FEATURED CHANGE MAKERS
Dr. Greg Asner
Greg Asner is the Director of the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, and Tempe, Arizona. He holds Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees in engineering, ecology, and biology, respectively, from the University of Colorado. Dr. Asner has lived and worked in the Hawaiian Islands since 1987, residing on the islands of Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, and Hawaiʻi. He previously worked for the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi, Stanford University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Dr. Asner and his staff combine fieldwork and community engagement, aerial and satellite-based mapping, and computer modeling to improve conservation and management options in the Hawaiian Islands and around the world. He has published more than 600 scientific articles and is one of the highest-cited ecologists in the world on tropical ecology, coral reefs, land-use change, and conservation science. Dr. Asner was a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award from President Bill Clinton in 2000. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and won the Heinz Award for Environment in 2017.
Celeste Connors has twenty years of experience working at the intersection of economic, environment, energy, and international development policy. Currently, Celeste is the CEO of Hawaiʻi Local2030 Hub. Celeste previously served as the Director for Environment and Climate Change at the National Security Council and National Economic Council in the White House where she helped shape the Administration’s climate and energy policies, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prior to joining the White House, Celeste served as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Germany. She also held positions at the U.S. Mission to the UN, served as the Climate and Energy Advisor to the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and worked for City of New York.
Celeste is a Senior Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center and was a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in the Energy, Resources and Environment Program. She holds an MSc in Development Studies from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a BA in International Relations from Tufts University. Celeste has served on numerous boards including her current service on Hawaiian Electric Industries, the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), the Institute for Sustainability and Resilience at the University of Hawaii and Icebreaker One. She previously served on the Board of America’s Service Commissions, the IUCN World Conservation Congress National Host Committee, and was a Term Member on the Council on Foreign Relations. Celeste grew up in Kailua, O‘ahu.
John De Fries
Born and raised in Waikīkī, John De Fries grew up surrounded by elders within his family who were steeped in the traditional practices of the Hawaiian culture. At the same time, Waikīkī Beach was well on its way to becoming a global visitor destination. This childhood setting embedded in him a life-long awareness and respect for the symbiotic relationships that exist between community and culture, nature and commerce.
John has over 40 years of experience in one of Hawaiʻi’s most cherished traditions that has become its largest industry – hospitality. His professional journey has taken him from leading tour groups across Hawaiʻi, to resort and real estate development, to leadership of Hawaiʻi County’s diverse economic development efforts.
John’s experience has lead him to serve the community as a thought leader in economic development, sustainable living, human rights, and embracing native intelligence. He has served as an advisor and board member to many organizations in Hawaiʻi and beyond, including the Julie Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, Bishop Museum, the Hawaiʻi Green Growth UN Local2030 Hub, Friends of the Future, the Keāhole Center for Sustainability, and Kualoa Ranch.
In recent years, John has been a part of rare gatherings in Hawaiʻi that highlight opportunities for leadership in sustainable living, human rights, and embracing native intelligence. He has engaged with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, members of the Rapid Evaluation Team from Google X, Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female prime minister of Norway, Hina Jilani, a renowned lawyer, pro-democracy campaigner, and a leading activist in Pakistan’s women’s movement, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa, Sir Sidney Moko Mead, Ph.D., who created his country’s first department of Māori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and President Thomas Remengesau of Palau, a global thought leader on the role of islands in environmental regeneration and protection.
In recognition of his leadership and vision, John was appointed President and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority in September 2020, leading Hawaiʻi’s visitor industry and community through the post-pandemic economic recovery and reinvention toward a regenerative model.
John is the first Native Hawaiian and the first neighbor island resident appointed as HTA’s President and CEO. For the past three decades, John and his wife Ginny have lived in Kona on Hawaiʻi Island.
Brandon Jirō Hayashi
Brandon is the Business Development Manager for the Pacific Islands with Terraformation, a global forestry accelerator, where he works with mission-driven experts in numerous fields as they collaboratively seek to empower the planting of one trillion native trees by 2030 to sequester carbon dioxide emissions, increase biodiversity, and restore natural ecosystem services.
Born and raised in Kāne‘ohe, on the island of O‘ahu, Brandon has spent more than 92% of his life on islands, with six of those years studying on, working in, and visiting other islands in the Pacific (Aotearoa New Zealand, Fiji), Asia (Japan, Singapore), and Europe (England, Ireland, Sicily, Sardinia).
These experiences have left indelible impressions that continue to inform his approach in life, and awakened him to the significant challenges that many islanders face stemming from climate crisis impacts, which are further compounded by food and water security issues, native ecosystem destruction, non diversified economies, high costs of living, limited educational opportunities, and overall lack of island infrastructure resilience.
Through his professional, personal, and community commitments, Brandon is focused on taking action on the climate crisis through carbon-neutral, culturally-appropriate, and cost-effective solutions.
