New Jersey web designer Dante Moore said he was “stir crazy in the middle of a pandemic” when he spotted a catchy headline on a web post in December promising free airfare for a monthlong stint of remote work in Hawaii.
“It was a totally selfish reason at first. I was like, ‘Man, I want to get out of here,’” he recalled.
But as Moore, 55, learned more about the “Movers and Shakas” program and its volunteering requirements, and how COVID-19 was wreaking havoc on Hawaii’s tourism- dependent economy, he found the proposition even more appealing and applied for one of 50 slots in the inaugural cohort, which recently concluded.
“I have some skills that I may be able to contribute, and I have the circumstances to be able to work remotely because I’m in technology. Maybe I could contribute in some sort of way because the whole mission was besides tourism, how else can we build resilience in the Hawaii economy,” Moore said in a phone interview from his home in Burlington, N.J.
He was among nearly 90,000 applicants for Mover and Shakas, which plans to begin accepting applications in midsummer for its second cohort in the fall. Free airfare and hotel discounts notwithstanding, participants are expected to cover all other expenses including housing, further contributing to the economy, and to commit to volunteering with local nonprofits and business startups.
During his 30-day stay, Moore was paired with the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association and Native Hawaiian chambers of commerce to develop a mobile- friendly online directory of Native Hawaiian-owned businesses that is expected to launch this month.
Movers and Shakas Director Nicole Lim said a free ticket to Hawaii may have grabbed their attention, but participants were overwhelmingly motivated by the opportunity to lend a hand in rebuilding Hawaii’s economy and sharing experiences with like-minded individuals.
The temporary remote work program was started in response to the pandemic by a group of local business leaders desiring “to explore ways to build resilience in the economy” and “attract purpose-driven remote workers and kamaaina to contribute to the community,” according to its website.
It is an initiative of the nonprofit Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative, with additional funding from the CPB Foundation; FCH Enterprises, parent company of Zippy’s; the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation; Inkinen Executive Search; iQ 360; Island Holdings; and kWh Analytics, with support from other businesses and the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
The first group arrived in late February and March for a minimum 30-day stay. Members ranged in age from 24 to 60-plus and held jobs in a variety of fields such as technology, finance, education and health care. Sixty- five percent were returning kamaaina, and 75% have family in the state, according to Lim, an ‘Iolani School graduate with 15 years of international experience in finance and technology who has been a bit of a nomad in her own career.
Addressing concerns the mainlanders would take jobs from local residents and compete for scarce affordable housing, Lim said they were required to maintain their existing employment and for the most part stayed with family and friends or at hotels and vacation rentals.
Cohort members participated in cultural education workshops and also signed a Pledge to Our Keiki to uphold community values and volunteer at least 15 hours a month. Weekend field trips took them to Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Kaena Point and other cultural, historical and natural sites. Participants also pitched in at Kako‘o ‘Oiwi’s taro patch in Heeia and at an 808 Cleanups event at Huilua Fishpond at Kahana Bay, among other activities.
More in line with their skill sets, they also collaborated with local groups on projects involving workforce development, education, entrepreneurship and similar areas, assisting with website development, marketing and other aspects.
For instance, participants worked with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and the state Department of Education on the Hanai-a- Classroom program, which aims to develop project- based curriculum for students to explore industry- related issues and careers.
Others helped the PA‘I Foundation create an artist accelerator program, and worked with the Girls Scouts of Hawaii on a virtual badge program for science and technology subjects and a capital campaign for the new STEM Center for Excellence at Camp Paumalu.
While staying at a vacation rental in Makaha, Moore rose at 3:30 a.m. for his day job as a web designer specializing in user interface for Morgan Stanley on the East Coast. Afterward he turned his attention to working with the Native Hawaiian business groups on their Kuhikuhi.org directory.
Moore called it “a perfect marriage” and was particularly impressed with the groups’ expressions of how the Black Lives Matter movement “elevated the conversation about the importance of supporting minority-owned businesses and how that phenomenon existed as a backdrop for issues faced by Native Hawaiians,” he said.
“Me, being a Black entrepreneur and helping Black-owned businesses and running mine, and understanding the struggles of getting visibility and all that type of stuff, I’m like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ The thing they wanted to build was a directory, a Yelp for Native Hawaiian businesses, and I happen to design and build apps by trade.”
While here, Moore also found time to take surfing lessons from Danny Boro of Waianae, a Native Hawaiian whose business will be listed in the directory, and explored Oahu with two of his daughters, ages 21 and 23.
Moore said he ended up spending 20 to 25 hours a week on the Kuhikuhi project and continues to confer regularly with the local partner groups as the launch nears.
“This is the first time I’ve done pro bono work that I actually liked better than my day job and that I didn’t mind doing for free,” he said.
Ilihia Gionson, director of communications for NaHHA, said the association was contacted by Movers and Shakas to provide cultural training to cohort members. Early in their discussions, Lim told Gionson she had the ideal candidate to collaborate on the directory.
“Our project lined up so much with his values and the things that are important to him that he went far and above beyond the requirements of Movers and Shakas. I’m so thankful that we made such a great new friend,” said Gionson, who called Moore “a wonderful braddah.”
Applications for the second Movers and Shakas cohort will open in midsummer, with those selected arriving in early fall. Lim said there will be some “plot twists,” as she likes to call changes, including enrolling at least 20% of participants from across Hawaii to diversify perspectives, encourage “cross-pollination” and build relationships so that the members who return to the mainland will have a “personal anchor point” here and local talent can benefit from a broader professional network.
Movers and Shakas also will move toward team-based volunteering to tackle more substantive, larger- scale projects that Lim said “Hawaii is uniquely positioned to lead.” These include sustainability, agriculture and agricultural technology, renewable energy and housing.
Other plot twists for the second group include perhaps finding a communal setting with an Olympic village-style atmosphere that provides space for casual interaction, and potentially bringing over entire work teams that could end up as case studies for remote work hubs and new models for tourism, Lim said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
>> Visit moversandshakas.org