The Future Is Female
A century after establishing roots in the Islands, Girl Scouts of Hawaii continues to thrive and will honor this year’s Women of Distinction March 31. They are (from left) Erin Kirihara, Lori Lum, Kay Mukaigawa and Kim Hehir
Years ago — 100 years, in fact — two groups of girls simultaneously began laying the foundation for what soon would be the first Girl Scouts troops in Hawaii.
The first was in Kakaako. The second was at what was then Kamehameha School for Girls, helmed by teacher Florence Lowe. Eventually, they became known as Troops 2 and 1, respectively, after Lowe managed to get her paperwork turned in first.
Nevertheless, their formation not only served as the impetus for a century of rich history in the Islands, but also makes Girl Scouts of Hawaii the oldest council west of Mississippi. It also is the only troop in the nation with ties to royalty, crediting its early beginnings to Queen Lili‘uokalani, who sponsored Troops 1 and 2. (It was, in fact, to Troop 2 that she gave her Hawaii silk flag, which still belongs to the organization today.)
“We are so excited to be an organization that has reached 100 years of helping girls reach their full potential,” says Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO Shari Chang.
“In today’s world more than ever, girls need to become confident and courageous in their abilities,” she adds. “We are a proven organization that can help them build these traits, along with strong positive character skills to become future leaders in our community and the world.”
While some things have remained the same throughout the years — its 3C’s (Courage, Confidence and Character) remain key guiding principles — much else has changed. To acknowledge that, for example, Girl Scouts recently debuted a new acronym: G.I.R.L., which stands for Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker and Leader.
Today, Girl Scouts of Hawaii continues to thrive. Its recent STEM Fest at Pearl Harbor Pacific Aviation Museum welcomed 385 girls who met with 91 STEM professionals. Meanwhile, last week, four of its scouts traveled to New York as delegates for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.
It’s exciting times for Girl Scouts of Hawaii, and there’s much more on the horizon. But first, the organization will honor this year’s Women of Distinction during a sold-out event March 31 — an evening that also will serve as its centennial celebration.
The theme for this year’s festivities: Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Looking Toward the Future. Joining the ranks of past honorees are Kim Hehir, Erin Kirihara, Lori Lum and Kay Mukaigawa.
Each woman represents a different profession and background. One thing they do have in common, though, is a passion for and commitment to community. They also all used some variation of the words “humbled” and “honored” to describe being a Woman of Distinction — and sincerely meant it, too.
“It’s a nice, diverse group,” says Chang.
Kim Hehir was 25 years old, and had just taken a marketing and corporate communications position at a major investment bank in New York, when an older male co-worker called her into his office.
“You have no place in this business,” he told her. “Maybe if you wear a short skirt someone will put us on the cover of Businessweek, but I don’t think you’re going to be successful.”
Harsh and unwarranted? Yes. But instead of succumbing to the pressure, Hehir sought to prove him wrong.
“I’ve always been motivated by people saying you can’t do it,” she says.
It certainly got the Cornell University alumna far. She most recently served as vice president of strategic planning with The Leading Hotels of the World, before choosing to scale back her workload after having two children.
These days, she focuses most of her efforts on the community — something she learned as a former Girl Scout.
“That was really the first time I got involved in community service and realized how helping out your community really does make a difference,” she says.
Hehir stays active with organizations here and in New York. Among them are Cornell Hotel Society, President’s Council of Cornell Women, Cornell Alumni Ambassador Network, Easter Seals New York, Joyful Heart Foundation, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Honolulu Zoological Society and Kapiolani Health Foundation.
The latter organization is one to which she is particularly devoted. While on a business trip in Hawaii, Hehir gave birth to her first child and spent three months in the hospital, where she received exceptional care — unlike the experience she had with her second child in New York.
“When we moved here, Kapiolani was one of the first organizations I wanted to get involved with because it’s a not-for-profit,” she says. “If we don’t have that level of care here, then what do you do?”
As a principal at independent, third-party construction consultancy company Rider Levett Bucknall, it may initially seem like Erin Kirihara is out of her element. It’s a common, genderized misconception, and one Kirihara has encountered.
But, says Kirihara, it certainly is improving.
“I almost think it’s a positive thing because there are so few of us,” she says. “Use that to your advantage, right?”
