Innovating in Education: Youth Action Alliance Hawaii

December 11, 2020

One of PAAC’s strengths is our ability to adjust quickly to the changing needs of our students. 

Youth Action Alliance Hawaii (YAAH) is a new, 100% virtual program for Hawaiʻi high school students seeking to develop global perspectives, take action to address issues in their community, and be civically engaged. The 7-month, cohort-based program is free for students and takes the place of PAAC’s Global Leadership Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

The YAAH cohort is comprised of 31 students from 17 different public, private, charter, and homeschools on Oʻahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island. These students have met on weekends every two weeks since September.

“Without the social connection and learning they typically get at school, it's easy for students to feel disconnected and disempowered,” noted PAAC’s Study Tour Director, Erica Nakanishi-Stanis. “YAAH is a valuable opportunity for like-minded youth to make new friends and reclaim some agency during this challenging time."

Another benefit for students is that YAAH is three unique leadership programs rolled into one.  YAAH represents a truly collaborative effort by PAAC, HawaiiKidsCAN, and Ceeds of Peace, three like-minded non-profit organizations that believe young people are vital to tackling the challenges we face.

Each organization draws on their strengths to oversee a different aspect of the program. PAAC’s role is to contextualize local issues by providing global perspectives on topics such as climate change, food security, equity, and more. Ceeds of Peace supports students as they develop and implement an Action Plan to address an issue in their community. HawaiiKidsCAN focuses on providing students with the knowledge and tools they need to advocate for systems change through public policy. 

“We’ve tried to look at the disruptions to our normal programs as an opportunity to innovate and work more closely with similar, grass-roots organizations who are doing important work to educate and empower our future global leaders,” said Jason Shon, PAAC High School Program Director. “And the best part is, students are the biggest winners.”


Workshops Led by PAAC

Students in YAAH were divided into five hui based on their interests and passions: climate change, health and well-being, education, social justice and culture, or building a resilient Hawaiʻi.  Students will gain a deeper understanding of these huis during PAAC-led workshops. 

Health and Well-Being Workshop: November 8

We often think of well-being as an individual issue, whether it be mental and emotional health or diet and physical exercise. But during this workshop, PAAC challenged students to think about well-being from a collective standpoint. How do we measure the well-being of countries around the world? What are the benefits and drawbacks of using economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of societal well-being? What other factors should we take into consideration besides economic growth? What we choose to measure can define our understanding of success – a key takeaway that students can also apply to their projects. 

Associate Professor Teresa Molina from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s Department of Economics also joined the conversation to help students understand basic economic concepts like GDP. Sharing examples of unsustainable tourism from the Philippines, she stressed the importance of considering a wide range of factors when analyzing collective well-being. “I have a feeling students came out of the workshop with a similar or even better understanding of GDP than students in some undergraduate econ classes,” she reflected.

Food Security: November 21

A hot topic here in Hawaiʻi, food security becomes an even more pressing problem when considered from a global perspective. For many poor people in developing countries who spend 60-80% of their income on food, food security is literally a matter of life and death. Given the challenges the world faces – including a projected population increase to over 9 billion, changing consumer habits and a greater demand for meat, limited natural resources, and climate change – how can we work to create a more food secure future for all? 

Ambassador (Ret.) and current PAAC Board Member, Lauren Kahea Moriarty, helped students to grasp the major factors impacting global food security. Her stories from working in China, Nepal, and other countries throughout Asia helped students to understand Hawaiʻi’s relative food security compared to the rest of the world. At the same time, Ambassador Moriarty affirmed the importance of working to become more food secure no matter where we live and that food security solutions can differ from country to country.

Looking ahead to spring semester, PAAC will facilitate workshops that develop students’ global perspectives on climate change, equity, and education. Students will also continue to work on their projects and share their progress with the community during a Student Showcase in April. PAAC is excited to continue working with our partners and this inspiring and motivated group of young leaders!

To learn more about YAAH, visit


Mahalo to YAAH’s sponsors: 

Atherton Family Foundation
City & County of Honolulu
Rotary Club of Honolulu
Stevens World Peace Foundation