Keoni Lee is the Chief Executive Officer of Hawaii Investment Ready, a 501(c)3 nonprofit impact investing intermediary working at the nexus of purpose, business, and culture to restore regenerative abundance to Hawaii’s economy. HIR supports purpose-driven enterprises (for-profit and nonprofit) and funders in Hawaii to strengthen and scale their impact through a variety of programs and services for capacity building and impact capital deployment. Before joining HIR in 2019, Keoni co-founded ʻŌiwi TV – Hawaiʻi’s first and only Native Hawaiian language and cultural television station and media production company – where he spent over a decade learning from and producing stories in and about native communities throughout Hawaiʻi and around the world. These stories and relationships grounded in indigenous knowledge and values have shaped his perspective and drive his work to shift contemporary structures of power.
Keoni is active in community work and initiatives around decolonizing education, food systems, and the economy, including the Omidyar Fellows program, the First Nations Futures Program, and the RSF Social Finance Just Economy Institute Fellowship. He is a member of Toniic, the global action community for impact investing, was awarded the 2021 Investor of the Year by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and named to the 20 for the Next 20 class of 2022. He is a co-leader of the ‘Āina Aloha Economic Futures initiative – an indigenous-led mainstream movement calling out and addressing the inequities, injustices, and unsustainability of Hawai’i’s economy.
Reflecting on JEI’s core values — Community, Interconnectedness,Transformation — which value speaks to you most, at this moment in time? Why?
Community: It is inspiring to be in community with others who are working to change systems. This collective reminds me of Dr. Manulani Meyer’s definition of ʻauamo kuleana: collective transformation through individual excellence.
What are a few things about you that would surprise other people?
I sailed and did the storytelling for the 3.5-year Worldwide Voyage of Hōkūleʻa—a traditional voyaging canoe.
I was a nightclub DJ through grad school.
What movements for a just economy, past or present, inspire you?
Our traditional economy in Hawaiʻi: the thriving, abundant, non-monetary ahupua’a system of resource stewardship. Success was measured by the health and productivity of people and ʻāina. There is value in our repurposing inspiration from the past in a contemporary context. Indigenous, frontline, and rural communities hold expertise and leadership to address global problems equitably at a local scale. What would it look like to build an economy from a biocentric worldview–considering all life forms as having intrinsic value?