In many ways, Kirihara herself is an example of this. Having entered the industry on a whim, she started out at the very bottom of the company, which specializes in project management, cost advisory, and litigation and lender services support.
Her rise to the top took a lot of hard work, she acknowledges, along with a good dose of dedication and a genuine interest in the industry. Now, her job includes working as lead project manager for the Park Lane Ala Moana project.
It’s a unique job, she says, and one that, in many ways, is like making history.
“You get to see what you’ve built or was a part of for years to come,” she says.
“It’s basically bringing imagination to life,” she adds. “It’s getting a client’s idea, building the team around them and then really delivering the project. You get to see the whole life cycle.”
Currently, Kirihara devotes her time to HUGS (Help, Understanding & Group Support) as a board member, and also serves as co-chairwoman of the annual Child & Family Service gala. While Kirihara was not a Girl Scout, she certainly can relate to its goal of building “girls of Courage, Confidence and Character, who make the world a better place,” according to the organization.
“Their mission is, I think, everything that I’ve worked so hard at,” she says. “I think it’s a mission that a lot of us can apply in anything that we do.”
Lori Lum knows a thing or two about risk-taking. She currently serves as director of the Government Relations and Public Affairs Group at Watanabe Ing LLP. But before that, Lum was a hospitality industry executive.
She credits the seemingly disparate shift to the firm’s founder, Jeffrey Watanabe. Seeing something in Lum that she had yet to realize herself, Watanabe convinced her of the career change.
Eighteen years later, Lum still takes pleasure in her work.
“It’s challenging and never boring,” she says. “I really have grown to love it.”
As a longtime supporter of Girl Scouts of Hawaii, it’s a life lesson Lum likes to share with scouts she encounters. It’s OK to try something new, says Lum, even if it means sometimes failing.
“After having been on this earth a while longer — longer than them — I say, ‘Trust me, you’ll be fine,'” she says with a laugh. “It’s the lessons learned.”
With a desire always to “pay it forward,” Lum also works with Child & Family Service and R.E.A.C.H. Out Hawaii. It’s children and youths in particular Lum says she enjoys working with.
“They give me so much joy, and as much as you think you’re mentoring and teaching them, I continue to learn from them,” she says.
Like Hehir, Lum is a former Girl Scout. In fact, she credits the organization with influencing the person she has become today. Girl Scouts is about so much more than, well, cookies, she says. It also is about the leadership skills and core values it instills in members and, OK, badges (which, she reasons, teach girls how to set goals).
“People always say, ‘What was your favorite part of Girl Scouts?’It was just earning the badges,” she says, laughing. “I can’t remember how many (I had), but I can tell you that sash was full.”
At just 7 years old, Kay Mukaigawa joined the Girl Scouts as a Brownie.
It was, she says, something she loved being a part of. It gave Mukaigawa her first taste of community involvement, something that remains integral in everything she does today. The experience also taught her how to work in a team, set goals, be a leader and problem-solve — skills she continues to draw upon as president and principal broker of Primary Properties.
It’s a company she founded in 2003, with 70 agents and offices in Honolulu, Aiea and Tokyo.
Last year, Mukaigawa opened Primary Learning Center. It’s a place where she and her team are able to host industry workshops. More importantly, though, are the senior seminars they conduct there each month. Free to seniors, it’s a safe space where they can enjoy a meal and learn about everything from health care and downsizing to housing options.
“As I got older, I realized that every single person around me is dealing with some senior need, and there’s a lot of concern about the options that are out there,” she says.
That isn’t all Mukaigawa devotes her time to, though. She’s recently been involved with Muscular Dystrophy Association, Lanakila Meals on Wheels, Talk About Curing Autism and Oahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Her desire to give back brings Mukaigawa full circle with her roots as a Girl Scout. It is because of her time in the organization, after all, that helped Mukaigawa understand its importance — an attitude she encourages among her employees, as well.
“I think it’s important to care and to be really sincere,” she says. “Being sincere means more to me than anything.”
Although the Girl Scouts of Hawaii 100th Anniversary Celebration and Women of Distinction Dinner is sold out, the community still is encouraged to support the organization by bidding on auction items online at 501auctions.com/girlscoutshawaii. For more information on the organization and its honorees, visit gshawaii.org.