Whatʻs Next for Hawaii – ʻAina Aloha Economic Futures Initiative

Hawaiʻi is particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic due to our stateʻs over-dependence on tourism as an economic driver. At all levels of government and business, we are rethinking the future. Because I have seen the value in this kind of process over the past 15 years of volunteering with the North Kohala Community Development Plan, I am truly excited by the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures initiative (AAEF) which is a similar process on a larger scale to look at the future of Hawaiʻi.

This a long post, but I want to explain why I am an enthusiastic supporter of this AAEF effort and believe it will make a difference. I hope that you will also contribute; diverse voices and high involvement will make this an actionable set of results.

Old Lahaina Luau

A chant welcomes Hawaiian Islands Land Trust fundraiser guests to Old Lahaina Luau – connecting past and present

Twelve Years of Experience with a Similar Project in North Kohala – Success is Possible

When I arrived in North Kohala in 2005, the Community Development Plan (NKCDP) process that was part of the Countyʻs General Plan update had just kicked off. It began with a year of gathering community input, out of which four key issue areas were selected. A Steering Committee was appointed and dozens of volunteers worked to research and craft specific proposals put into a report that was passed by the County Council and signed by the Mayor as a County Ordinance in 2008.

I attribute much of what continues to make Kohala such a great place to live and work to the high level of participation and buy-in generated by that process. Groups continue to implement specifics from the document a dozen years later. For example, the conservation and preservation of legacy lands that is so dear to my heart is hugely successful in Kohala thanks to the specificity of the NKCDP. Other groups continue to tackle critical issues in infrastructure, growth management, and affordable housing.

Community meeting at Mahukona

North Kohala community turns out for a 2019 meeting about the future of Mahukona Beach Park.

To Envision and Design the Future, Start with Principles

The North Kohala CDP process began with gathering of community input and deciding which issues was important. It was not until the Steering Committee was wrestling the work of individual task forces into a coherent plan that anyone questioned what the often repeated phrase “Keep Kohala, Kohala” meant. The committeeʻs chair Fern White, educator and Hawaiian cowgirl, asked whether that meant keep it as it was in 2005 – which made no sense given all the proposals being worked on. Did it mean like Kohala was pre-contact? Or plantation days? Or after the plantations closed and the economy was devastated?

The answer turned out to be that the Plan should be guided by a place-specific vision grounded in a set of values. Hence it makes sense to me that the goal of the ʻAina Aloha Economic Futures creators was to “initiate and execute a process to gather grassroots community input to develop a vision for Hawaiʻiʻs economic future that is grounded on a core set of values that embrace our unique island culture and identity.”

North Kohalaʻs plan was grounded in a vision of continuing as a rural community with a strong cultural heritage, agricultural base, and small-town feel. What values should guide how Hawaiʻi as a whole looks 20 years from now?

To read about the values and principles guiding the ʻAina Aloha Economic Futures work, look at their website here. Although the initial authors are Native Hawaiian, please scroll through the thousands of individuals and organizations that have signed on. They represent non-profit organizations and businesses and schools and farmers and ranchers and ordinary concerned residents of the State. There is a sincere desire by the organizers to be inclusive. The glue that binds diverse interests is the core set of values.

How to Contribute to the Discussion on Specific Proposals

During the week of July 13-17, 2020, online breakout sessions will discuss proposals in fourteen areas of economic activity and interest. If you cannot tune in to the live sessions, you can submit feedback via this super cool software designed to provide for “civil, organized, and efficient online dialogue.”

AAEF Breakout Sessions

From a new vision of tourism, to diversified economic development, technology, agriculture and climate change, the intent is to bring forward existing and new proposals for discussion.  The documentation from these hosted dialogues will be available in a library, so if you read this blog posts weeks or months from the time of the discussion, you can find them here. And I will continue writing about projects and initiatives that emerge from the ʻĀina Aloha Futures initiative as it goes forward.

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