Hawai‘i Island Women’s Leadership Forum: Attendees were “connected, supported, inspired”

Women who attended were connected, supported, and inspired to advocate for themselves and for girls and women in their communities.

By Lara Hughes.

Large room, speaker at front, rows of audience listening.
The Hawai‘i Island Women’s Leadership Forum was held in Waikoloa, Aug. 26, 2016. Above, Lynn Howard gives a presentation on Uncovering Your Business Purpose. Photos by Lara Hughes, click to enlarge.

Over 325 women ready to tell the world “I’m worth it,” gathered at The Hilton Waikoloa on Aug. 26, also known as Women’s Equality Day. This date in history marks the passing of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. It, quite fittingly, also marked the launch of the second annual Hawai‘i Island Women’s Leadership Forum in Waikoloa.

The theme of the day was “Tools for Success,” and that’s exactly what the summit offered the community in the form of workshops, motivational speakers, and professional and personal insight.

Scholarship awards were given out by the event’s organizational committee, which enabled up to 25 people to attend the summit free of charge. Major donors for the summit were the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, the Hilton Waikoloa, and various County of Hawai‘i offices.

Farrah-Marie Gomes, who was the chair for the summit and served on the planning committee, opened the event with the message, “Today is about empowerment, today is about helping each other.”

Gomes recently received her doctor of philosophy in educational studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is currently serving as the interim associate vice president for Student Affairs for the UH System. At the end of the day she was given a standing ovation to congratulate her on the new accomplishment and also in thanks for her efforts in making the summit a reality this year.

The day held various presentations and workshops that the attendees could participate in.

There was a panel discussion with two of the female presidents from our local Chamber of Commerce groups as well as a plethora of courses that included topics like active listening, mentorship, finding your business purpose and salary negotiation.

One of this year’s presenters was Sulma Gandhi from UH Hilo. Gandhi is the director for Student Health and Wellness Programs and believes that the annual Hawai‘i Island Women’s Leadership Forum is a critical event for the island community. The first time she went to a girls’ leadership summit was during high school, and the second time was decades later at the first Hawai‘i Island summit, “which highlights the lack of opportunities,” she says.

“Access to conferences and open discussion about topics that impact women’s lives are rare for us on the island and much needed,” Gandhi explains. “Many, if not all the women who attended the conference left feeling connected, supported, and inspired to advocate for themselves and for girls and women in their communities.”

Gandhi herself was very thankful for Gomes leadership and the motivation of keynote speaker Teri Bump.

Teri Bump is the vice president of American Campus Communities and lent her expertise and advice to the women attendees. She spoke about the importance of female-to-female sponsorship, communication, and support as she energized the room with an opening and closing address.

Business woman in Hawai‘i are innovative, independent and confident

Two vendors at their table showing wares.
UH Hilo students and Hawaii Island business women (l-r) Megan Aina and Britni Schock. Click to enlarge.

Aside from the impressive workshops and keynote speaker, local female vendors were also on site.

Megan Aina, a senior at UH Hilo majoring in business administration, runs her own jewelry business and was one of the many vendors and women advocates promoting wares.

Aina says, “A business woman in Hawai‘i is an innovative, independent and confident person who strives (to) better herself and the community. I went to the program to share my jewelry business with other women and also get inspired by others who have high goals.”

Aina is forecast to graduate this fall semester.

Overall, the second annual Hawai‘i Island Women’s Leadership Summit is considered a success by those involved and the third annual summit is already in the works. Planning committees are currently organizing to continue their support of the island’s female leaders and bring them tools for success again next year.


About the author of this story: Lara Hughes (senior, business administration) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories