• Yasmin Prabhudas

Kupu Raises Hawaii’s Future Environmental Leaders


Kupu volunteers during a team-building event. ©Kupu
Kupu volunteers during a team-building event. ©Kupu

Kupu means “to sprout or grow” in Hawaiian. It’s also the name of a nonprofit based in Honolulu, Hawaii, helping young people to grow into torch bearers for the environment by instilling in them aloha ʻāina or “love of the land.”

Starting out in 2007, Kupu’s founding principle was to empower future generations to create a more sustainable Hawaii. It was established by John Leong, the organization’s chief executive officer, in response to a growing need to train local young people in natural resource management. Building on the AmeriCorps model, which provides people power and funding to community projects across the US, Leong and his team developed an extensive partnership network of projects working to support the local environment and to provide energetic young volunteers with funded placements. Kupu’s efforts have been rewarded: it won the accolade of charity of the year when it received a 2021 Better Business Bureau Torch Award.

Leong explains, “Since 2007, Kupu has grown from a startup nonprofit to where we are today, as Hawaii's largest youth-focused conservation nonprofit. We have been able to grow by focusing on strategies that uplift everyone involved, from the young people we serve to the partners we place them with. Because everyone ends up better off than if they had not partnered with Kupu, we are able to grow in a sustainable way.”