Jan Hanohano Dill is a man of the world, but he’s most passionate about this particular little corner of it.
The first name (pronounce it “Yahn”) is a gift from his Pennsylvania Dutch father. He speaks Spanish fluently, a skill honed as a Fullbright Fellow at the National University of Guatemala.
He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Beloit College, a master’s degree in economic development from Tufts University and one more master’s, in international affairs, also from Tufts.
The Kamehameha Schools graduate has been faculty at high school and college levels, even coached football at Punahou School. The list of career highlights is quite long, even for someone age 75; it can be seen on the website of the foundation he created and now leads as president (www.pidf.org/about/officers/jan_dill).
Partners in Development Foundation (“Serving Hawai‘i’s Families, Living Hawaiian Values”) just received a grant of about $2 million to be spent over three years for Pili A Pa‘a, an educational program; the nonprofit runs a range of social service, education, environmental and language projects; total revenues for the 2016 tax year topped $21.5 million.
Married with five adult children, Dill has been an active leader of the Kamehameha community.
Most recently he was drafted to join the board as vice president of the Kawananakoa Foundation. Dill and two other foundation directors, Hawaiian community notables Oz Stender and Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa, were tapped in a bitter legal dispute over control of about $100 million that heiress Abigail Kawananakoa had directed to the foundation.
Ultimately the court ruled that oversight of the foundation’s funds would transfer to an external trustee, an arrangement still being finalized.
Dill believes this foundation, like his own, can drive a fundamental life improvement for Hawaiians — partly by reinstilling their own traditions of family centeredness and responsibility.
“The anchor points for the work we do is we want the work to be transformational,” he said. “There is a Hawaiian phrase, ‘Huli au.’ It means ‘to change’ — change reality, so to speak. And this is what I want us to be involved in. I don’t want to be involved in stabilizing the status quo.”
Question: What is the program about, the one that received the competitive federal grant?
Answer:Pili A Pa‘a is in its sixth year. … It was originally developed to provide, basically, mid-career training for teachers, in the sense that we felt that teachers tend to get burned out after years of working hard with the kids. So what we’ve provided is a kind of break.
Q: So, it’s like a sabbatical?
A: It’s like a mini-sabbatical … for about two weeks up to four weeks.
And what we do is we take that time and we begin to to really share with the teachers other ways of doing teaching, moving from the traditional “I am the teacher, you are the student,” to one of a more inclusive, project-based kind of approach, in which the kids are engaged and the kids are allowed to have a much larger and more vocal place in the process. Also, integrating cultural opportunities in their subject matter. …
Q: Is there concern about federal funds for Native Hawaiians? U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has brought up issues of Native Hawaiian programs lately.
A:Do you mean the current administration? Yeah, there’s some question as to whether there is much commitment to Hawaiian issues. … I thank her for bringing it up, because it is often in the shadows and no one talks about it. …
I’m optimistic that Hawaii can at least maintain, hopefully can expand, but maintain the resources. …
Q: You’re a Kamehameha graduate and have been active with that community for years. What are your thoughts on how Kamehameha Schools is changing its approach to its mission, leveraging its funds with other partners?
A:I’ve been chair of the community relations committee in the accreditation process. This was 30 years ago, and the issue then was Kamehameha was seen to be isolated from the community.
And over the years I think we see … the need for Kamehameha to really become an active community member, beyond the three schools.
And I think there has been a shift in perspective on the board and in the administration of Kamehameha that they are embracing the idea that the legacy of the princess (school founder Bernice Pauahi Bishop) is much bigger than just three schools. Her interest was in the health and welfare of the community.…
(Her will for a school) “to make good and industrious men and women,” this is part of the vehicle that she wanted to use to bring health and resiliency to the community. And I think they have recognized that and are working towards how to define that …
They control a huge amount of resources that can be used for the benefit of the Hawaiian community. … I’m impressed with the leadership and where they want to go. …
Q: Do you think this will change the game for them?
A: I think so. I can understand their reluctance when you come to them with an idea or need in the community, their reluctance when basically they’re going to pay for the whole thing. And I think now they realize it, there’s an opportunity to leverage resources.
And I think that’s a kind of novel thing on their part, because in the past Kamehameha was siloed … but I think what needs to be done, and I think they’ve recognized that, is to reach out to partners.
We, as an organization, have been very supportive of the idea of bringing partners around the social-service issues of the Hawaiian community. Because in our work with foster parenting and our work with the homeless, we have seen that siloed social service really tends to undergird and stabilize status quo.
And I don’t think that’s what we need. We need transformational change. …
Q: What has the feedback been like from the Kamehameha community?
A: When you say the Kamehameha community, it’s always been a diverse view. … But in a way, that’s healthy, because you need to embrace the community as you go forward. And that’s another thing that’s hard for Kamehameha, because in the past it wasn’t necessarily something they had to do. …
I think now it’s more and more critical for them to really understand where the Kamehameha community and the Hawaiian community rest on the issues and how they can really kind of integrate the interests of other community members in the issues that Kamehameha wants to approach, like early education.
Early education is really important, and it’s much bigger than just the 30 (Kamehameha) preschools. There’s so many other opportunities …
How do you productively and efficiently partner with public resources?… We’ve proposed to them, and we proposed to the governor (and the Department of Human Services), the development of community assessment teams that would go into a community and establish what the two or three major issues are, and then inventory what resources are available and how do you integrate them. …
Q:So, a partnering with DHS?
A: And Kamehameha.
Q: What’s the reception been to that idea?
A: Actually, the reception was really good. What jammed the whole thing up was the lava! Because we were thinking East Hawaii, as a natural place. …
Q: Shifting over a bit: How did you get involved with the Kawananakoa Foundation?
A:Misfortune. That’s how I got involved. (Laughs.)… No, Oz (Stender) gave me a call, and he knows we both share a real passion to help the community. He explained a little bit and I said I would be happy to serve. …
And the more I got into it, the more I got passionate about what’s going on. … Here’s another example of Hawaiian resources that were intended for community benefit that are being ripped away, and being dedicated to public or corporate greed and profit. …
This is water rights. This is the land issues, the land taking. It just goes on.
Essentially you’re going to take $100-plus million that was committed by Abigail Kawananakoa to help the Hawaiian people, and you’re going to divert it into private interests.
To me that was just another offensive act, unless we stand up and say, “No, this is wrong, it’s wrong for her and it’s wrong for the community.” I mean, it’s not pono: Pono ‘ole.