PRUDENTIAL EMERGING VISIONARIES 2023 | SOCIETAL SOLUTION WINNER
Project: “WeGo! Hawaii"
Kylee Hamamoto, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii, created “WeGo! Hawaii” to foster strong and independent female leaders and create a community space for young women to pursue changemaking.
The initiative operates through a four-step process where participants discover their passion, build confidence under the guidance of the WeGo! Leadership program and ultimately create a venture. Then participants pay it forward, working with the next cohort of young women leaders. Kylee’s project has helped more than 200 students create 50 projects across the United States and Japan.
LOCATION: Honolulu, Hawaii
FOCUS AREAS: Youth, Equity & Inclusion
My dining room table is my “Aha!” moment. It is where I eat dinner not only with my family, but with my Japanese exchange students. I’ve been hosting students since 3rd grade and hosted over 80 students from almost every Japanese prefecture, ranging from the ages of 10 through 55. With this experience, I’ve been able to hear thousands of stories about life in Japan. All these stories that I’ve heard left me thinking about ways I can support girls in Japan from all the way across the Pacific. Every single story shared one common thread: they were all chasing after something.
Some moved to America to run away from bullying because they didn’t necessarily fit into the Japanese culture and were chasing after social acceptance. Some chose to study in America because they were struggling to find jobs back at home, so their only option was to come to America, learn English from not knowing a single word, and chase after employment. Some were divorced mothers getting a degree at a local community college here in Hawaii to finally chase after their dreams that they weren’t able to do back in Japan because of the social pressure for women to become unemployed housewives.
By listening to countless stories from women among several generations, I felt determined to build something where women don’t have to make their chase alone, but instead with the support from a greater community.
I am breaking the glass ceilings that are holding women back from equal representation in leadership.
My dad was a spearhead in my life for gender equality and always taught me the importance of independence. Every time I needed an escape from reality or needed to get my mind off of something, my dad would take me cruising. Before these car trips, he would say two succinct words, “We go.” To me, these words meant my dad’s support and I want all girls to feel empowered, confident, and supported too when they hear the name, WeGo! This is also why I love the name WeGo! so much. It incorporates local pidgin slang that will always tie back to the place it was founded and remind us of the local values of aloha (love), kuleana (responsibility), laulima (many hands at work), and mālama (stewardship) that we promote everywhere we go.
Hawaii is such a special place with an even more special community, but a lot of our greatest and brightest minds leave the islands, with many never coming back. Therefore, it is important to foster changemakers for the future, right here at home, that will make positive changes within our small, yet strong community. More importantly, I want to be able to foster leaders that will pay their na`auao (wisdom) forward to future leaders and perpetuate a cycle of positive community change in Hawaii.
My approach in fostering strong female leaders is through a 4-step process. We have to accommodate every girl’s individual journey in becoming a leader and changemaker. Our 4-step process guides girls from start to finish from discovering their passion, building confidence, and finally creating a venture that incorporates their passion and creates positive change within their community. More can be found here!
1 Knowing Your Passion: help discover their passion!
Where do WeGo?: Podcast with women from a variety of fields with over thousands of listens, available on over 9 platforms, and has listeners from over 10 different countries and 23 US states!
Women in Tech: Conference with over 1,000 participants able to hear stories from leading women in tech companies like Netflix, Tesla, Venmo, Apple, and more!
2 Finding Your Voice: help build confidence and understand the power of their voice!
Business Workshop: Series of workshops to help girls build the confidence they need to start their own business.
3 Starting Your Cause: support in starting their own project!
WeGo! Leadership Program: Girls who have their own individual passions create their own projects with our guidance.
4 Sharing Your Voice: sharing their project with others!
Student Entrepreneur of the Month: Series on our social media platforms highlighting female students who own and run their own businesses.
WeGo! focuses on mentorship and the process of sharing your na`auao (wisdom) with others, creating a system of “paying it forward.” Girls that complete our 4-step process go on to mentor others on becoming leaders for positive community impact. This cycle of learning and teaching is vital in creating and perpetuating a strong female community everywhere. The beauty of this system is its inclusivity. Girls from vastly different communities in Hawaii (private and public schools, both large and small) as well as internationally in Japan (in the Kanto & Kansai regions, two areas known for their differing social cultures) have gone through our 4-step process, and I've been able to bridge these communities together to create a global network of female leaders, promoting positive change and global cooperation.
I've taken my process to girls throughout my state and in countries abroad and it has proven to help any girl in becoming a confident leader for their community. It ensures WeGo!'s scalability and sustainability due to the comprehensive nature of our 4-step process.
Looking towards the future, I'm hoping to expand the community I've built thus far and broaden WeGo!'s reach in order to ensure that every girl is given the resources and support that they need in order to spark positive change within their community and together, creating change globally!
"This feels unreal. When you think of change, you think of big companies and being able to do it with my own hand feels unreal." This is what Ke'elikolani Middle Schooler, T (for confidentiality reasons), had to say about our 4-step process. 74% of her school's population is economically disadvantaged. Yet, we were able to help T start her own sticker business where she promotes creativity and self-expression in her community.
Our “WeGo! Leadership Program” supports student leaders in starting their own projects. I’ve helped over 50 student leaders, like T, go through our 4-step leadership process and create over 50 projects to empower girls. Now, I'm currently helping over 200 girls work through the process as we speak! I’ve also been able to open global WeGo! chapters in Tokyo and Osaka. The WeGo! Tokyo and Osaka leaders went through our 4-step process and are making events to help create a network of female leaders there as well! A major problem is the lack of knowledge about gender inequality. Many are unaware of the issue because of deep-rooted Japanese social norms. The Tokyo and Osaka leaders were able to identify this issue among Japanese girls and are working towards spreading awareness.
I've been able to assemble a core team of over 30 students who work alongside me and together, we are fostering genuine changemakers who are breaking glass ceilings!