Abstract: The Case of Ho'okua'aina: Implementing Culturally-Grounded Philanthropy to Support Indigenous Place-Based Development (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Case of Ho'okua'aina: Implementing Culturally-Grounded Philanthropy to Support Indigenous Place-Based Development

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Susan Nakaoka, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, CA
Paula Morelli, PhD, Director of Hawai‘i Programs, Consuelo Foundation, Honolulu, HI
Michele Wilhelm, MA, Executive Director, Ho‘okua‘aina, Kailua, HI
Background and Purpose: This case study examines the innovative philanthropic strategies utilized to propel a culturally-grounded, place-based organization in Hawai‘i. The Consuelo Foundation (Consuelo) focuses their grant-making on the prevention of child abuse and the overall well-being of at-risk children and families. One of their grantees, Ho'okua'aina, experienced exponential growth during their initial 5-year partnership. This project examined the growth of this organization and the impact of a unique, culturally-grounded approach to philanthropy.

Native Hawaiians experience disparities in education, health, income and other markers of well-being. Historical and cultural trauma are at the root of many of these disparities. Place-based, or more accurately ʻāina-based programs have a unique ability to incorporate culture, food, land and environmental justice issues while impacting health and overall community well-being.

Recognizing this, the Consuelo embarked on an initiative to support culturally-grounded, ʻāina-based organizations. Identifying a small, family-run farm as a promising practice, Consuelo provided seed funding for the organization to catapult itself to a full-fledged non-profit organization. In five years, the program went from serving 500 to over 4,000 individuals per year in its community-building and juvenile justice programs. Impressively, the farm has gone from 9 kalo (taro) patches to 21, expanding their ability to feed the community and restore Indigenous practices. Their operating budget went from $5,000 to $640,000 during this short period.

This paper analyzes the intersection of philanthropy, Indigenous culture, youth development, health and environmentalism through an in-depth view of Hoʻokuaʻāina and Consuelo. Critical Indigenous Pedagogies of Place (CIPP), which centers the importance of place for Indigenous communities, guides the analysis.

Methods: This case study utilizes grounded theory methods to analyze data collected from interviews, documentation and artifacts. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 15 individuals who represent key leadership, volunteers and staff. Field notes from program observation and a review of historical reports and documents provide context for data analysis. A documentary which was created alongside the case study, which also provided additional data.

Findings: Hoʻokuaʻāina has evolved as a respected newcomer to the larger Aloha ʻĀina-based movement in Hawai‘i. The main strategies that are central to their success are: strong adherence to mission, inspirational leadership, connection to the larger movement, focus on growth of people (staff and program participants) and an intersectional approach (focus on culture, environment, health and social ties). Consuelo’s support of the organization embodied elements of trust-based philanthropy: responsiveness, transparency and person-centered relationships; multi-year unrestricted funding, simplified reporting and community-building. Positive and meaningful relationships with seed funders were found to be crucial to the establishment of innovative approaches to community development.

Conclusions and Implications: Hawai‘i provides an important case study in the fight for racial and economic inequality. The findings suggest that policy-makers and funders should consider support of culture and ʻāina-based programs to address issues ranging from food, climate and economic justice, and overall health and well-being. Philanthropy should look to Indigenous models, to find vibrant examples of strong partnerships with organizations fueled by the values and beliefs of social justice and racial and economic equity.