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Fellows Spotlight
Women Fellows on Leadership
May 25, 2021

Top row (L to R): Donalyn Dela Cruz, Pualani Enos, Mālia Kaʻaihue, Leila Kagawa, Nalani Kaina, Ka’iu Kimura, Aki Marceau; Bottom row (L to R): Kapā Oliveira, Emily Porter, Chris Sakuda, Stephanie Shipton, Rachel Solemsaas, Karen Tan, Stephany Violet

Our 63 women Fellows are a diverse group of individuals from various industries, cultures, and communities across Hawai‘i. One thing they have in common is their courageous leadership.

We asked 14 women from each of our eight cohorts a few questions about leadership, lessons they’ve learned, other women who have inspired them, and advice they’d impart to future leaders. Here’s what they had to say.

Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.



Donalyn Dela Cruz, Cohort I

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader listens, builds a strong team, and leads by example. Good management requires listening as well as setting high expectations.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

It’s important to speak up to provide perspectives that may be overlooked.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

Kathryn Matayoshi, former Hawai‘i State Schools Superintendent. She is brilliant and great at building relationships.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Relationships matter—not just to help navigate various issues, but also to lean on for gaining other views.


Pualani Enos , Cohort IV

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader is someone who uses their influence, knowledge, and experience to inspire, lift, and connect with others to make things better and who helps increase the voice and agency of those who currently get the short end of the stick. Traits include humility, curiosity, having an open-mind and a big heart, listening to a greater source, and taking care of themselves and managing their own character flaws before pointing out those of others.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

As an indigenous woman, raised and educated in the western worldview away from Hawai‘i and now living in our ancestral lands, I have come to learn firsthand the devastating impact of a native people’s history being rewritten by those who colonized, exploited, and systematically diminished connection to language, land, natural resources, and each other for political and economic benefit. Working for social change is a complex and meaningful vocation requiring clarity, connection, embrace of diverse perspectives, grit, growth mindset, and courage beyond measure to confront power and privilege—especially oneʻs own.

I am grateful for the realization that knowledge can only be transformed into wisdom by our choices of how we care for, share, and contribute to the whole. I choose to live in our resiliency and commit myself to resurrecting our Hawaiian sensibilities of the Aloha Spirit to undo, redo, and renew our place and people for the future. It is my responsibility to make the world better than I found it. I hope that leading through action, following my sources (Na Akua, Na Aumakua, Na Ali‘i, kūpuna, Na mākua, and Ka lehulehu), listening to my na‘au, and trying to find balance and unity, I can support and participate in transformative and systematic change so everyone thrives.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

Auntie Nanifay Paglinawan. She has been my mentor since coming to Hawai‘i. Her focus has always been on gratitude, self-improvement, doing the best with what we have, and healing trauma. She generously shares her heart, mind, na‘au, her diverse sources of knowledge, and time with so many. From my work with her, I have come up with my own mantra in leadership groups to avoid group think and systemic “stuckness”: “You be you and I’ll be me and together—or apart—we can do better for a better future.”

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

DON’T ever try to go it alone. Surround yourself with people who embrace you for you, celebrate your successes, get you up and moving again when you fall, and whose character and spirit you admire. The company you keep will dictate your mindset, emotional status, and ultimately, your performance and impact.


Mālia Ka‘aihue – Cohort V

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Grow your roots first, then stretch your wings.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

Queen Emma

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

You are already a leader; now it’s time to amplify your voice.


Leila Kagawa, Cohort II

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader is someone who listens intently to what is needed and continually learns and adjusts to situations and circumstances to make the best decisions possible. A strong leader endeavors to help colleagues and team members strive to meet their goals and provides a path to pursue their passions.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Approaching every challenge or new situation from a learning perspective has been extremely valuable to be able to address it with the best approach and resolution.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

My mom did not have many opportunities to further her education while she grew up in Tahiti, French Polynesia. While she only completed school through 8th grade, she taught herself to be a seamstress, ran her own child care service in her home, and later worked as a food service worker for various companies. She was always a very dedicated and hard worker and often felt as though she didn’t have a strong voice and couldn’t advocate for herself to advance. She inspired me to always speak up and stand for what I believed in and wanted to pursue.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Listen and learn in every opportunity you are given. Accumulate those learnings to provide a thoughtful and honest response in any situation, difficult conversation, or decision.


Nalani Kaina, Cohort V

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader is humble and lifts others while still having vision and being able to implement necessary strategies to achieve that vision.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Learning to be forgiving, compassionate, and patient with others and with ourselves. People are trying to do their best, but when mistakes are made, allowing space for forgiveness, compassion, and patience can help people grow.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

My mom. She showed me that you can be a leader, a strong and fierce advocate, and also have a family.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Be authentic and show vulnerability. Leaders have to lead, but showing that they can feel grief, despair, and fear is humanizing. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught me, it’s that people want their leaders to feel and to be real.


