2021 Indigenous Communities Fellowship


Aloha ‘Āina Studios

Hawaiian culture- and language-based educational multimedia products

Team Lead

Wailani Robins

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Aloha ‘Āina Studios

One-line solution summary:

Kūlaniākea will produce Hawaiian culture and language-based educational multimedia products for children and their families.

Pitch your solution.

The U.S. educational policies resulted in the endangerment of the Hawaiian people, their language and culture. Today, Native Hawaiian children grow up without their identity and culture being positively reflected to them. They face stereotypes and erasure daily. Kūlaniākea will create a Native Hawaiian social enterprise and produce multimedia educational materials (videos, games, animated cartoons, toys, etc.), rooted in the Hawaiian culture and language, in order to provide high-quality educational experiences. We work towards dismantling deeply racist, institutionalized educational practices and creating new pathways for Native Hawaiian children. The results we seek are Indigenous and non-Indigenous children thriving and knowing the culture, language, and accurate history of Hawaiʻi.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

How do you make people forget their history, culture, language? How do you steal the nation? How do you ensure people stop fighting for their sovereignty? You introduce a deeply racist and colonial education system. 

In 1891, W.D. Alexander, a member of the Board of Education in Hawaiʻi, wrote “A Brief History of Hawaii”. A non-Hawaiian, who didn’t speak or know anything Hawaiian, wrote a book with lots of lies – e.g., how Hawaiians abandoned their elders and practiced infanticide because they were too lazy to take care of them. That book was used in education in Hawaiʻi for 40 years and set the foundation for inequitable educational policies and practices, from physical abuse to complete erasure. Within a century, Native Hawaiians went from being one of the most literate and socio-politically engaged nations to people, who were not literate in Hawaiian or English and often were not allowed to go beyond 8th grade. The 90-year Hawaiian language ban (1896-1986) drove the Hawaiian language and culture to near extinction. Even decades after the Hawaiian language was established as a medium of instruction in 1986, Hawaiian children are still not reflected in the educational teaching workforce, educational content, or methodologies. 

What is your solution?

Our solution is a Native Hawaiian multimedia educational company that can provide both high-tech and low-tech educational products, which will follow a Hawaiian culture- and language-based curriculum on voyaging and navigation. The educational materials will include videos, games, edu-toys, outdoor activities, books, lesson plans, teachersʻ and parentsʻ guides, educational subscription boxes, etc. Over time we will add TV series/show, animated cartoons, and apps. They will target different situations – formal classroom setting, informal outdoor/home setting, with teachers, with parents/grandparents, children on their own, children playing and learning together, etc. They will be in both Hawaiian and English.

Such variety will allow reaching children and families with different levels of connectivity and access to educational settings, and especially critical for areas with a very limited Internet connection and/or no access to electronic devices. Including parents and children as peer learners will also shift the power of where true education happens and that every learner can also be a teacher. Most importantly, our products will focus on teaching children and adults traditional Hawaiian scientific inquiry skills, which can be applied to any content and allow learners to acquire new content on their own. 

Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?

              Kūlaniākea is a 501(c)(3) Native Hawaiian-managed and serving educational organization, which operates a lab preschool in Kāneʻohe, Hawaiʻi. Kūlaniākea didn’t parachute into the community to save Native Hawaiians. There are strong familial, social, genealogical, and cultural ties to the Koʻolaupoko community, reflected in Kūlaniākea's curriculum – location-specific language, historical and contemporary knowledge of the district. Our preschool population, 16 students and 50 parents/family members, is 95% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.

              Kūlaniākea is actively engaged with its parents, community members, community organizations, and other immersion and non-immersion schools, where our graduates go after they leave our preschool. We meet monthly with our parents, we attend quarterly meetings of immersion schools, and we actively participate in all neighborhood/regional events (e.g., Kaneohe parade) and organize Ola Ka I (region-wide Hawaiian language celebration event) for all Hawaiian immersion schools in Koʻolau. That is why our work is responsive and relevant to the community's needs. 

Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?

Support language and cultural revitalization, quality K-12 education, and support for first-generation college students

Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

            The COVID pandemic magnified multiple underlying socio-economic causes, which prevented Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children and their families from accessing Hawaiian Culture-Based education – language, culture, protocols, culturally-appropriate socio-emotional development, and healing practices. The Hawaiian language is endangered. Our community is rightfully concerned about the long-term impact of the COVID pandemic on the language revitalization work.

