Recipe for Social Change

EIR program teams young entrepreneurs with business world mentors

Department: Service Learning

By Diane Pizarro

A handful of sustainability-conscious teens canvassed Manoa Marketplace one summer afternoon, armed with literature and intent on their mission to sign up as many restaurants as possible to their earth-friendly cause.

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Founding members of Leaving Earth a Future (LEAF) are Kristin Ige ’12 and Whitney Sia ’13, posing with mentor and EIR program co-founder Gregory Kim ’75.

Leaving Earth a Future (LEAF) is a Punahou student-driven project with the purpose to encourage sustainable practices in restaurants. The students promise to promote the LEAF-certified businesses in exchange for a signed contract committing to recycling; abandoning the use of Styrofoam; and creating an awareness program for patrons and employees on their green practices.

"The idea was to help restaurants become more sustainable," said Kristin '12, one of the founding members and designer of the group's logo, which she describes as "a leaf in nature coming together with our world to sustain the world."

New member Jeffery '12 said he became interested when he learned LEAF would target the restaurant industry. "I knew that restaurants had the environmental impact equal to hundreds, if not thousands of people, just because they served that number of people in a single day. If an organization such as LEAF could make an environmentally friendly change in the restaurant industry, then that change would be so much bigger than anything we could have accomplished in our own individual lives."

LEAF is just one project emerging from the fledgling Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) program out of the Luke Center for Public Service. Coordinated by Cathy Kawano-Ching, Luke Center faculty liaison, the EIR program seeks to pair student entrepreneurs and faculty with a select group of volunteer mentors from Hawai'i's business and nonprofit world who help implement projects, particularly those involving social causes and community service.

The concept is simple. Students come independently to Luke Center with their ideas; Kawano-Ching matches them with EIR mentors whose expertise best suits the idea; they brainstorm; and with a gentle nudge and perhaps an infusion of resources from the volunteer mentors, the project takes off. "We've got people who are proven change agents in our community, people who care about and have devoted much of their lives to social entrepreneurship in one form or another and they just make things happen," said Kawano-Ching of the EIRs. She hopes the program will inspire the Punahou community to think creatively, take measured risks and apply skills toward creating solutions to real-life needs.

The EIR program came about as part of Punahou's efforts to sustain and grow its social entrepreneurship initiative in the curriculum and through the Luke Center for Public Service. Meanwhile, local lawyer Gregory Kim '75 was interested in creating an entrepreneurial mentoring program with Luke Center. Kawano-Ching set up a series of meetings and the group was formed.

Just a year into the ambitious program, students have initiated several impressive projects, including LEAF and:

Local KINE (Kids In New Enterprises) Film Festival: A collaboration between three 10th-grade students, a sixth-grade student and community resources to organize a student film festival that would encourage creative expression in youth through filmmaking while raising awareness on important social issues. The '09 film festival theme was "What Sustains You?"

DoBands Hawai'i: A project launched by 10thgraders to encourage the Punahou community to perform random acts of kindness. Once the deed is completed, the person "pays it forward" by passing on a commitment wrist band to the next person, who will also make a commitment, fulfill it and pass on the band.

Let's ROCK! Recognizing Our Community's Kupuna (ROCK) was started by ninth-grade students who want to improve the quality of life for Hawai'i's elders in care homes. Let's ROCK brings Punahou student musicians, singers, magicians and other performers to care homes to entertain and interact with elders.

EIR co-founder Kim believes the experience of working on these social entrepreneurship projects teaches students a valuable concept they don't always learn in the classroom: trial and error. Traditionally, "In school, you're taught not to make errors, but in the real world, to make big impacts, you have to be willing to make mistakes," Kim said. "You have to have the will to succeed and the willingness to fail." Punahou encourages these lessons, as evidenced by its support of the EIR program.

Kawano-Ching sees further value in taking the academic exercise out of the classroom. "We frequently create projects as part of class assignments, and we practice speaking skills on each other in classroom presentations, and these activities all have great value. But when our students address a real-life concern by collaborating with community members who care about and believe in their ideas, the experience has a huge impact on our children."

Of the LEAF project, Kawano-Ching said the students determined the certification criteria and wrote the applications with guidance from Kim; faculty mentor and eighth-grade teacher Jennifer Hong '92; and mentor Dave Kozuki from People Bridge. LEAF co-founder Kristin said she learned that for some businesses, it's not enough to be sustainable; there has to be a direct benefit, such as getting their business promoted. "Also, I didn't know that you had to be so exact on a lot of things," Kristin said. "We actually had to think out everything from the restaurants' perspective to see if this is doable, and how willing they are going to be to do this and how much it's going to cost."

“I knew that restaurants had the environmental impact equal to hundreds, if not thousands of people, just because they served that number of people in a single day.” Jeffery Li ’12

When it came time to make their pitch to restaurants, students did the talking. During the Manoa Marketplace outing, Jeffery and his teammate, Devon '12, explained how LEAF certification could help publicize one trendy establishment. Within minutes, the pair walked out holding a signed contract from Red Ginger Café - the second vendor to commit. The first LEAF commitment came from town restaurant, owned by Ed Kenney '86, through the efforts of Whitney '13. Both restaurants committed on the spot.

"The talk we had with Red Ginger was a crucial stepping stone in moving LEAF forward," said Jeffery. "It gave us a boost that we needed and proved to ourselves that it would be possible to get restaurants to sign on. It made me want to get to the next restaurant quickly so that we could continue our success."

These lessons can only come when students follow their passions, believe they can make a difference, take ownership of an idea, and witness their actions producing results that impact real-world problems.

The Entrepreneurs-in-Residence

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The Luke Center for Public Service’s volunteer Entrepreneurs-in-Residence are, from left: James Koshiba ’91, Kim Bortfeld ’95 Bassford, Josh Levinson ’94, Laurie Callies, Gregory Kim’75, M. Sharon Webb and Lisa Uesugi.

Kim Bortfeld '95 Bassford is an award-winning filmmaker, whose most recent project, "Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority" (2008), won the Audience Award for Favorite Documentary at the Hawai'i International Film Festival and aired nationally on PBS. She owns Making Waves Films LLC, a documentary production company whose mission is to produce social issue, cultural, historical and environmental documentaries.

Gregory Kim '75 is a partner at Virtual Law Partners LLP and founding partner of Vantage Counsel LLC, law firms that focus on providing exceptional, affordable legal service by operating through a virtual office. Kim's work focuses on building emerging companies and capital sources.

James Koshiba '91 is the founding director of Kanu Hawai'i, a nonprofit organization designed to launch a social movement centered in Hawai'i that moves the world toward greater sustainability, compassion and local economic security by bringing an island approach to global problems.

Josh Levinson '94 is the president and CEO of Community Links Hawai'i, a nonprofit incubator that helps people turn their ideas for solving community problems into projects that make an impact.

Lisa Uesugi and Laurie Callies are professional children's photographers and co-founders of ProjectFocus Hawai'i Inc., a nonprofit organization whose activities enrich the lives of at-risk children by teaching them how to observe, express and gain perspective on their experiences through photography.

M. Sharon Webb, M.D., Ph.D., is a partner at Virtual Law Partners LLP, vice president of a start-up specialty chemicals company and a bioethicist. She is also a registered patent attorney and a former practicing surgeon.

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