The CEO of Hawai’i Investment Ready aims to create a more sustainable future for the next generation.
Keoni Lee at Waiwai Collective in Mōʻiliʻili. Lee is one of the three kānaka founders of the coworking space. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Keoni Lee

CEO, Hawaii Investment Ready

Keoni Lee has no interest in blaming anyone for the way the world works, but he strives to change it.

“When my first child was born and I looked him in the eye,” he says, “I just started thinking about what kind of Hawai’i would he inherit? How will he afford to live here? What kind of natural resources that me and my ancestors were able to enjoy, will he have?

“And in that moment, I knew I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to changing the way our financial system works, in hopes of creating a more sustainable future for the next generation.”

Lee was born in O’ahu, raised in Mililani, and graduated from Kamehameha Kapālama and Oregon State Schools before earning his MBA from Shidler College of Business at UH. Today, Lee serves as CEO of Hawai’i Investment Ready, an Indigenous-led accelerator that supports people and organizations tackling Hawai’i’s social and environmental issues.

In two years at HIR, Lee amplified the organization’s impact, tripled its staff and put it on the map, says Lisa Kleissner, chair of the HIR board of directors.

“He’s not just an entrepreneur, he’s a serial entrepreneur. He not only has a vision, but he can execute his vision,” she says.

“He actively links his ancestral wisdom root to his 21st century actions as a leader. All of this comes with humility and a deep sense of responsibility and compassion for his community.

In 2007, Lee helped launch ‘Ōiwi TV, a Hawaiian language and culture media channel. Through storytelling, building relationships and learning about issues, successes and leaders, Lee says he was at the forefront of what was happening in Hawaiian and Native communities at the international scale.

“They are implementing community solutions to manage their resources, educate their young people and reclaim their languages,” he says.

“I started to see how the extraction of money and profits, how imperialist capitalism was causing a lot of the problems that the indigenous communities were trying to solve,” he says. he, adding, “People in power are neither evil nor wrong.”

“I really believe that we are a community here in Hawai’i. We care about each other and this place in deep, deep ways that are tied to who we are. … It’s about kuleana and confidence. Change happens at the speed of trust. If we can focus on this as the foundation, then we can have the right kind of approach, mindset and leadership to walk the path of change, a resilient economy and a resilient future. for Hawaii.