The Future is Bright

The 17th cohort of Pacific Century Fellows graduated on Oct. 27, 2022 at the Prince Waikīkī Hotel, with dignitaries in attendance, including founder Mufi Hannemann, Gov. Josh Green and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

The Pacific Century Fellows program has long been a developer of up-and-coming business leaders in the islands. Applications for this year’s class of Fellows are being accepted through June 10.

After hitting the pause button due to the pandemic, the Pacific Century Fellows program is back and accepting applications for its 18th class. Overseen by a charitable organization called the Fund for the Pacific Century, the program is designed to recognize and encourage Hawai‘i’s future leaders, according to the fund’s board chairperson Mufi Hannemann.

Wilson Unga

The application deadline is June 10. PCF application and program information is available at pacificcenturyfellows.com. The next class will be selected on Aug. 12 and the opening retreat that kicks off the 2023-24 program will be held in October.

“It’s become one of the most meaningful initiatives that I’ve ever done in my life, because I see the good that it produces with motivating people who come into the program, and then they go on and beyond and do great things,” explains Hannemann.

The most recent graduating class had 35 fellows. Because of shutdowns and inability to meet in-person until recently because of the pandemic, the graduates have been the longest-tenured class yet. Hannemann says that they were selected in August 2019 and graduated in October 2022.

Emi Au

Among those graduates are Wilson Unga, City & County of Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney; Emi Au, senior vice president and director of consumer banking strategy at American Savings Bank; Dane Wicker, deputy director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and Cayenne Pe‘a, principal and co-founder at Alaka‘i Development. They all have personal stories to share about what participating in PCF means to them.

According to Unga, “My greatest takeaway from the PCF program is that Hawai‘i is in need of collaborative leadership in order to overcome the dynamic challenges ahead. My PCF cohort consists of amazing young leaders from a variety of industries and professions.”

He also recalls one particular aspect of the program that influenced him greatly.

Dane Wicker

“The most memorable activity was our trip to Hawai‘i Island where we were privileged to experience the beauty and majesty of Waipi‘o Valley,” shares Unga. “We met with a kalo farmer who spoke of the importance of reviving the agricultural customs and practices unique to Hawai‘i, maintaining the balance of the ecosystem for future generations, and creating opportunities for kalo farmers to educate locals and tourists alike about kalo farming and its relevance to sustainable living.

“We also had a memorable energy, environment and sustainability activity, which included visiting with the Board of Water Supply at the Honouliuli Water Recycling Facility and then touring the Red Hill fuel tanks. At that Jan. 20, 2020 activity, BWS presented on the imminent danger of Red Hill fuel tanks well before the Red Hill crisis,” he adds.

Fellow PCF class member Au says she applied to be a fellow “to meet other leaders in industries outside of banking in the state of Hawai‘i that are passionate about impacting and driving change.”

Cayenne Pe‘a

She adds, “I was also drawn to this program as it exposes leaders to critical issues that are shaping the landscape of Hawai‘i.”

One part of the PCF program that had a major impact on her was a visit to Hālawa Correctional Facility.

“At the time, I was serving on the Board of the YWCA O‘ahu, and we were fighting for the doors of Fernhurst —the transitional housing program and the only women’s furlough program in the state, — to stay open,” she recalls. “By visiting the correctional facility, and getting a chance to speak to the late prison chief Nolan Espinda, I realized how important it is for transitional housing programs to exist to ensure the recidivism rates are reduced.”

PCF participant Wicker explains that he applied to become a Pacific Century Fellow because he was looking for courses, programs and organizations that provide professional development and network building.

“You hear the phrase ‘Think global, act local.’

PCF brings together a group of mixed backgrounds into an environment where we must learn to interact and come together and listen to different perspectives,” he says. “Interacting, listening to your cohort fellows helps shape how change can be made.”

Pacific Century Fellow Jenny Lemaota, senior vice president of O‘ahu Transit Services, leads a discussion on public transportation with her cohort members.

Meanwhile, Pe‘a shares that the very first lesson she learned from PCF was perseverance.

“I will humbly admit that I did not get accepted into the program on the first try. I never gave it a second thought after that but was encouraged by one of my PCF classmates to apply again for the next class. And so with a little encouragement, I applied again and was accepted,” she says. “When I look back on what the program has given me in terms of exposure, perspective and friendships, I cannot believe there was a time when I was willing to walk away from all of that. In life and business, when so much is about timing, I am glad that I didn’t let the first setback stop me.”

Summing up her thoughts, Pe‘a emphasizes that the program gave her such a rich experience as Hawai‘i was dealing with so many issues from the Thirty Meter Telescope to COVID and even the Red Hill fuel tanks.

During their retreat on Hawai’i Island, the fellows had the opportunity to tour Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

“We got a front-row seat to speak with individuals who were involved firsthand and were given the opportunity to dive deeper into these issues than we ever would otherwise. I have made friendships through this program that will last a lifetime and hope to continue to work together with my other Fellows for the betterment of our community, ” Pe‘ a concludes.

For Hannemann, PCF has always been near and dear to his heart. This is due in part to the program being modeled after the White House Fellows program.

Hannemann was a White House Fellow in 1983-84 and assigned to the office of then-United States Vice President George H.W. Bush.

In explaining White House Fellows, Hannemann says it’s about attracting young Americans to come to Washington, D.C., see how government operates, and at the same time meet some of the best and brightest young minds in the country.

“I had such a marvelous experience,” recalls Hannemann. “I came back to Hawai‘i and I said, ‘Gee, I’d like to replicate that kind of program that would allow the young emerging leaders of Hawai‘i to meet regularly on a monthly basis, convening about the issues of the day — be focused not so much on what the problems are, but talk about solutions.’”

He also intentionally wanted the local program to include the word “Pacific,” because “it’s also about Hawai‘i’s special role and prominence in this Pacific region.”

In addition, Hannemann wanted the class of fellows to bond together.

“The friendships will extend beyond that year itself and they will develop networks of alliance that cut across the board,” he says.

Hannemann emphasizes that the Fellows come from all over the Hawaiian Islands, and from all professions, including government, business, nonprofits, education, media, health sciences, military and more. A 16-member committee of prominent citizens will select about 30 of the state’s most promising individuals from all segments of the community who are in their mid-20s to early 40s to be fellows. Individual companies may sponsor candidates for the program. The program fee is $6,000, which covers expenses. Employers are encouraged to pay employee program costs, but tuition assistance is available.

After the Fellows are selected, their cohort starts with an opening retreat focused on a discussion of thought-provoking issues in the community.

“Then, they plan out the year — what you would like to meet about once a month, it could be on education, Native Hawaiian issues, the environment, economic development, energy, homelessness,” says Hannemann.

During their time as Fellows, participants take part in visits to places such as government and business facilities. They have even toured prisons and have gone on police ride-alongs. Fellows also go to at least one neighbor island that they select as a group. They spend two or three days there to get deeply immersed in the topics of that island.

“At the end of the year, we bring them all together. We have a graduation ceremony, we recap the year through a video, and then we encourage them to stick together as a class and continue to be solutions-oriented. And then we have alumni gatherings,” Hannemann says.

A Pacific Century Fellows “mixer” tradition has also started, where alumni of the program are encouraged to attend and bring a prospective candidate they would like to see apply to be a Fellow.

Hannemann notes that PCF has grown to have a major impact on its numerous class members.

“What this program does is really encourage them to share their wealth of knowledge, their resources, their assets with others to give back to the community, to make Hawai‘i a better place to live, work and raise our families,” he emphasizes.

The Pacific Century Fellows application and program information is available at pacificcenturyfellows.com.