Fellowship seeks to solicit, prepare new leaders


A new fellowship program is recruiting its second class, and the director is hoping to get more applicants from West Hawaii.

Kalei Stern said the Omidyar Fellowship’s inaugural class has three Hilo participants, one from Kauai and 10 from Oahu. The program’s goal is to help people who are already leaders in their industries or companies become better leaders, as well as create connections between for-profit businesses, nonprofit agencies, labor unions and governmental entities, Stern said.

The program isn’t designed to create a new generation of backroom politicians, although she does hope the fellows learn how to view situations through their colleagues’ perspectives, Stern said.

Transparency is another key goal, she said.

“If we can shed light on, be transparent about the relationships that were started, at least people know that,” Stern said.

The fellows travel to Oahu monthly for an evening, confidential discussion with various industry and governmental leaders. Stern said she doesn’t see a conflict between the notion of transparency and those closed-door conversations, because the sessions focus more on allowing the program fellows to see that CEOs and other high-level executives face the same work-life balance challenges and problems as the fellows, who typically have about 10 years on the job, with a few decades left to work.

The program bears the name of Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, a philanthropist who has contributed more than $1 billion to a variety of causes, according to fellowship program officials. He gave a $50 million grant to the Hawaii Community Foundation, in the form of the Omidyar Ohana Fund. Money from that fund pays for the Hawaii Leadership Forum, which oversees the Omidyar Fellows program. Omidyar, who is also the CEO and publisher of Honolulu Civil Beat, an online media outlet, does not have direct oversight or contact with the fellowship program, Stern said.

The current class of fellows includes Donalyn Dela Cruz, Department of Education spokeswoman who was Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s lead spokeswoman when she was selected for the program last year, Joshua Wisch, another Abercrombie hire who was first a special assistant to the Attorney General and is now the deputy director for the Department of Taxation, and Forrest Frizzell, chief information officer for the Hawaii Community Foundation — which directs the funding for the fellowship program — and who will work with the state’s Office of Information Management and Technology as it implements a new strategic plan. Private sector fellows include Jason Fujimoto, chief operation officer for HPM Building Supply, Colton Ching, vice president of energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric Co., and Robert Bruhl, vice president for development at R. Horton-Schuler Division.

Stern said a number of the 161 applicants last year were consultants or entrepreneurs, and while those people were very successful and had impressive resumes, the program is designed to work better for someone with a leadership role in a company or government agency that can provide new opportunities for leadership during the 15-month program. Each employer becomes a sponsor, Stern said, agreeing to give the fellow time off for three two-day meetings on Oahu, monthly days off for the remainder of the program, as well as time off for a “learning excursion,” a tailored trip either to the mainland or another country to learn things to help the fellow reach his or her personalized leadership goals.

The program doesn’t have a set standard by which to judge whether its fellows are eventually successful, in part because the candidates set their own goals for the fellowship, Stern said.

“We don’t expect everyone to be the governor,” she said. “The individual fellows were chose based on their ideas of leadership and goals. We’re hoping they achieve their goals. They all want to enhance leadership in their community.”