At the same time, we have seen our community rise with multiple solutions and ideas of how we can lower access barriers, provide multi-dimensional educational opportunities for children, preserve the culture and revitalize the Hawaiian language through multimedia. 

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Kaneohe, HI, USA

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.

Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

            We released the curriculum, videos, games, book, teacher and parent trainings on a smaller scale last year across Hawaiʻi. We anticipated reaching within our district. The response on social media, requests from educators and schools, both immersion and non-immersions, and sales of our products went above and beyond our initial expectations.  Therefore, the book was published in only 1,000 copies, and educational materials were produced only in hundreds. However, Hawaiʻi State DOE has put large orders. We had orders from the continental U.S. and Japan. We did multiple webinars with parents and teachers. We receive phone calls and emails asking us to present at bigger events and share our methodology with/consult schools and educational organizations. We ran out of all products within a few months. We have already done a second run of the book and are manufacturing more of our educational materials. Kūlaniākea is also sharing its curriculum and methodologies with all interested educational organizations. We are actively planning for growth. 

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Wailani Robins, Executive Director

Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.

Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian)

Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

Describe what makes your solution innovative?

Our innovation is applying centuries-old, tried and proven, cultural methodologies, contemporary evidence-based practices, and modern technologies to education. In Hawaiian culture-based education, we focus on both the traditional methodologies and content: 

• Methodology - systematic scientific approach to understanding the natural world through observation, relation, experiment, critical thinking, and analytical skills. This approach has enabled the Great Pacific Migration from South Asia throughout the Pacific to the West Coasts of the Americas. When children learn through this approach, they can develop their knowledge on their own at any age. 

• Content is usually not broken into different areas – math, language, arts. Instead, children are taught scientific knowledge through arts, crafts, story-telling, which also reinforces their language development. Our approach to teaching and learning connects children closer to the land and natural environment. Yet, it gives us a lot of room to incorporate both low- and high-tech materials and solutions.

            This approach allows us to preserve the linguistic and cultural content, using contemporary technologies, and reach a broader audience. 

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our core technology is our language, culture, and traditional Hawaiian child-rearing methodology, which go centuries back. The current day technology is the vehicle to deliver the cultural content. 

Provide evidence that this technology works. Please cite your sources.

Kūlaniākea has previous experience in developing educational materials. In the last two years, the organization developed games (matching cards, discs, etc.), published an illustrated children’s book of the first chapter of Kumulipo, a Hawaiian creation chant, https://vimeo.com/463701423, developed activities for families, lesson plans, and curriculum guide for educators. They can be found for purchase at https://ke-kula-o-kulaniakea.myshopify.com/collections/education. We also developed a series of short children’s videos ʻAha Keiki, which were a part of ʻAha ʻOhana series and focused on Hawaiian cultural practices children can use daily at home, https://www.facebook.com/ahaohana.org/videos. All materials, including video, were extremely well received. The videos reached hundreds of households via social media during the pandemic. Most importantly, Hawaiʻi State DOE, immersion schools, and educators from different schools in Hawaiʻi, the continental U.S, and Japan are purchasing our materials to use in their classrooms. Kūlaniākea is planning to host a virtual training on all our educational materials this year.

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Software and Mobile Applications

Does this technology introduce any risks? How are you addressing or mitigating these risks in your solution?

The only risk of our work is the risk to us, to the Hawaiian language and culture. Cultural theft and appropriation by non-Native people are constant and relentless. Half of Native Hawaiians currently live outside of Hawaiʻi, driven out by the rising cost of living in Hawaiʻi. Hawaiian children are born outside of Hawaiʻi. They do not have access to the land and to intergenerational learning, Hawaiian speakers, and authentic resources. We need to reach them. The bigger we grow, the further we reach, the higher our risk of the traditional Hawaiian knowledge being stolen and appropriated by bigger corporations.

What is your theory of change?

You cannot decolonize a colonial structure, in this case, education. You can only retire it. However, to retire it, we need to create authentic and appropriate educational pathways for children. Education is a powerful tool; that’s why it can be used for both harm and good, denationalizing Indigenous peoples and dismantling oppression. It is, without a doubt, one of the most critical levers for change. 

