“The mission is something I believe in. It’s too difficult for working families to make a living here.”
The through-line in Josh Wisch’s life has been about fighting for the underdog. He is currently the Executive Director at Holomua, an organization that cares deeply about raising the standard of living for all in Hawai‘i. “The mission is something I believe in. It’s too difficult for working families to make a living here.”
As a boy growing up in St. Clairsville, Ohio, he first experienced what hard work looked like. “My dad took on three jobs – philosophy professor, paralegal, and hospital orderly – all at the same time, in order for my mother to be a full-time mom while my sister and I were young. I saw what people did to be able to sustain the lifestyle they wanted,” he remembers of his staunchly middle-class upbringing. Wisch sees that same hard work ethic from people in Hawai‘i, but they’re still struggling to make ends meet.
The time is now, he feels, before the growing diaspora becomes an exodus. “As more people have left, in some ways it makes it easier for more people to keep leaving. Now for people going to Vegas, Portland, Boise, so many people have left there’s an infrastructure of Hawai‘i people already there. It’s created a momentum.” He adds that his third-generation local wife, Malia, points out this is fundamentally changing the culture of Hawai‘i in a way that is unfortunate.
What they both like about Hawai‘i is the small-town vibe in which “people look out for each other.” Even working in a stereotypically contentious profession as law, Wisch notices it’s more civil here, because “for good or for ill, your reputation follows you. That incentivizes people to be decent to each other and breeds a sense of family and community you don’t see in other places.” It’s comfortable for Wisch because it’s the same small-town dynamic he grew up with.
That is why after he graduated from Georgetown Law in 2002, he and Malia moved home. He worked as a litigator at two private law firms upon first arriving, then branched out into jobs in government, politics, and nonprofit.
Wisch intends to use that experience to help build relationships across sectors. “New solutions require new approaches,” he submits. “I’m privileged to have worked in those spheres. I see their value and appreciate the ways in which they view the world. There are incredible people in each of those fields who have a real commitment to Hawai‘i, but they approach it differently, and there can be very little cross-over. I’d like to start with relationship-building. It all goes back to that small town feeling.”
“There are easier places to make a living,” he contemplates. “But Hawai‘i is special; Malia and I believe it was completely worth it to return.” He admits he was lucky to have education and decent employment, and now it’s his mission to pay that forward to others in the community.