No stranger to new territory, Nikki Cristobal recently launched her non profit Kamawaelualani Corp while finishing up her PhD in Education & Policy. Kauaʻi born and raised, she is passionate about reshaping the future for good through education that reaches all those that encounter Kauaʻi - whether local, new comer or visitor. Her ability to hold fast to the vision, while remaining adaptive to her team and the environment around her, she is expanding a project that will continually bring value to our island.
What sparked the desire to be an entrepreneur?
What sparked my desire to be an entrepreneur is understanding and being committed to specific social problems that I knew I had the skills, education, and passion to do my part in addressing. Those specific social problems include kanaka oiwi rights, aloha aina, and gender equity. My PhD is in educational administration and policy and I’ve always been highly committed to the public sector of society, especially in regards to social welfare and education. I come from an ‘ohana of mana wāhine entrepreneurs who own/ed for-profit businesses, so I think combining my knowledge and passion for community empowerment through education. in ways that can maximize on our unique economic structures in Hawai‘i was a path that I’ve been set upon before realizing it myself
Who or What were key influencers in your journey?
The key influencers in my journey were the many mentors and (fem)tors throughout my many years of schooling who saw potential in me to kūlia I ka nu‘u— thrive to reach the highest. As a first generation college student from a low-income upbringing, without the guidance of my mentors I wouldn’t have not realized my potential to become educated about the issues that impact the community I come from and more importantly, become empowered to do something about these issues. This is why I stand by education as the answer to many of life’s most insurmountable problems and the reason I started Kamāwaelualani, an organization dedicated to educating people about Kaua‘i through arts, community, and ‘āina.
What have you learned about yourself through this process?
Being true to your na‘au and your higher purpose kuleana is your compass that can get you through whatever waters you find yourself in. In terms of starting a business, enacting a vision, managing and being responsible for human lives who are directly or indirectly impacted by your business is weighing. I’ve learned to be transparent about my faults and the ways I’m learning and growing and to communicate this openly and frequently with my team. I’ve learned I can’t promise perfection or even adaquancy, but I can promise myself and others that I will do my best and always put my most pono foot forward.
What “dead ends” in this journey have been useful in moving forward?
I don’t really consider dead ends as dead ends because I believe that all paths lead to places beyond our immediate reasoning. An example of this for myself is my ongoing concerns about the financial sustainability of Kamāwaelualani. As a non-profit business owner (similar to for-profit business owners) , finances are dependent upon many revenue streams that are uncertain. I have difficult routine conversations with my team about what would happen if we no longer have the finances to maintain them on payroll and I find that even if the outcome is the worst case scenario (I.e. my team quits) that my business will keep being an entity as long as I continue establishing and treating it as such. As long as there’s a need for the work we do, we exist. I found that this “dead end” related to our financial resources drying up is a path to explore other models of organizational structuring and financial strategic planning that has both pros and cons, but nevertheless achieves the mission of Kamāwaelualani.
What are the different roles you play in life and how do you balance them?
I am a full time PhD candidate, meaning that I am in the last stretch of becoming a doctor. This requires a lot of time and energy of me that I have to balance with being an Executive Director/ Co-Founder of a new non-profit. I also have ‘ohana kuleana like most people. For me, I don’t see my professional and personal lives as much different. I am the work I do. I don’t mean this as I’m married to my work, I mean this as the values and vision Kamāwaelualani upholds are also my personal values and vision for Kaua‘i. I surround myself with friends and family who get it. I also streamline my doctoral work so that it is a compliment to the work I do with Kamāwaelualani (I.e. I research and write about Kaua‘i’s history which is also used in our educational programming for Kamāwaelualani). I am what I do, which makes it easy to find balance in my life because work isn’t work, it’s passion and leisure isn’t leisure, it serves my higher purpose.
What are you
Reading? I’m a full time PhD student which means I only have time to read research journal articles, books, and calls for proposals. (Lol). I read alot about Kānaka culture and society, particularly about Hawai‘i’s political and economic history, Kaua‘i’s ecosystems, educational history and policies of Hawai‘i, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, critical race and gender and sexuality in the Pacific, etc. I’m a nerd with a large book collection. I aspire to own a library one day that id open up for free to local Kaua‘i keiki.
Listening to? I’m one of those “aging millennials” who don’t listen to anything new. So my playlists consist of all genres of music up until the 2000s. I’m talking “Old school” local jams like Ekolu, Braddah Iz, and Ka‘au Crater Boys as well as some 80s/90s R&B and Hip-Hop. My default is Bob Marley. Unko Bob is timeless.
Watching? I just binge watched Narcos. I love watching shows that are sociological and inspire me to learn about a period of time, culture, or facet of the world that I normally wouldn’t think about.
What impact or influence do you hope to have with this project for Kauai?
I want to help in the efforts to protect, preserve, and perpetuate Kaua‘i’s Kānaka culture, values, and wahi pana. I want to advocate for keeping Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i in a way that promotes sustainability (in every sense of the word) in our increasingly globalized world. I want to have an influence at the individual and policy level in respecting Kaua‘i’s host culture (Kānaka) by giving land and voice back to Kānaka who serve as stewards of our land and culture.
Why does this work matter?
The work of protecting, preserving, and perpetuating Kaua‘i’s pre-contact culture matters because Kaua‘i is Indigenous land. The solutions to Kaua‘i’s most significant problems (environmental degradation, houselessness, over reliance on a tourism economy) can be addressed by nānā i ke kumu— looking to the source. Communities with the place-specific knowledge of how our natural and social ecosystems work should be the ones whose voices are amplified in terms of implementing policies that impact our collective livelihood. The more we educate people (all people— Malahini (new comers), mea māka‘ika‘i (visitors), and kama‘āina(locals) ) about our ancestral history and about our ‘āina I believe the more people will feel empowered to protect the things that make Kaua‘i so special— our land, our communal values, and our history.
When do you feel most alive?
I feel most alive when I’m the most challenged. Those moments in business where in the back of your mind you’re questioning what is going to happen if all things go to shit, are the moments that remind me that what I’m doing is important. If what I was doing wasn’t important or if I wasn’t growing better at achieving my goals as an individual and organization then moments of challenge and discomfort wouldn't happen. These moments are predecessors of our growth and are an indication that we’re human and alive and breathing this air of life.
What advice would you offer to others?
“Answer with your life the questions that give it meaning.” - Dr. Aunty Manulani Meyer