He is a father of two sons with one being born on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, and the other on Te Ika a Māui (North Island), Aotearoa New Zealand. Their ability – and that of their descendants – to continue to thrive as islanders in this coming century is of great importance, and concern.
Robert K. Iopa
Specializing in planning, entitlements, and design, Rob Iopa has honed his craft through years of experience with several noteworthy firms, including for the past two decades with his own, WCIT Architecture. Throughout his career, Rob has led and participated in the development of projects throughout Asia, South America, the South Pacific, and all of the major Islands of Hawaiʻi.
Under Rob’s leadership and direction, WCIT Architecture has grown from a startup group into one of the largest firms in the State with an impressive international clientele. Recognized as one of the top 50 fastest-growing small businesses in the country (HOT 50) by Entrepreneur Magazine, as well as a member of the prestigious Inc5000 by Inc Magazine, WCIT Architecture’s growth has dramatically increased under his leadership. In recognition, Rob was named one of Hawaii’s brightest young leaders (40 under 40) by Pacific Business News, one of the State’s most Influential Leaders for the Next Twenty- Five Years (25 for the next 25) by Hawaiʻi Business Magazine and has been named an SBA Business Person of the Year for the City and County of Honolulu.
While tasked with multiple responsibilities both within his firm and throughout the community, creating architecture is where Rob’s passion, and still much of his attention, lies. Currently, he maintains a lead role in all of the firm’s projects and possesses extensive experience in community planning, entitlement, and design.
A native Hawaiian born and raised in Hilo, Rob continues to discover and embrace the depths and traditions of the island’s heritage. He is a respected advocate and creative interpreter of culture, most notably that of the host Hawaiian culture, but also that of the diverse ethnicities of Hawaiʻi. Through this appreciation and passion for culture and a keen understanding of the nuances of local sensibilities, Rob has developed into one of the most sought-after designers in the islands and one of the leading and most successful planning and entitlement professionals in Hawaiʻi. Through this skill set, Rob demonstrates a unique ability to plan, design, and implement sophisticated and complex development proposals and sustainable strategies – proposals and strategies that strive to create uniquely special places and environments that are rooted in the Hawaiian way of life.
Dr. Katie L. Kamelamela
Born and raised on Oahu, Dr. Kamelamela graduated from the University of Hawai’i Botany Department with a vision of "Hawai’i practices on Hawai’i landscapes". Currently the manager for the first Community Based Subsistence Forest Area project in a State Forest Reserve, Dr. Kamelamela is passionate about the relationships people cultivate with Hawaii’s forests. She helps communities, governing agencies, and nonprofits clarify their vision to develop a strategy to achieve long-term practice-based dreams through partnerships, in preparation for changing climate.
Local climate action first starts with our relationship with ourselves and our landscapes. With diverse climate and soil types across the islands, Katie brings together place and practice-based community needs with policy. Her intent is to support understanding and management of forest-gathered resources for cultural and economic value to empower cultivators, managers, and consumers.
Dr. Cliff Kapono is a professional surfer, chemist and journalist. Born on the eastern shores of Hawai‘i, his life involves equal parts science as it does surf. While contributing several peer-reviewed publications to the fields of molecular bioscience, he has also produced a handful award-winning films that discuss indigenous activism, ocean conservation, global food security and virtual reality. He has been profiled in publications such as The New York Times, NBC, CBS, Surfer Magazine, and more. Cliff is currently based in Hilo, Hawai‘i and can be found tinkering in the lab when not chasing the best waves on the planet.
Kekuhi is an educator who has trained in the tradition of Hula ʻAihaʻa & Hula Pele, chant & ritual for 35 years under Hālau O Kekuhi, named for her grandmother, Edith Kekuhi Kanakaʻole. She was ritually elevated to the status of Kumu Hula (hula master) of Hālau o Kekuhi by her mother, Kumu Hula Pualani Kanahele and her Aunt Kumu Hula Nalani Kanakaole. Her Masterʻs degree is in Professional Development and Education.
Between 1991 and 2014, Kekuhi has co-produced some of Hālau O Kekuhi’s most significant contributions to oral and ritual arts stage performances, namely, Holo Mai Pele, Kamehameha Paiʻea, Kilohi Nā Akua Wahine, Hānau Ka Moku, Wahinepōʻaimoku, Ka Hana Kapa, and CD resources Uwolani, Puka Kamaʻehu and Hiʻiakaikapoliopele.
Kekuhi served as Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Hawaiʻi Life Styles program and was a primary force in designing the Hawaiʻi Life Styles degree program and student support center as well as the two-year A.A. degree programs in Hula, Fishing, and Farming at Hawaiʻi Community Colleges. These degrees later morphed and turned into the current A.A. in Hawaiʻi Life Styles with emphasis in these areas. For the past 21 years Kekuhi has been instrumental in writing for and managing 10 Federal grants that help fund the collegeʻs first degrees in native occupation and the very first Hawaiʻi protocols program of any UH system college.
