The Ties That Bind

Pacific Century Fellows is looking for another group of successful young men and women to improve their leadership, expand their perspective and help solve community problems through the ties they form

Too often in life we get locked into our careers and have to focus on that next rung as we try to climb to the top of our chosen fields. Days are filled with forwarding business plans, meeting with like-minded colleagues and staving off competition.

Lost is the world that surrounds us, the other members of our community who make our jobs possible, as well as our fellow citizens who so desperately are in need of our aid.

(left to right) Patrick Klein, Dr. Laurie Tom, Blair Collis, Alana Pakkala, PCF founder Mufi Hannemann, Mark Tilker, Carrie Okinaga and Bryan Andaya | Photos by Lawrence Tabudlo

Helping to remove those blinders from our best and brightest is the mission of Pacific Century Fellows, a program former-Mayor Mufi Hannemann envisioned after his time as a White House Fellow under then-Vice Pres ident George H.W. Bush.

“It instilled in me a passion for community service and to give back to wherever you reside,” says Hanne-mann, who spent more than a decade getting the program off the ground. “When I came back home in 1984, I wanted to have a similar program with an emphasis on Asia.”

The White House Fellowship was founded in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson because, as he said, “a genuinely free society cannot be a spectator society.” It sought to get aspiring young people involved in government and community service to teach them to think beyond their own needs and desires.

Hannemann could not of fer the day-to-day work or trips to the Middle East that he was offered in Washing-ton, but he could bring that sense of a larger purpose to the people of the Islands. Each year they bring together around 30 of Hawaii’s rising young talents from all walks of life to not only network with one another, but also to instill in them a sense of the people around them and what they can do to help.

“The best kind of leader is one who is aware of the community,” says Hanne-mann. “If they only stay in the confines of their environment, then they will be very limited. This program inspires a young leader to be exposed to the issues of the day and form partnerships and relationships out side of their place of business. The Fellows have to be a part of the solution group, rather than the group that just talks about the problems.”

The program asks a one-year commitment from its Fellows, meeting on Satur-days when they not only fellowship with one another, but are introduced to leaders in the community and to all the diversity of the Islands.

For some, it can be as simple as spending time with a group of residents with whom they have never interacted before.

“Community service always has been a part of my life, and I knew about the restaurant business and the Chamber of Commerce, but did not know anything about the military,” says Bryan Andaya, COO of L&L Drive-Inn and president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce.

“I have maybe been on a base once in my life, yet the military is a huge part of our economy, and as a businessperson I need to know about them. PCF offered me exposure where I never had some before. I got to spend a night on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and have dinner there with the sailors.”

From carriers to Ka-hoolawe, these young men and women get to know that life does not begin and end at their workplace, that Hawaii is so much more than the sum of its parts and that no matter how busy one gets, there is always time to give back.

“Whether we were listening to corporate or nonprofit CEOs, local government officials or the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command, the speakers shared a common passion for assuming the responsibility of serving others,” says Carrie Okinaga, a ’99 PCFer who heads the legal section at First Hawaiian Bank and serves as chairwoman for Honolulu Transit Authority. “No matter what their day jobs and family lives entailed, they found the 25th hour in the day to give back, to be active participants in the betterment of our community.”

The pool of these participants is chosen by a panel of judges who try to create a gender-balanced field of candidates from the business world, tourist industry, medical field and legal profession.

Once the group has been selected, it is their interviews that separate the wheat from the chaff, as they look for those who truly have a passion to serve.

“I feel fortunate to have been involved for the past eight years, loved the experience and the quality of the applicants; I am humbled by their achievements,” says Rick Blangiardi, PCF judge and general manager of Hawaii News Now. “The process puts you in touch with a lot of extraordinary people looking to expand their role beyond their professional lives and make a difference outside their field.”

Another former judge and PCF alumnus is Marc Tilker, CEO of the Marathon Group, who says he looks for people who are centered, community-minded and exhibit leadership qualities – all things he says he didn’t have going into the program in 1998.

“I felt very inadequate going into the program,” says Tilker, “but it transformed me from just being a hard worker to being a community contributor. It is something I still teach my employees and my children.”

Some already have the public service part down, like Blair Collis, CEO of Bishop Museum. He has spent the past decade working for the nonprofit and needed to learn not about how to help the community, but rather how the business community could better teach him to address his challenges.

“It helped me with my role at Bishop Museum because of the diversity of perspectives on dealing with issues,” says Collis, a member of the ’12 PCFers. “Meeting leaders in health care, police work and the homeless organizations was invaluable. You get to see there is a lot of good getting done here, and it helps you understand your place in it all.”

His sentiments about sense of place are echoed by another of last year’s PCF class, Patrick Klein, director of classified advertising for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, MidWeek and other Oahu Publications Inc. products. He found him self changed after spending time with the leaders of or-ganizations such as the Institute for Human Services and Kuhio Park Terrace.

“On a professional level, I have a much stronger understanding and appreciation of how different segments in our society all need to work together to create a strong and healthy community,” says Klein, a graduate of Maryknoll and Gonzaga University. “It doesn’t matter how well the tourism, construction or military segments are doing if no one is working to improve homelessness, education and other civic issues.”

Others have found that it is not necessarily the leadership they needed to learn from, but how to serve.

Dr. Laurie Tom, endocrinologist at The Queen’s Medical Center, does such esoteric work that leadership is not really a factor for her, but so laser-like had been her focus through school that the idea of helping out with charity was foreign to her.

“At the time when I joined PCF, my life was the medical field. I had just spent 13 years focused on nothing else,” says Tom, who was a member of the ’98 PCF class. “So when I was asked to get involved with the nonprofit American Diabetes Association, I did not have a clue what to do. The PCF helped me to understand what to do in the community, the duty to go beyond my day-to-day commitments to make the community better.”

The newest class of Fellows is accepting applications through July 1, giving motivated, civic-minded people a couple more weeks to join this local fraternity that is burgeoning with talent. This year they will embark on another Neighbor Island trip, and hope to expand to Saipan and continue a pilgrimage to the rest of Asia.

While the organization does give people an opportunity to network and grow their business, for PCFers it is the expansion of their life view and charitable commitments they truly relish about the program.

“It is truly the most meaningful education I have re ceived in my life,” says Alana Pakkala, executive vice president for the Kobayashi Group. “The experience fundamentally shifted the way I see our city and state and the challenges we face.

“From education and social services to the economy, city infrastructure and rail, the in-depth discussions with leaders in each area opened my mind to new perspectives, but more importantly, instilled a heightened sense of reverence for the work that is performed every day by community leaders.

“Our personal lives are so busy with our own work, raising a young family and community service. I real-ized that I was spending much of my time focusing on the details of life (or the trees), and the PCF experience forced me to look up and see the forest and the interdependence of the various issues, and the constant struggle for positive solutions.”

Applications Open For Next PCF Class

PCF is looking for the next class of Fellows. Applicants for the nine-month program should be in their mid-20s to early 40s. Cost is $3,300. Employers are encouraged to pay employee program costs, but tuition assistance is available. Applications are available at Deadline to apply is July 1.