The systems change happens when Hawaiians will have access to educational options, rooted in anti-racism, equity, and, most importantly, their own culture. To achieve that, we need to build our own structures and systems, both educational and economic, so we can produce high-quality educational materials and experiences. Achieving self-sufficiency through a social enterprise will address the underlying socio-economic root problem. We envision raising the bar for educational practices in Hawaiʻi. We envision Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian parents expecting truthful and authentic education for their children. We envision educators and parents also engaging with our curriculum and materials and learning themselves. We envision families normalizing the use of the Hawaiian language and cultural practices in their daily activities. We envision more Hawaiian families enrolling in Hawaiian immersion schools. We will generate enough momentum to shift the power structure. As we provide such pathways and structures, the old system will be under more pressure to shift its focus, to incorporate new educational practices, to change, and retire. 

Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Infants
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals

In which state(s) do you currently operate?

  • Hawaii

In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?

  • Hawaii

How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Kūlaniākea works with our own students and families (about 16 families annually – 16 children and 50 adults) and other educational organizations in the community. Kūlaniākea is consistently reaching about 60,000 children and adults through partnerships annually. 

            Within 1 year, due to the COVID, we estimate that we will still reach about 60,000-80,000 children and adults (parents and educators). Within 5 years, we plan to reach hundreds of thousands of students through our partnerships in Hawaiʻi and the continental U.S. through our multimedia educational delivery.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?

The goal for the next 1-3 years is to build the infrastructure of our social enterprise to support our work long-term. In doing so, Kūlaniākea is reclaiming the control over the educational practices, methodologies, and content, while building the community capacity to sustain the enterprise and support the Native Hawaiian education.

Our long-term goal is to establish and control our own educational systems and provide Hawaiian culture-based education (Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). That will lead to the most important impact/success - the increased use of the Hawaiian language in daily life and the normalization of Hawaiian education.

We anticipate two paths to broader impact:

1. Multimedia materials can provide high-quality education and root Hawaiian children in their identity, which leads to a higher quality of their well-being. Such materials and experiences can also support all children in learning about Hawaiʻi. With the developed multimedia products, we can reach both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and change their knowledge and attitudes.

2. Indigenous methodologies are the foundation of our work. In the 1980s, a group of Hawaiian educators traveled to Aotearoa (New Zealand) to learn the Māori methodology for language revitalization. That was the start of ʻAha Pūnana Leo schools (Hawaiian immersion ) in Hawaiʻi. That methodology was adopted and adapted by many Native American immersion schools. We know that not all our materials will be transferable. However, our methodology will be, so it can support other communities in building new educational practices.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

1. The quality, accessibility, and impact of the products will be measured through built-in analytics (website, games, online viewing, social media metrics) and qualitative feedback from children, parents, educators on social media, surveys, focus groups, etc. Much of our content will be interactive, which can be tracked through social media and website. It will showcase how well, how often, and how much children/families are using the content to develop the language and skills. 

2. Economic network capacity - Kūlaniākea will regularly assess whether our social enterprise will be able to produce the necessary volume of items in order to meet the demand. We are currently working on adapting a scale developed for assessing economic and livelihood development in a limited-resource environment. Continuous evaluation of our internal capacity will help us grow in a sustainable way and determine what other resources we need to build in the community. 

3. Self-sustainability is critical for us. We will monitor the volume of sales and income, especially in Phase III. It will allow us to fully articulate our business strategies, adjust our work in a timely manner, and seek additional resources, if needed.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

Our major barrier is the deeply embedded colonial narrative that Indigenous people canʻt manage their own lives and resources and do not know solutions to the issues they face. As a result, we face centuries-long underfunding. Only 0.4% of all funding in the U.S. goes to Native issues. And only about half of that goes to Native-owned and managed companies and organizations (White Saviors).

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

Our approach to addressing the colonial narrative includes the following:

1. Representation – we participate in round tables and submit our statements to open calls from federal and state agencies. Kūlaniākea has consulted at the state and national levels. Senior staff also participate in panels, webinars, keynotes in order to share our expertise. 

2. Community engagement – we are active within our community so that our organization is recognized through our good work and not just words alone. 

