The Kohala Center Announces New President and CEO

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Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui. Photo courtesy of The Kohala Center.

The Kohala Center has announced the appointment of Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui as the new president and chief executive officer for the organization, effective July 3, 2017.

“Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui brings strong leadership skills, depth and breadth of work experience, and impressive team-building experience to The Kohala Center,” said Roberta Chu, chairperson of The Center’s board of directors. “It became very clear during the selection process that The Center and its management team would continue to develop and flourish under her leadership. Her thoughtfulness, energy, and enthusiasm are inspiring and will propel our efforts to new heights.”

Lupenui has been the founder and principal of The Leader Project for the last five years, a business focused on developing leadership throughout various organizations and sectors including transportation, education, health, human services and public safety.


She holds a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in marketing, management and finance from Tulane University. She also has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in international business from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

During her 30-year career, Lupenui has developed a versatile skill set including business and program development, systems-level policy making, capital improvement project planning and management, fundraising, community engagement, and strategy and leadership development.

Lupenui began her career as a business development associate at one of Hawai‘i’s largest businesses. Her interest in entrepreneurship led her to open her own restaurant promoting sustainable agriculture by serving healthy meals made with locally grown produce.


Lupenui’s restaurant management experience led her to the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of O‘ahu. Four years later, she became the organization’s chief executive officer—the youngest in its history and the first of Native Hawaiian descent. As CEO for 10 years, she helped launch a rebranding effort, a $12 million capital campaign to renovate Laniākea, the organization’s historic downtown facility, and an $8 million campaign to expand transitional housing for women and fitness and meeting facilities for the community. Hawai‘i Business Magazine named her as one of “25 People Who Will Shape the Next 25 Years” in 2007.

Upon founding The Leader Project, the Governor appointed Lupenui to the Hawai‘i Board of Education (BOE) for a four-year term. In this position she helped develop a strategic plan with the Department of Education, and policies that created the Office of Hawaiian Education, Office of Community Engagement and Nā Hopena A‘o, or HĀ (breath)–a school-wide learning initiative for the Hawai‘i Department of Education based on Native Hawaiian culture.

“My work in recent years has focused on seeing place, culture, community, and leadership as a whole ecosystem,” Lupenui said. “The Kohala Center is rich with these same elements that can guide our islands in policy and practice. Following a path to Kohala continues my journey emerging from single practitioner to a community of practice. I see a team of bold leaders making a positive impact and transmitting their stories to guide and strengthen each generation that follows.”

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