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After Data and Despair, What’s it Going to Take?

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

Live television is known for surprises – and we certainly experienced stunning moments during the very first of our What’s it Going to Take? forums.


What we learned is that key data – compiled by Hawai‘i Community Foundation in its CHANGE Framework and emblazoned across the PBS Hawaiʻi screen – struck a very deep chord in many viewers. They viscerally reacted, seeing that their longtime personal silent struggle with Hawaiʻi’s affordability had officially crossed the line into a state crisis.

As emotional calls jammed our phone bank during the live telecast, staff members heard crying, yelling and swearing. Never before, in our decades of live television programming, had we heard this level of sustained viewer pain and angst.

The statistics seemed to crystallize for many Hawai‘i residents that they just can’t count on things getting better, especially in the area of affordable housing.

One of the sobbing viewers, who works as an administrative assistant, said she had just realized that “I’ve been the frog in the pot for 30 years, trying to maintain my life, as the water heated up. Now the water’s boiling and nobody in charge did anything for us frogs.”

Besides the stark data, that first live What’s it Going to Take? forum featured a remarkable gathering of top Hawai‘i business leaders from the Hawai‘i Executive Conference. Chair and business magnate Duane Kurisu brought them together to outline what execs have committed to do – step in, analyze and attack entrenched, complex issues. They plan to work collaboratively with government, unions and communities.


“…If we work side by
side, we’ll find a lot of our
answers a lot easier.”

Jack Wong
CEO, Kamehameha Schools


Left riser, from left: Colbert Matsumoto, Chairman, Tradewind Capital Group; Leslie Wilcox; Robert Nobriga, President, Island Holdings; Bob Harrison, Chairman and CEO, First Hawaiian Bank Center riser, from left: Micah Kāne, CEO and President, Hawai‘i Community Foundation; Duane Kurisu, aio Founder, Hawai‘i Executive Conference Chairman; Catherine Ngo, President and CEO, Central Pacific Bank; Jack Wong, CEO, Kamehameha Schools Right riser, from left: Ann Botticelli, Senior Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs, Hawaiian Airlines; Rich Wacker, President and CEO, American Savings Bank; Elliott Mills, Vice President and General Manager, Aulani, Disney Resort and Spa


I’m impressed that these executives appeared before the live cameras for two hours without the safety of scripts, canned speeches or handy public relations officers. In past years, this initiative of resolve from leaders with resources and influence might have been a rallying cry.

But seeing those deteriorating quality-of-life numbers had catalyzed residents’ already growing feelings of despair.

Callers weren’t much interested in talk about future relief. They asked urgently for bold measures NOW. This as the CEOs, familiar in business with complex issues and long-term planning, were training their efforts on serious, messy problems and medium and long-term solutions – not “band-aid fixes.”

It was a disconnect.

I believe that over the course of the forum, struggling citizens and earnest senior executives reached across the gulf that separated them and were hearing each other.

“I got a little hot under the collar but now I want to thank the business leaders for stepping up. Nobody’s making them do it,” a caller from West Oʻahu said.

“We are not okay with the status quo,” said Jack Wong, CEO of the Kamehameha Schools. “…If we work side by side, we’ll find a lot of our answers a lot easier.”

Said Micah Kāne, who heads the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation: “There needs to be a civic movement around this.”

This executive forum is available online on demand at www.pbshawaii.org/wigttforum

The quality of life data is available at www.changeforhawaii.org

So far, we’ve held the exec forum and three community-based forums. Our What’s it Going to Take? discussions continue next year, seeking needed change.

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