3. Partnerships - we share our methodologies and developed materials. This is how we also scale our work. 

4. Continous funding seeking. 

             Through all our engagement, whether itʻs community work or consulting for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we actively engage in the narrative change around the role of Indigenous peoples and the positive impacts of Indigenous education on Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. 

About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

            Our current team consists of 7 full-time and 2 part-time staff. In 2021 we partnered/contracted with 15 Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander community organizations, cultural practitioners, creatives, and contractors, predominantly from our own community. 

How long have you been working on your solution?

5 years as a current non-profit

Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Kūlaniākeaʻs Board of Directors is respected Hawaiian cultural practitioners and leaders in language revitalization and cultural preservation. The team brings together Indigenous knowledge and practices, current research, and over 50 combined years of experience in education and leadership to deliver a Hawaiian culture-based program. Besides Ms. Wailani Robins, there are two other key staff:

Mr. Maui Tauotaha comes from a long lineage of Tahitian navigators and canoe builders. He is a multimedia storyteller. He started his career as a TV editor on shows for NBC, CBS, FOX, MTV, BET, E!, Discovery, History Channel, Travel Channel. Over the past decade, he produced and edited hundreds of hours of Hawaiian language and culture content. His latest credits include being a producer and editor on TV series and documentaries about Hawaiian cultural practitioners ("Nā Loea: The Masters") and the worldwide voyage of the traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe Hōkūleʻa ("Mālama Honua: ʻOhana Hōkūleʻa" and "Moananuiākea").

Mx. Gauhar Tursun-Kyzy Tyulemiss is Kazakh (tribe Argyn, line Qarakesek, Middle Horde). She is Chief Operations Officer. She holds MA in Education (Curriculum Studies and Statistics). Over the last 15 years, she has worked as a grants and compliance manager with international teams on many multi-million, multi-year federally-funded grants, focusing on local economic and livelihood development (Russia, Mozambique, East Timor, Sudan, Cote DʻIvoire, Columbia, Marshall Islands, etc.).

Overall, the team possesses knowledge of the language, culture, educational methodologies, media development, and administration/operations.

What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Kūlaniākea is a Native Hawaiian managed and serving organization, which within the context of Hawaiʻi is focused on uplift Native Hawaiians, the population furthest removed from experiencing well-being on their own ancestral lands. Within our leadership team, we also have a broad representation of age, disability, the traditional representation of gender and sexual identity (māhū/third gender). We also have Indigenous Pacific Islanders and Indigenous Asians. 

Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

We are looking for networking and relationship-building with other Indigenous organizations and allies to share knowledge and resources, look for funding, and strengthen our collective work. 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters

Please explain in more detail here.

We welcome more funding for our work and community.

What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

            We would like to partner with Indigenous media organizations, which work at the intersection of language preservation/revitalization and education. We are not picky whether they are just starting or they are further advanced. Even though our languages and cultures are different, our methodologies and approaches are highly transferable. We can learn a lot from each other and create a network of Indigenous creatives. 

            We would also like to connect with Indigenous intellectual property rights lawyers. 

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ASA Prize for Equitable Education to advance your solution?

            Our solution will be a Hawaiian culture-based STEM program for students PreK-3. The program will be high tech (online), low tech (hands-on, meaning educational materials, such as books, toys, puzzles, cards, and outdoor activities), and hybrid. Students will be able to use it while in a classroom with a teacher, at home with parents, or self-guided on their own or with siblings or friends of different ages. Every module will contain teacherʻs and parentsʻ resources and companion activities, which will also allow adults to learn and grow professionally.

            The content will focus on the traditional Hawaiian scientific knowledge (astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, biology, botany, anatomy, psychology, engineering, environmental protection and management, agriculture, and aquaculture), which enabled Pasifika peoples to travel across the Pacific for centuries. This knowledge was taught to children through songs, chants, play, and activities, where they replicated the behavior of adults within the natural environment. It is currently known as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Such a culturally relevant approach has proven to be a successful pathway towards STEM college majors and careers among Indigenous children. 

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?

            There are more and more jobs in Hawaiʻi that either require or would pay higher salaries to the workforce with the knowledge of Hawaiian language and culture – from customer service to teaching, to government consulting. Our solution provides opportunities for women not only to support their children in their Hawaiian language development journey, but also to learn the Hawaiian language and culture on their own through play and culturally-appropriate activities. 

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI For Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

Solution Team

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