In Hawaii it’s a kakou thing, isn’t it? Collaboration, working together and joint efforts can all be effective ways to solve seemingly unsolvable community problems.

Community organizations, nonprofits and families already know this. They know that creating working partnerships across our island chain is essential for creating outcomes that are effective and lasting.

Today’s realities of shrinking funding and expanding information insist we do better, that we work together to solve our deepest problems. Our government agencies must also work together and communicate effectively on programs and projects that have overlapping interests and goals.

For me, the experience of this past year and my work with two effective coalitions in Hawaii has helped me to see where we go right and where we go wrong when we try to tackle big problems.

Let’s take the problem of invasive species as an example.

A screen shot from a documentary by Masako Cordray and Chris Reickert on little fire ants in the islands. The author notes that invasive species are a daily problem on Hawaii Island.

Masako Cordray and Chris Reickert

I live on Hawaii Island, the center for new invasive species — dangerous ones. Granted, you may not understand the problems we face daily with these “introduced” species unless you live here, have family here or travel here frequently.

I have lived in Kona for 40 years. Over the past 20 to 30 years, and especially since 2000, invasive species have marched their way across our ecosystems, our farms, our homes and our communities and have become firmly established.

Without effective pathways to detect, educate and treat, they will continue to impact the quality of our daily lives, property values, agriculture, and tourism. Little fire ants have now been detected in every district on Hawaii Island, continue to spread rapidly, and are one of the top 10 worst insects on the planet, according to biologist E.O. Wilson.

Where Is The Will?

Our past two mayors either ignored the problem or pleaded for help from Honolulu and found little support. To outer islanders it appears as if decision-makers may not have the will, the staff, the incentives or the knowledge to create effective strategies to even begin to tackle the invasive species problem in a realistic way.

Yes, we did pass the Biosecurity Interagency Plan for 2017-2027 in the past legislative session, but this has yet to be implemented and its accompanying and essential authority bill of 2017, Senate Bill 776, has yet to be passed.

Invasive species reports dating back to 1992 and regularly issued every five to 10 years called for the same actions: staff and funding, authority, a strategy, implementation and policy creation and enforcement. Yet here we are 25 years later overrun by species that have an inner directive to dominate the ecosystem which includes us. What we fail to do on Hawaii Island will set up these same problems on the other islands. It’s just a matter of time.

Here we are 25 years later overrun by species that have an inner directive to dominate the ecosystem which includes us.

Just when everything looked exceptionally bleak, an opportunity for community and government collaboration arose. Over this past year, I had the privilege of working with the Hawaii Island Little Fire Ant Hui, a citizen-led project chaired by Carolyn Dillon, retired Alaska Airlines pilot turned Little Fire Ant Task Force leader.

I experienced what can happen when multiple state agencies, institutions, nonprofits, business, military and community organizations come together on a regular basis, strategize, plan, implement with timelines and report back around a single large conference room table. We have yet to find any state, county or private funding, but we are ever hopeful. The hui is an example of a highly effective model for problem solving and action creating and implementing solutions one by one.

Shared Goals

We have a long way to go to educate community and begin to control little fire ants, and without funding it will be difficult to continue, but this model of action works. Check out our emerging website.

The other effective coalition I have worked with is the Hawaii Farm to School Hui.

Members include state agencies and institutions including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and and many community nonprofits and organizations.

Surrounded by lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, Gov. David Ige signed Act 218 — the Farm to School Program — into law during a press conference in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui

We first met monthly and then quarterly over the past seven years, and Act 218 establishing the Hawaii Farm to School Program in the DOA was passed in 2016.

Our shared goals are education (school garden and school farm programs, and farm visits) and school food (improving breakfast, lunch and snack service through scratch cooking and creating access to fresh, healthy, locally produced foods when possible in school cafeterias).

The DOA and DOE School Food Services Branch are being asked to work together to make this happen. This is a unique opportunity for the kind of collaboration that will ensure the success of this program.

Coalitions that connect key players doing the work, with one another regularly, allowing time for strategy and reporting, can solve seemingly unmovable problems. May government and community continue to work together inclusively to find support and funding for these deep problems and emerging initiatives rising from our communities.

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About the Author

  • Nancy Redfeather
    Nancy Redfeather has been an educator in public and private schools for the past 40 years. While employed at The Kohala Center, she helped revive and support school garden programs and establish the Hawaii Farm to School Hui. She currently consults with The Center's Hawaii Public Seed Initiative and the new Hawaii Seed Growers Network. She lives and grows food and seed for her family on their small farm in Kona.