From 2001-2015, Kekuhi served as the Edith Kanakaʻoleʻs Executive Director and continuess to volunteer for leadership, support, and reserach roles in the Foundationʻs many projects.
In an effort to broaden her service, Kekuhi left the University of Hawaiʻi to develop Ulu Ka ʻŌhiʻa-Hula Consciousness Seminar. Ulu Ka ʻŌhiʻa is now in itʻs fifth year with a little over 150 students from all parts of Japan. In 2016, Hālau ʻŌhiʻa-Hawaiʻi Stewardship Training was created by Kekuhi to teach basic Hawaiʻi practices that connect land and ocean stewards in Hawaiʻi more intimately to the places that they steward. Hālau ʻŌhiʻa has two cohorts on Hawaiʻi Island and two cohorts on Oʻahu with a 5th cohort beginning in Maui in January 2020. Hālau ʻŌhiʻa serves over 120 professionals in conservation, natural resources, education, cultural resources, and marine resources from over 60 different state, federal, private and non-profit organizations.
Kekuhi & her husband Tangaro offer an annual Kū E Ke Olioli: Chanting for Wellbeing Series. She has developed The Charm of Mele, an online course that teaches the mechanics and poetry of mele. She is currently developing an online chant course, OLI HONUA, to support learners worldwide.
One of Kekuhiʻs passionʻs is strengthening the relationship between Hawaiʻi ecological wisdom and scientific wisdom. Kekuhi served as the Senior Scholar at The Kohala Center for 20 years. She has the honor of working with some of Hawaiʻiʻs most passionate committed conservation and restoration organizations, individuals, and initiatives, one of them being the Kā Mauli Hou- the statewide Hawaiʻi Conservation and Restoration Initiative, the USDA Forest Service, Kekuhi continues to facilitate ways of improving how Hawaiʻi consciousness and science & technology consciousness can work in harmony for the wellbeing of Hawaiʻi. Kekuhiʻs most important message in this effort is: "I Ola ʻOe, I Ola Mākou Nei"~my life is dependent on you and your life is dependent on me.
In addition to hula, chant, & Hawaiʻi-ecology, Kekuhiʻs love affair with music as a way to heighten and expand vibrations of wellbeing in the world, inspired a singing career. As co-creators, Kekuhi & husband Tangaro gave birth to 3-CDs, "Hahani Mai" (Punahele Productions), and "Kekuhi", and "Honey Boy" (MountainApple Company). She was honored with a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award as Female Vocalist of the Year in 1999, and has performed on numerous concert stages over the past 20 years. Kekuhi spends part of her music career with her daughter Kaumakaiwa Kealiikanakaole and artist & producer Shawn Kekoa Pimental. They released the single Moloka'i Jam in 2013. Kekuhi has recently released the 21st Anniversary Edition of Hahani Mai and an all new Hahani Mai: Reimagined on June 21, 2018.
Mahina Paishon-Duarte is co-founder and chief executive officer of Waiwai Collective, a regenerative urban oasis, a kīpuka, for creatively growing community, culture, and commerce. As a social entrepreneur who has also led several educational and cultural organizations, her vision and mission are one and the same––to catalyze positive, lasting change for Hawaiʻi in one generation.
Most notably, Mahina is the founding executive director of Paepae o Heʻeia, the first modern Hawaiian fishpond that created ground-breaking ʻāina-based education programming for students from preschool through post-doctoral levels. She gained public sector experience as a policy program manager with NOAAs Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, as well as head of school for both Hālau Kū Māna and Kanu o ka ʻĀina public charter schools. Additionally, Mahina is deeply committed to honing her cultural practice and does so at various traditional schools and wahi pana including Nā Kālai Waʻa, Hālau o ke ʻAʻaliʻi Kū Makani and at Heʻeia fishpond.
Mahina holds degrees from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, and Hawaiʻi Pacific University; and serves on a number of not for profit boards in the areas of education, living culture and arts, and economic development. She is also a co-author of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration, taking action to bring to life a resilient economy through the core value of ʻāina aloha—a deep and abiding love for Hawaiʻi’s communities and natural environments.
Yishan Wong founded Terraformation with a vision to bring Silicon Valley’s expertise in rapid growth to the climate movement.
He recently completed construction of the world’s largest fully off-grid, 100% solar-powered desalination system to alleviate water shortages that slow arid ecosystem restoration. This technology relieves a key bottleneck that has hindered mass reforestation as a climate solution.
Yishan previously served as CEO of Reddit and Director of Engineering at Facebook, and was an early engineer at PayPal. He lives in Waimea with his family and dogs.