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Jace Kaholokula Saplan and Ashleigh Loa (Photos courtesy: Obama Foundation Leaders Asia-Pacific Program)

The prestigious Obama Foundation Leaders Asia-Pacific program has chosen a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa assistant professor of music and a UH West Oʻahu alumna as part of its 2022 cohort. Jace Kaholokula Saplan, the director of choral activities and the Hawaiian Music Program at UH Mānoa; and Ashleigh Loa, executive director of Faith Action for Community Equity, are the only emerging leaders selected from Hawaiʻi.

The program will train participants in leadership development and community engagement to help build their skills and scale their work across public, private and nonprofit sectors. The 2022 class is working across a broad range of issues and focus areas, including climate change, Indigenous rights, education and more. This year’s cohort of 35 participants represents 23 nations and territories across the region.

“I look forward to joining and learning from a cohort of changemakers throughout the Asia-Pacific region who share a love of ʻāina, equity-driven systemic change and an embodied purpose to help heal our communities,” Saplan said.

Saplan is also the founder and artistic director of Nā Wai Chamber Choir, an ensemble dedicated to Hawaiian music preservation, propagation and innovation. The organization mentors Native Hawaiian musicians, educators and composers. Since its inception, the choir has offered workshops and community concerts throughout the Hawaiian islands and created resources for music educators across the country who want to teach Hawaiian music in an informed way.

As a Kanaka Maoli leader, educator and artist, Saplan is committed to empowering communities through decolonial practices to maintain their agency and engage with each other in meaningful ways across their cultural differences, and to ensure the survival of native stories. Saplan is passionate about the power of communal vocal music.

Loa is the executive director of Faith Action for Community Equity, a grassroots, interfaith nonprofit organization committed to improving the quality of life in Hawaiʻi. The group addresses the root causes of social injustice through shared values and collective power. Loa is especially passionate about issues related to affordable housing, fairness and inclusion, and civic engagement.

More about the leaders program

As part of the six-month, non-residential program, these dedicated changemakers will meet virtually each week for interactive sessions designed to help them drive change by honing their leadership skills, building deep relationships with their peers, and engaging with thought leaders and members of the Obama Foundation community.

President Barack Obama’s familial ties to the region, his time in Indonesia as a young man, and his upbringing in Hawaiʻi have informed his values and his faith in the passion of this generation of changemakers across the Asia-Pacific region. Launched in 2019, the program is creating a network of leaders who drive positive, innovative change in their communities throughout the continent and across the globe.

Visit this website to learn more about the Obama Foundation Leaders program.

2019 Obama Foundation leaders

Several participants with UH ties were selected as Obama Foundation leaders in 2019, including Native Hawaiian Affairs Program Officer Kaiwipuni Punihei Lipe and Associate Professor of Law Troy J.H. Andrade. Read more on UH News.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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