Staff Directory


Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is a recognized scholar, public policy spokesperson and community leader in Hawaii. In 2016, Dr. Akina was elected to statewide public office as trustee-at-large for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He is an expert in East-West philosophy and ethics, has taught at universities in China and the United States, and continues as an adjunct instructor at Hawaii Pacific University. He holds advanced degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hawaii.

Joe Kent
Vice president of research

Joe Kent is vice president of research at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. He grew up on the Big Island and attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Minnesota State University, where he obtained his degree in education. Joe was a public school teacher for eight years at King Kamehameha III School in Lahaina, Maui and at Sleepy Eye Public School in Minnesota. He was also a student fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.

Malia Blom Hill
Director of policy

Malia Hill comes to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii with a background in law, politics and communications. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Saint Mary’s University and obtained her J.D. from the Catholic University of America. After working in Hawaii politics at the state level, including a brief period with the Office of Rep. Mark Moses, she went on to work for several advocacy groups based in Washington, D.C., where she currently resides. As policy director for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, she works on both national and state issues affecting the future of Hawaii.

Sean Mitsui
Director of development

Sean is a graduate from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a major in finance and minor in political science. He was born and raised in Hawaii, but also has lived in Japan and California. Sean worked at a local insurance company before joining the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. During his spare time, he is an avid runner who participates in the Honolulu Marathon every year. He also enjoys reading books about history and economics.

Derek Draplin
Director of communications

Derek Draplin is originally from Detroit, Michigan and is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan. Derek left his position as senior opinion producer at Forbes to join the Grassroot Institute. Derek has also been an editor at The Daily Caller for nearly three years. He’s worked as a reporter at The Detroit News and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s investigative news site, Michigan Capitol Confidential.


Mark Coleman
Writer, managing editor

Mark Coleman is a veteran journalist who spent almost three decades with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a decade with Honolulu-based Pacific Business News, and two years with the Pacific Daily News on Guam. He has communication degrees from Florida State University and the University of Hawaii, was a Herbert J. Davenport Fellow in Business and Economic Reporting at the University of Missouri, reported from Japan as part of an International Press Institute journalist exchange program, and is a former Hawaii chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He also has been published widely as a freelance writer.

David Swann
Cartoonist, illustrator, designer

David Swann is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in history. He was born and raised in Huntsville, Ala., and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He was an editorial cartoonist for the Huntsville Times in northern Alabama for nine years before settling in Hawaii in 1994. He worked as a graphic artist for the Honolulu Advertiser until 1997, then switched to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 19 years, as both papers merged to become the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He has won numerous local and national awards for graphics, cartoons and illustrations.

Aaron Lief
Writer, researcher

Aaron Lief was born on Kauai and raised on Oahu. He spent four years as a geospatial intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, with the 6th Intelligence Squadron in South Korea and 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron in Florida. In addition to working as a writer and researcher for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, he is a senior at Hawaii Pacific University, majoring in nursing. In his free time, he hosts events at venues throughout Oahu to showcase local musical artists.