The Pauahi Foundation’s Interim Executive Director, Pono Ma‘a, is excited to continue the momentum and growth at the Foundation. Learn more about him and his plans going forward with this short Q&A.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
My ‘ohana has ties to Hawai‘i Island, with my mom originally from the Keaukaha homestead and my dad’s lineage coming from Waipi‘o Valley and Kona. I was born and raised in Kāne‘ohe, graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1982 and the University of Hawai‘i in 1986. Athletics has played an important role in my development and how I approach life and work. I was fortunate to have traveled to many parts of the world during my volleyball career, which helped me realize that I wanted to return to Kamehameha and play a part in fulfilling Pauahi’s vision. Since joining the school in 1996, I’ve served in various roles, beginning with the boarding department as a dormitory advisor, transitioning into the admissions manager position at Kapālama, and eventually taking on a community role as the director of Kamehameha Schools’ Resource Centers. I’ve also served as the head coach for the Kamehameha boy’s varsity volleyball team, and have continued to be involved with coaching for 25 years. I married my college sweetheart, Lisa Strand-Ma‘a, and we have four children.
Why did you accept this position?
These are exciting times for Kamehameha Schools and the Pauahi Foundation being that we are engaging in work associated with the school’s Strategic Plan 2020 and Strategic Vision 2040. What appeals to me most, and the reason I stepped forward to lead the Foundation, is the opportunity to move the needle in educational achievement for even more Native Hawaiian learners, especially those that aren’t currently served by our campuses or programs. This is not a new concept for our school, nor is it an easy task. However, my role as interim executive director creates a unique opportunity for me to help lead this process. This requires a collective effort and a lot of collaboration. We cannot do it alone.
What do you feel you bring to the Foundation?
I bring a passion for serving people, which comes from my past experience in admissions, as well as my work with the resource centers. I’ve seen firsthand what we can do in the community, but more importantly, how much more we can do to help those we have yet to serve. My coaching and relationship building experience will be vital in bringing the team together to serve more Hawaiians.
You have been on the job for a few weeks now, what are your initial impressions about the Foundation?
The Foundation has made tremendous growth over the past few years. All due to a collective group of donors, alumni, staff and partners who have stepped forward to create positive impact within our Hawaiian community. I’m motivated to continue the momentum and look forward to seeing our progress in 5-10 years from now.
What do you see as being the main challenges for the Foundation?
The perception is that Kamehameha Schools has endless resources. However, the reality is that resources will always run out if you don’t mālama or replenish them. The Pauahi Foundation has the potential to help Kamehameha Schools go beyond the school’s campuses and programs by helping those in our communities. The challenge is getting people to understand that Kamehameha Schools and the Foundation are making a difference, but we need others to join us in order to achieve the goals set forth in the strategic plan.
What are your priorities moving forward?
My initial priority is leading the development of the Foundation’s tactical plan to align with Kamehameha Schools Strategic Plan 2020. Key areas of focus will be determining how to better position our team to fulfill our mission and strengthening our existing partnerships, as well as establishing new ones. The Foundation has a huge upside with regards to raising awareness about what we do and how we can encourage others to join our efforts to support “Native Hawaiian learners to receive post-high degrees or certificates,” which is a priority of SP 2020.
Finish the sentence. When I was little, I wanted to be…
Just like my dad! Like most young boys, I idolized my father and aspired to be just like him. He was a man of few words, and his career was dedicated to public service. It wasn’t until he passed that I truly understood the impact he had on so many people and how he was able to help them shape a better life for themselves and their loved ones. It is important that I live my life like him, and instill many of his values and beliefs in my children.
What’s your favorite stress reliever?
I can spend hours at my fire pit in my backyard reflecting on my journey and sometimes I just add logs to the fire and think about nothing at all!
What’s your favorite way to spend free time?
I’m all about family and I can’t think of anything I enjoy more than spending time at the beach, at a game or “talking story” with our kids. They help me to feel confident that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard, believe in yourself and follow your dreams!
Do you have any last thoughts?
Mahalo to all of our donors and supporters for their continued support. I look forward to working with you to move this important work forward!