Ka‘iu Kimura, Cohort I

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader is grounded and focused on a vision and purpose that is larger than themself.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Stay inquisitive!

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Don’t focus on becoming a leader—do good work, build good relations, and make things happen. In doing so, you will assume leadership kuleana!


Aki Marceau, Cohort VI

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

I think strong leaders have a vision, show empathy, listen, understand the big picture, build excellent teams, and make difficult decisions quickly and decisively.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Marty Linsky (co-founder of Adaptive Leadership) talks about how a lot of leadership is being able to deliver change at a rate that the people who helped you can absorb. In other words, a leader has to make the difficult decisions which will likely not please everyone, even those who got them to where they are.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

Obviously, my mother. She’s an incredible woman—5’2” and less than 100 pounds, but the most talented person I know. She is a teacher and a potter, and I watched her create containers with a particular eye towards excellence, both in the classroom and on the table.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

I don’t think I’m qualified to give leadership advice, but if I had to, it would be to listen, speak up, know when to ask for help, and build relationships with people outside of and in your field.


Kapā Oliveira, Cohort VI

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

I think a strong leader is able to make difficult decisions after taking multiple perspectives and information sets into consideration. A strong leader is motivational, supportive, and team oriented. They listen to others and aim to make the organization stronger through collaboration, innovation, and creativity.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

A key leadership lesson that I’ve learned is that if people feel like I listened to them before I made a decision, they are more likely to support my final decision even if it is not the outcome they had hoped for.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop has had a major impact on my life, even years after her passing. Her vision and desire to invest in generations to come is a gift that keeps on giving. I want to emulate her and create a lasting legacy for future generations.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Start with beginner’s and abundance mindsets. Continually grow and learn. Give back to others generously.


Emily Porter, Cohort VIII

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader has steadfast values, sincere concern for others and the community, clear strategy and vision (and the ability to communicate them), and the ability to build strong teams.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Don’t sell yourself short, always do your best, and do more than your job requires. This can help you to expand your impact and influence in the organization over time and lead to job promotions.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

 I’ll share three things that have had an influence on me. From a next-door neighbor growing up: “Don’t marry until you’ve made a living on your own so that you will always know that you can stand on your own two feet.” From my great aunt: “Always do your best so more doors will be open to you in the future.” From a past boss’ mother: “You’ll know your children for more years with them as adults than with them as children. Don’t feel guilty about being a working mother. When your children are older, your work experience will be so relevant to them, and they’ll be so proud of you.”


Chris Sakuda, Cohort VII

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader possesses empathy, tenacity, energy, bravery, and honesty.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Taking care of myself enables me to better take care of others.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

My mother, Jennifer Maii, who stressed the importance of a “blood, sweat, and tears” education and of never giving up.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

When the heart flutters, take a deep breath and believe… that you got this!


Stephanie Shipton, Cohort VI

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

Being a strong leader means creating space and opportunity for others to thrive. It means leading with compassion and an orientation to collective action and impact. It means grounding in the history and diverse voices of a place and being aware of the space and responsibility you hold to the past, present, and future. Finally, it means knowing yourself, standing humbly tall in who you are.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

The boundless possibility of a powerful question and the importance of waiting for the moment.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

My mom. For a large part of my life, the fear and stigma associated with her mental illness defined my relationship to her and my relationship with myself. Letting go of this fear has transformed my relationship with her and liberated parts of my leadership that I did not know I was holding back.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Don’t aim to become a leader; aim to live out the ways of being that will create conditions for yourself and others to thrive. Know what fuels you and why.


Rachel Solemsaas, Cohort VII

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A leader is clear with their conviction and purpose of service, adaptable, and resilient. They believe in accountability with empathy, compassion, and kindness.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

To trust my capacity to do the right thing and to know that adversity does not discriminate.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

My tutu, Mama Luz. Despite all odds, she was the first in our family to get a degree.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Lean in but know your island. There will be plenty of boats that will get you there.


Karen Tan, Cohort VI

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader is someone who works well with the team while creating energy and excitement, so others want to follow. A strong leader is compassionate, caring, a good communicator, thoughtful, and collaborative.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

It is ok to be vulnerable and show your true self, even if it means that others see you make mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but it is how we respond to the mistakes that shows the kind of leader we are.

Tell us about one woman who has made a big impact on your life.

One of my very first supervisors, Ha‘aheo Mansfield, had a huge impact on my life. She taught me to listen first, seek to understand, and respond with grace and compassion.

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Be humble. Learn from others who have paved the way before us. Consider your favorite leaders and discover what made them your favorite and replicate! Leadership is a lifelong journey.


Stephany Vaioleti, Cohort III

What does being a strong leader mean to you? What are traits that you think strong leaders possess?

A strong leader has the courage to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. They are joyful, have empathy, can admit when they’re wrong.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned during your career?

I can be fierce and kind all at the same time!

What advice would you give someone aiming to become a leader?

Find a mentor ASAP to bounce ideas off of, confide in, and to provide honest feedback.