives and ideas all in the same room, so to speak, in order to find the most-effective solutions to the state’s most-pressing issues.

“Hawai’i is blessed with so many leaders who come from all walks of life,” he adds. “The proof in the poi is that 16 classes of Fellows have continued to venture into new areas and demonstrate amazing achievement.”

Aside from their visit to USS Carl Vinson, the Fellows also took part in themed days relating to education, agriculture, energy, homelessness and affordable housing, criminal justice and tourism. Justice day, for example, introduced the group to the inner workings of O’ahu Community Correctional Center, as well as gave them a chance to meet Hawai’i Supreme Court Justice Mark Recktenwald.

“There is movement in our community around the concept of restorative justice and starting to look at trauma as a factor that shapes behaviors and directly impacts those in the system,” explains Jessica Munoz, president and founder of nonprofit Ho’ōla Nā Pua. “We need to be looking at how we can protect our community, and better the health of our community, by addressing that trauma through increasing protective factors and measures and early intervention.”

The ideas coming out of justice day are directly related to the anti-trafficking advocacy role Munoz and her organization take on, but for others like Ching, the criminal justice arena is unfamiliar territory.

“One of the biggest take-aways I got was that in order for us to have a better, more productive, more successful Hawai’i, we have to be as individuals more informed,” he says. “We did a tour of OCCC, and that impacted me a lot. We got to see the side of it … that lots of people don’t get to see.”

Experiences and their applications run the gamut within the Class of 2018, but one theme remains consistent: diversity and its importance for the future. Hawai’i’s melting pot society requires variety in personality, history, culture, industry and values — a multifaceted approach to address issues that affect people in Hawai’i in different ways.

“This group, we went through these experiences together, and we’re all from different industries,” says Daniel Chun, director of sales, community and public relations for Hawai’i with Alaska Airlines. “It cuts through a nice cross-section of community and business.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by many others in his cohort, including Project Vision Hawai’i founding executive director Elizabeth “Annie” Valentin, who views Pacific Century Fellows as a global thinking program that starts within individual communities and inspires positive change around the world.

The 37 members of Pacific Century Fellows’ Class of 2018 took a trip to California, where they got to visit places like mixed-use development Fruitvale Village in Oakland. PHOTOS COURTESY MUFI HANNEMANN

“It’s where synergy exists,” Valentin adds. “There are lessons, and there’s the network and the opportunity for collaboration and thinking outside the box about ways that partnerships can exist across sectors, and the incredible network of people I feel very honored to get to know through the program.”

Pacific Century Fellows, then, is a place where health care professionals can cooperatively partner up with experts in technology to tackle a problem like homelessness. Seemingly dissimilar fields can actually make for the most innovative solutions.

For Doug Shimokawa, senior vice president of managed services with Pacxa, the organization offers up a platform that’s unlike any other.

“I’m in the tech field, but we had quite a few media folks. We had investment folks, health care, travel industry, active-duty DOD personnel,” he recalls. “We sat around and talked with everyone and shared our perspectives on the same issue. I really can’t think of another way to get that kind of experience other than from a program like Pacific Century Fellows.”

Traditional Pacific Century Fellows cohorts spend about nine months collaborating with and learning from each other, but the Class of 2018 reached a couple of milestones during its tenure. Aside from extending their time to nearly a year and a half, the group also took the program’s first trip outside of the state to San Francisco.

“We picked a city on the West Coast doing amazing things in regard to transit-oriented development, a rail system, entrepreneurship, tech, also homelessness,” recalls Chun. “We looked at things impacting us here in Hawai’i and saw how they’re dealing with it, and how we can apply those things to us in Hawai’i.”

There’s no doubt that a lot of work remains to be done here at home, as the problems Hawai’i’s generations are facing have no quick fixes. But the future keeps getting a little brighter as more and more leaders engage in programs like Pacific Century Fellows. They’re not only learning to lead by example, but are also finding out innovative ways to train up the next group of bright-eyed forward-thinkers to continue the good work.

“As we head into another class, I’m excited,” Hannemann concludes. “I keep seeing new areas and new ground being broken. If people continue to do great things for the right reasons, we can make Hawai’i and the Pacific region a better place to work and raise our families, and make a contribution worldwide, not just locally.”

The application deadline for Pacifi c Century Fellows’ next cohort is June 14. Visit for more information and to apply.