An Open Letter To The Millionaires And Billionaires Of Hawaii


About the Authors

Mahina Paishon-Duarte

Mahina Paishon-Duarte is a social entrepreneur that owns and operates two Hawaii-based businesses and is co-founder of a nonprofit with an aim to transform philanthropy in Hawaii. She and her ohana live on their small family farm and ranch on the slopes of North Kona, Hawaii. On a good day you can find her surfing, working at Heeia fishpond, sailing or in the forest, where she is happiest.

Ashley Lukens

Ashley Lukens is the executive director of the Frost Family Foundation and the principal consultant at Ashley Lukens Consulting where she works with clients in Hawaii, Oregon and California to direct their charitable giving. She is also the founder of Project Thesis, a learning circle of women leaders working to get capital in the hands of women led businesses in Hawaii. She has a Ph.D. in political science from UH Manoa.


So you’ve landed in our islands. E komo mai. Maybe you were born or raised here and COVID-19 allowed you to move home. Maybe Hawaii has always been on your wish list and now’s the time for you to take that leap. Either way, welcome.

Hawaii tells two powerful stories about the pandemic. One of resilience, innovation and community: we have some of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the country as we have all committed to the safety and well-being of human life.

Community organizations and local businesses have stepped up to support everyday people. Initiatives like Aina Aloha Economic Futures, Uplift Hawaii, Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: rapidly responded with visions of the future rooted in longstanding movements to affect positive social and economic change.

The other story reveals our deep economic vulnerability and the entrenched attitudes that threaten to prevent the transformations we need to survive and thrive. We have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation. A staggering 22.3% people remain unemployed.

Volunteers sort grocery donations from a food drive at the Central Union Church, in Honolulu, HI, Saturday, May 16, 2020. The Central Union Church partnered up with nonprofit corporatio, Help is on the Way, to collect and deliver food boxes to kupuna and other vulnerable, homebound people on Oahu. They hope to create 200 grocery boxes that will be delivered in the coming week. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)

Numerous food distribution efforts are being made possible by philanthropic efforts and donations from wealthy funders and foundations.

Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

As longtime leaders in Hawaii, working both in development and philanthropy, we’d like to offer the following 10 recommendations for all of you who are arriving here.

  1. Philanthropy can be the tip of the spear — we have to be bold, risk taking. We have to be willing to fail. Risk taking in philanthropy means encouraging our grantees to take risks, try new things, be creative. It means allowing them time and flexibility in their funding to fail forward towards the best path to impact. It means waiving requirements for three-plus years of audited financials and leaning instead on building relationships with the change makers and offering support beyond the check to further their mission and goals. It also means that grantmaking must reflect a willingness to share a certain amount of risk with community partners.
  2. Your investments might have a greater impact than your grantmaking. Please ensure your investments are aligned with your values. Opt out of industrial agriculture, plastics, and the military industrial complex, as these industries have had devastating impacts on communities in the Pacific.
  3. Instead, invest in local vehicles that support local businesses, and leverage your balance sheets to create greater economic opportunities for impact oriented businesses. Place your assets in local credit unions and use our Community Development Financial Institutions to further your impact.
  4. We can and should spend far beyond the 5%. This is an arbitrary number set by policy makers. In my experience, our portfolios outperform this year over year — making foundations incrementally larger over time. As monies diverted from the public coffers, many of which are running on fumes, it is our duty and obligation to show up now.
  5. Collaborate. Philanthropy has made huge strides in the past few months to coordinate our efforts. Join us. Hop on Kūkulu to learn about community asks/offers, join our weekly strategy calls, plug into our funding networks, and work with others on the ground to understand the dynamics at play in our state and how your funding can be helpful or harmful to the communities you seek to serve.
  6. We have to start asking hard questions about the root cause, leveraging philanthropic dollars for transformative social change. Hawaii People’s Fund is a leader in the space but you can also do your diligence on which individuals and organizations are working in their communities to address issues systemically.
  7. Listen: local community organizations like Hawaii Investment Ready, Elemental Excelerator, Mana Up, HACBED, and many more are overflowing with ways to diversify and grow our local economy. Let’s take the time to listen before we propose models and solutions that have been effective elsewhere. Remember that native Hawaiians have and continue to propose unique place-based innovative solutions that seek environmental and socio-economic equilibrium that deserve support and continued investment.
  8. Local community groups should be the driver of your funding plans and decisions. National consultants cannot absorb the years of integrated understanding and knowledge that change-makers offer. Pay nonprofit leaders to consult. Invest in our local consulting community.
  9. Practice trust based philanthropy. We have to give communities the time to do the work by minimizing the burdens of fundraising and reporting. Get to know their work and trust in their vision and impact. One way to do this is to take time to learn about Hawaiiʻs native language and history and its rich and diverse local culture.
  10. Remember, we’re not just your vacation spot. We are a living, thriving community. If you are here, you are not a guest. You have responsibilities to these islands, both the natural environment and the people who protect it. Be a part of the longstanding culture of generosity that helps our community thrive. Don’t look away from the sides of our state that are not beautiful — they are a part and a product of your presence here.

We believe deeply in the positive intentions of all human beings. We believe that most people, when given the opportunity to make good choices, will.

That is why we trust that you, as you arrive and take up residence here, will do the right thing and together we will continue to create a Hawaii where all people and ecosystems thrive.

Hookahi no la o ka malihini — “A stranger for only a day.” After the first day as a guest, one must help with work. (Hawaiian Proverb No. 1078). Aloha no.

Editor’s note: The authors’ philanthropic work is funded in part by Pam Omidyar. Her husband, Pierre Omidyar, is the founder and publisher of Civil Beat. 


Read this next:

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About the Authors

Mahina Paishon-Duarte

Mahina Paishon-Duarte is a social entrepreneur that owns and operates two Hawaii-based businesses and is co-founder of a nonprofit with an aim to transform philanthropy in Hawaii. She and her ohana live on their small family farm and ranch on the slopes of North Kona, Hawaii. On a good day you can find her surfing, working at Heeia fishpond, sailing or in the forest, where she is happiest.

Ashley Lukens

Ashley Lukens is the executive director of the Frost Family Foundation and the principal consultant at Ashley Lukens Consulting where she works with clients in Hawaii, Oregon and California to direct their charitable giving. She is also the founder of Project Thesis, a learning circle of women leaders working to get capital in the hands of women led businesses in Hawaii. She has a Ph.D. in political science from UH Manoa.


Latest Comments (0)

Recommendation for residents:  Think before you protest inanimate objects like telescopes, windmills, and ferries.  We have the highest unemployment, but the most aloha, because the people are the asset.  The people are from all corners of the world, including the military complex.

JodyLurka · 3 weeks ago

Why not give people a job instead of a handout? 

4whatitsworth · 3 weeks ago

I appreciate the Halekulani Hotel, who support substantially the arts here in Honolulu.  Local, mainland & offshore developers, including Reits are not known for their generous contributions other than to political pacts. They could definitely step it up. 

Concernedtaxpayer · 3 weeks ago

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