Meet Kauai’s Collaboration Master
Barbara Curl’s gift is bringing together disparate people and their ideas to create a sum larger than the individual parts
She’s Done Many Things In Her Life, But Barbara Curl’s True Calling Is Bringing People Together And Helping Them Find Solutions To Disagreements
Barbara Curl sees positive potential in every situation.
Adviser for many leaders across the island, Curl serves as a neutral catalyst for bridging gaps between community members so that, together, they may form new ideas and paradigms in an evolving society.
Her counseling service began shortly after she moved to the island in the early 1990s. At that time, there was animosity between North Shore residents and the Princeville Development Corporation.
“People didn’t like them,” says Curl, who met the president of the development company at a cocktail party in Princeville several months after Hurricane Iniki struck the island. The company had ongoing plans to enhance development, and there were misunderstandings and communication problems between the two groups. They needed a way to come together and express each side of the story.
“And I knew how to do that,” says Curl.
She started by meeting with both sides and facilitating community forums, where small groups came together to discuss the issues.
“Eventually we had this huge meeting in the clubhouse, and we had a program with the history of the North Shore and we had everybody together,” recalls Curl. “We solved the problem.”
By recognizing the grievances North Shore community members had, the development company was able to come up with solutions that satisfied both groups, and residents started to see the developers as people rather than a corporation. After that successful endeavor, Curl formed the nonprofit Kaua’i Aloha Foundation, which continues to serve the community in a similar fashion.
Currently, she is in the process of gathering community leaders from difference sectors, including government and nonprofit organizations, in an attempt to create new ideas.
“By meeting them and knowing them, I know they are here to change systems,” says Curl, who believes each of the members is a visionary attempting to shift the status quo.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., for example, is setting a new precedent. His Holoholo 2020 project is a case in point. Through the project, Carvalho is attempting to revitalize the island with initiatives that include increasing alternative energy sources and locally grown food.
“And no one has been out in the community like he is,” says Curl. But others also were “out there doing things before, but they were doing them separately. Now they all know they’re doing it, and they’re helping each other.”
An example of what has developed from community leaders working together in recent years is the Keiki to Career project managed by Kaua’i Planning and Action Alliance. The managing organization has teamed up with the Department of Education and Kaua’i Community College in an effort to nurture the youths of Kaua’i from cradle to career through programs and innovative services.
Curl also was responsible for bringing together a team of community leaders from 1996 to 2004, which included current County Councilwoman
JoAnn Yukimura. The group came up with the slogan “Aloha: It’s Kaua’i’s Spirit.” The message was conveyed through some 250,000 Aloha Cards that were distributed around the island and 700 posters delivered annually to the Department of Education for every classroom. There are still a half dozen signs (recently refurbished) located in communities across the island with messages such as “One Island, Many Peoples, All Kauaians.”
“We did it as a team,” explains Curl. “We wanted to come up with something that would be acceptable and embraced by the community.”
Other ideas that stemmed from the group included Kauaian Days, a two-week event of cultural activities, as well as the concept for the organization Leadership Kaua’i.
“Barbara’s passion for bringing Kaua’i’s leaders together to collaborate has helped to sustain an important dialogue among key decision-makers,” says Carvalho. “She is a driving force for collaboration and creating positive relationships that has truly benefited our island community for decades.”
Curl also is a member of the Kaua’i Health and Wellness Association board, and she participates in projects that support the growth of the community’s overall well-being.
“We are engaged in catalyzing and allowing the Kaua’i Wellness Expo 2013 to take its next big step,” she says regarding the organization’s annual event set for Feb. 9 and 10 at Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall.
With her help, more participation is slated for this year’s
expo by unconventional health agents from around the island including representatives from the government and education sectors, who also contribute to the well-being of the community.
“We’ve got to put health and well-being No. 1 on the board,” says Curl.
The Midwest native wasn’t always such a visionary. When she was growing up, women didn’t have many professional options other than teaching and nursing.
“That was what was on the menu,” she says of why she chose to earn a bachelor’s in education from the University of Minnesota. She eventually resigned from her teaching pursuits and was hired as a rental agent for a high-rise luxury apartment building in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I knew nothing about sales or hotels,” she admits.
Nonetheless, her boss noticed her ability to work well with others.
“One of my gifts is to see what’s possible in people and situations,” she says.
Curl ultimately became vice president and general manager of the hotel Campus Inn, where she remained for 14 years. In the meantime, she served as the first woman president of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and also initiated the Leadership Ann Arbor organization.
Curl ended up moving to California prior to her arrival on Kaua’i, when she took three years off to consider what her next venture would be. She decided after much reflection that she would begin an entrepreneurial consulting firm called Vision Ventures International, where she met with individuals including doctors and lawyers, inspiring them to pursue successful business practices.
“I was making it safe so that people can listen to their intuition,” she says. “Most people don’t like to listen – it scares them. It scares them to death. We have to listen to our internal compass. That’s the only thing that’s going to get us all the way through.”
Curl brings this same message of successful living to the people of Kaua’i.
In fact, she sees the island being a demonstration model for the rest of the world on how to live more cohesively, thereby constructing a more sustainable community through teamwork.
“She is an inspiration to all who meet her,” says Kaua’i Hospice executive director Lori Miller. “Indeed, what I find most inspiring is her true embodiment of enlightenment.
“Barbara Curl’s service to humanity by serving community is the mission of her work with the Kaua’i Aloha Foundation.”
Miller, who works with Curl, says she is lucky to have crossed paths with such a person.
Speaking of paths, to find inspiration for her beloved ideas, Curl likes to take walks on the beach. She also enjoys traveling and has recently visited India, Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand and Bali. Reading books, particularly biographies, is another pastime.
Curl appreciates all of what Kaua’i has to offer and knows the island, with some assistance from her in creating a stronger community, has the potential to become a worldwide model.