|Full interview with Linda Kaleo-o-kalani Paik|
Interviewed by Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Interviewed by Curtis Lum
Q. Describe the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce.
A. It started back in the '70s. A Hawaiian businessman was trying to get a license and he was denied a business license. So he got together with several of his friends who said, "What can we do?" So over that conversation they came up with creating their own chamber. We're talking over 30 years that the chamber has been in existence. They wanted to have Native Hawaiians doing business and helping each other out by networking and by mentoring so that the community would know that Native Hawaiians were businessmen as well. I know growing up, when you said you were Hawaiian, people would say, "Where do you work?" It was never, "What do you own? What's your business?" And that was just my own experience so I think that they must have faced the same kind of stigmatism.
Q. What is the chamber's mission?
A. Now that there's talk of (Hawaiian) nationhood, the chamber is very interested in being the voice of business in Hawai'i. Period. Not just for Hawaiian businesses, but doing business in Hawai'i. We can make an impact on how it's done. It has been a struggle in many ways. Native Hawaiian businesses have had obstacles put in their way. That's not to say there hasn't been very, very successful Hawaiian businesses. One of the things is it's still very difficult to do business in Hawai'i and more importantly being Hawaiian and doing business in Hawai'i. So that stirred us even more to realize that we really need to be out there, visible. We need to let our Hawaiian people, whether they're in business or not, know that we are in existence, that we are concerned.
Q. What makes it more difficult for Native Hawaiians to do business in their own land?
A. I don't think it's just business. I think it's just difficult in general. There are a lot of obstacles put in the way of being Hawaiian, whether it be the history, whether it be the colonization of our people, it's just very difficult for Hawaiians in general. We top the charts in all of the diseases. We top the chart in incarceration. We are very high up there in the lower economic strata of the state of Hawai'i. So we know that we're starting from a very low point and having to raise ourselves up. So it's a long road, whether it be funding, whether it be getting loans, whether it be getting the right locations.
Q. What do you offer chamber members?
A. The benefits are that we have monthly meetings and we try to have guest speakers to give us some insight into different areas and different issues that are facing us. Another benefit is that we hold evening meetings where we just network with people. That has been the two strongest. We are now working with getting ourselves a directory, which will identify who we are, what kind of business we do, and that should be coming out in the next couple of months. We also have a mentorship program and an internship program and those are also, not just beneficial to our members, but it brings them back into the community to do things that we think are really important.We want our membership to be active, to be vocal, to be proactive in the community, to be in the forefront.
Q. How many members do you have?
A. We have close to 150 members. It has dropped down to 100 and it has been as high as 300, 400 members.
Q. Are you affiliated with the other chambers?
A. We are a member of the Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce and we also threw our hat in to be in the Associated Chamber of Commerce. And we have representation on the board of that affiliated chamber. That's the Filipino, the Chinese, the Korean, the Hispanic, the Japanese, as well as the Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce.
Q. Do they have the same problems and concerns as you do?
A. Absolutely, because a majority of them are the minority. The Japanese Chamber, although you would think that they have a large membership, they're still struggling with membership. They still struggle with the same kind of things that we do as far as what kind of package can we give our members, how can we help them in business, what is out there that are stumbling blocks for a lot of minorities. So there are discussions on many levels that are very similar.
Q. Since you've been on the board, have you seen many changes?
A. I wouldn't say big changes, but I have seen a trend where we're trying to include more of the younger generation to sit on the board. One of the things that we believe in is that this has to be a continuum. It cannot stop with the old-timers. In business we know that we need new ideas. We know that we need to be forward thinking. By bringing in a lot of the newer energy, the new ideas, it helps us to stay in focus on what our mission is, or if our mission isn't working, it's to change it so that it does help.
Q. How does all your chamber activity influence you in your regular job, the job where you get paid?
A. It gives me a clearer focus and a want to be better at what I do because I am not only a reflection of business, I'm a reflection on Hawaiian business. It sort of make me do business in a way that's pono (proper, fair or just). A lot of people use the word pono and it's a very arbitrary word. But what it really means is that you're not just doing what is right for you, you're doing what is right for all. It's a very interesting way to run a business.
Q. Anonui Builders is a general contracting company owned by your sister?
A. It's a female-owned construction company. It has been a struggle, and I don't care what they say, construction is still a man's world. But just being in business for 10 years says a lot, that she's able to sustain, which is a beacon for other women that they can be in nontraditional professions and they can make a go of it.
Q. Each year the chamber gives out its 'O'o Award. What is the significance of the award?
A. The 'O'o Award recognizes business individuals that are Hawaiian ... and we award them a symbolic 'o'o stick. The 'o'o represents planting. It is the stick that is used for digging, for planting, and we are planting seeds. And all of these people that we recognize have been a large contributor in the community.
Q. Your one-year term started in July. Where do you hope the chamber will be when your term ends?
A. Our chamber has been a phenomena. No one looks at their reign as being their reign. At least since I've been on the board, everyone looks at it as just a succession of thought. Even though we might have a focus of some sort, it is really to push the main thing forward so we have this juggernaut. We might push this little point, but we're still trying to drive this whole juggernaut along. It's been very unique where there's no power struggles among us and there has been no ego. I don't know if I've seen that in any other organization. It's not all about me. It's about us.
Q. Do you have personal goals as far as where you want the chamber to be?
A. Oh, yes, don't get me wrong. As each president prior to me, we each had a vision of what we would like to accomplish. My accomplishment would be the directory. That's something I want to accomplish.
Q. Do you have a message for Native Hawaiians?
A. I encourage anyone to join (the chamber) or to be affiliated with it in any shape or form. If you don't want to be a member, just be interested in it. We have a Web site: nativehawaiian.cc. Just look on the Web site, check out who we are and I think we can be a really wonderful influence on business as it's done in Hawai'i.
Reach Curtis Lum at email@example.com.