EDCUtah is highlighting Utah community organizations or multicultural resource groups each month, organized by monthly heritage theme where possible. This is part of an effort to inform our investors about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices and resources in Utah.
At 0.9%, Utah’s population has the highest percentage of Pacific Islanders of the Lower 48 states.
Since 2012, August has been recognized and celebrated as Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month. We spoke with Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, Co-founder and Executive Director of Pacific Islander Knowledge to Action Resource (PIK2AR) to learn more.
Tell us about PIK2AR.
We founded the organization five years ago. Our mission is to increase income into Pacific Island and other overlooked communities and households, through business creation and culturally relevant education, support, and opportunities. We’re a place of capacity building. Our motto is, “We build people, who build families, who build businesses, who build communities.”
Through PIKAR, and our Pacific IslandBusiness Alliance (PIBA), we leverage our Pacific Island heritage to build on the strengths of the old ways. Our ancestors were entrepreneurs. Fishermen fished and took the catch to market. Farmers grew crops and took them to market. Our ancestors were navigators and discoverers. Now, instead of oceans, PIK2AR helps our community to navigate systems, and to build wealth through modern entrepreneurship.
In five years, I’m very proud to say PIK2AR has signed MOUs with the national Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration. We have a popular micro-lending program with Celtic Bank. And we now have three chapters, in Salt Lake City, Utah County, and Phoenix. We just published an online directory of more than 200 Pacific Islander-owned businesses.
Many EDCUtah investors have initiatives to add diversity to their supply chains. How should they approach PIBA as a possible pipeline of suppliers and sub-contractors?
One of the cultural differences to be aware of: When Pacific Islanders meet each other, we ask “What village are you from? What’s your last name?” We connect on a deeper level than “What’s your title? May I have your business card?”
So my advice would be to come to our meetings, but be prepared to invest some time and effort. Pacific Islanders want to get to know you as a person first, and to see that you have genuine interest in our community. Then you get to do business. Those organizations that have done that over the years, they become family.
Many of our investors have Pacific Islanders on their payrolls. What are some of the nuances of supporting that talent in a culturally sensitive way?
The biggest one is the way Pacific Islanders think about genealogy is not the same as the mainstream. When there’s a policy that says you can take time off for the funeral of a close relative such as a grandparent, HR doesn’t take into account that our culture has a broad definition of “grandparent.” My husband’s family has six older people all called grandma and grandpa. It’s a wider definition.
So when a Pacific Islander asks for time off for a grandparent’s funeral, and HR draws a hard line, it causes issues.
Another company hired a young woman who immigrated from one of the islands. She is a hard worker, and the company loved her. But early on, they handed her a list of things to do. She worked her way through the list, and then went home, which is the normal course in the islands. No one had educated her about mainstream expectations to stay at work for a full eight-hour day. Other companies have done a poor job explaining other policies, like use-it-or-lose-it sick days.
PIBA wants to stand in the gap and help companies educate themselves about these cultural differences.
What’s something you’re proud of?
We have an active restaurant incubator, and we’re starting a construction incubator to educate Pacific Islanders on how to work more effectively as a sub-contractor or as a prime.
There are Pacific Islanders out there doing construction. They are great at it, but they sometimes get in trouble, go to jail, even get deported over not understanding licensing and other legal requirements. We helped one young man to get his contractor’s license, and now he wants to partner with us to help others go through the same process. He will use PIK2AR’s new construction incubator as a source of sub-contractors, so those people can earn income as they are gaining their licenses.
What can EDCUtah investors do to help PIK2AR?
There are so many ways!
1. Buy a membership or make a donation to help us on the revenue side.
2. Provide education. I would especially love to have pro bono programs with lawyers and accountants to educate our small businesses.
3. Include our communities in your volunteer programs. Have your employees come and volunteer at our events.
4. We operate out of a co-working space, so if there’s a business out there that would like to rent us some space to give us a more permanent working situation, we’d love to talk.
5. For companies that have Employee Resource Groups for Asian and Pacific Islander employees, such as Discover Card, we’re happy to come to their events. One thing I’ve noticed is that when companies do that, their ethnic employees feel a stronger bond with the company. Those employees feel proud that their company recognizes their heritage
6. Donate school supplies. We give away about 500 backpacks with school supplies for young students at our Kick-Off for Pacific Island Heritage Month, so that is another way corporations can get involved.
For more information, email email@example.com
Editor’s note – In July, Susi Feltch-Malohifo'ou was named to the Forbes list of 50 women who are changing their communities and the world in ways big and small through social entrepreneurship, law, advocacy and education. https://www.forbes.com/50over50/impact