Alumna and leader of Chamber of Commerce Hawaii maintains that supporting local business is critical to economy

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Hawaii’s “Voice of Business” makes important pivots to best serve members through COVID-19 crisis 
By Dani Douglass 

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii’s (COC) President & CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara, JD/MBA ’05, led her organization to make swift modifications to the way it does business. There have been internal pivots for staff, which include video check-ins in the morning and late afternoon, as well as a fun Friday activity to kick start the weekend. External changes have also been implemented, such as modifying a once-bustling events schedule to a new virtual format, as well as ramping up informational webinar opportunities for members.

“While these are not revenue-generating events, we strongly felt it was important to support our members by providing valuable and important resources while navigating this uncharted and unfamiliar territory and their path forward,” she says. 


Menor-McNamara says that COC’s main concern remains to adjust to a new norm and adjusting the organization’s business model to best serve its members. She believes that, as with any challenge, taking advantage of potential opportunities in this new norm will elevate and strengthen the COC’s role as a business advocate. Menor-McNamara says the organization’s goal is to ensure that the small business voice is represented during this unique and challenging time. 

“We’ll also need to provide our members and the broader business community with more value-added tools and resources so they can sustain their operations during this time and to help them thrive in our economy,” she explained. “From an economic standpoint, we are deeply concerned about the sustainability of our local and small businesses. Many are on their last lifeline and without additional relief and support, many will not be able to survive. If this happens, the impact will change our communities.”

While the day-to-day duties of COC have traditionally involved face-to-face interactions, the Chamber team has adjusted well with the new protocols and working virtually. “Communication is critical amongst our team members, as well as with our membership, which is why we immediately launched a COVID-19 website and daily email updates,” Menor-McNamara says. “Information is constantly changing so we felt it was necessary and critical that our membership was regularly updated in a clear, concise and coordinated fashion.”

As Menor-McNamara continues to navigate the new norms each and every day, she has some advice for her fellow Shidler alumni and for Hawaii business owners. “Stay positive and find the light,” she says. “We are all in the same situation, so use this opportunity to reach out to your fellow alumni for any needed advice and assistance. This is the time when we need to support and collaborate with each other.” 

She acknowledges that this is also a difficult time for students and that, although it's not the ideal situation for students and recent graduates, the power of human connections still remains strong.

“While students may see this as a challenging time for job prospects and with the changing work dynamics caused by COVID, seize this as an opportunity to be curious, learn, network and connect with people in your areas of interest,” Menor-McNamara says. “Be bold and don't be afraid to reach out to someone you admire and want to meet. Leverage a positive mindset and the skillsets of your generation and explore how you can find solutions and develop initiatives in chartering the path forward.”