• Fri
  • Aug 22, 2014
  • Updated: 9:05pm

Hawaiians on a financial fast track

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am

A new wave of young financial minds is set to roll in from Honolulu to Hong Kong under a training scheme to propel disadvantaged Hawaiians from poverty into the financial hubs of Asia.

The scheme is the work of the Akamai Foundation, a public-private partnership linked to Akamai Capital, an asset management firm with interests in several Asian markets.

Akamai Capital's Bob Howe said the aim of the training was to reverse the entrenched view of native Hawaiians as second-class citizens.

'Native Hawaiians have much lower graduation levels from high schools and lower incomes. It is a stain on the US' conscience,' he said.

'The idea is to make it very hands-on. When you teach fishing, it's the apprentice and master relationship where you show them how to weave the nets, rather than drawing a diagram on a blackboard. Suddenly, you open up the door to Wall Street.'

The scheme has two parts: the first raises awareness among high school pupils about careers in finance while the second is a five-year programme on investment banking, private equity and asset management. In the second year of the programme, students do an unpaid internship in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan or Singapore.

'The goal isn't to teach them finance, but to get them a high-paying job. We want them to compete with the Princeton eating clubs,' Howe said, referring to the elite university dining groups traditionally associated with power and influence.

A major coup for the scheme has been to get Bloomberg terminals, which provide real-time updates of financial markets, into 20 of Hawaii's 43 public schools, including some on outlying islands, so pupils can manage a paper portfolio. The foundation hopes to have the terminals in every school within the next two years.

While enrolment of native Hawaiians has yet to take off, two non-native Hawaiians are doing internships in Hong Kong as part of the programme.

One graduate of the foundation's pilot programme is 20-year-old Maka Alves, who joined when he was 17 on his mother's suggestion.

Alves grew up in one of the poorest areas in Hawaii, where many native Hawaiians live. 'A lot of them were poverty stricken and the education wasn't good,' he said.

For three years, he resisted the allure of a Hawaiian weekend to attend the foundation's Sunday classes. 'It's all about prioritising. I could be out surfing but I want to retire early so I will work hard now and relax later,' he said.

Alves, who has just started a four-year finance degree at the University of Hawaii, said the course recognised the Hawaiian way of learning. 'It's called maka hana ka 'ike, which means we learn by example. The more interactive it is, the easier it is.'

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