70 years of growing businesses
7 mins read

70 years of growing businesses

Photo by Lawrence Tabudlo

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii and its new president, Melody Calisay, are providing business owners with the tools they need to succeed.

For 70 years, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii has been serving the business community as the oldest Philippine chamber of commerce in the United States.

This nonprofit organization, comprised of hundreds of entrepreneurs, executives and leaders, aims to promote Hawaiian businesses and strengthen ties between Hawaii and the Philippines through a variety of programs and workshops.

To celebrate seventy years of service, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii will host an anniversary and induction event for its members on July 27 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort.

“It’s an honor for me to be the current president of the 70th anniversary of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce,” says Melody Calisay, who has been a member of the organization since 2012. “It shows the stamina, the perseverance to have a successful and excellent organization. Seventy years, for me, is a testament to the Filipinos how hard they work.”

Calisay, who was born and raised in the Philippines, has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She previously worked in the Department of Health’s Environmental Management Division for more than 20 years. Now retired, Calisay is focusing on her own business, distributing Filipino produce in Hawaii.

While serving as president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii comes with many responsibilities, Calisay proves she is up to the task.

“I think as a business owner, I know what businesses need and how they can improve their business,” Calisay explains. “We can provide them with the tools on the entrepreneurial side so they can have an idea and increase their business growth.

“The Philippine Chamber of Commerce has a lot of good programs that are currently in place,” Calisay continues. “One thing I would like to highlight is the improvement in mentoring, workshops and training. I believe that through these workshops and seminars, their (members’) business and entrepreneurial skills will be strengthened. It will give them the latest tools that they can use in business and give them confidence.”

In preparing for her new role, Calisay worked closely with outgoing President Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy.

“Susie Berardy has done a great job during her tenure and has been a great help to me—giving me all the guidance I need, and when I take over, she will be like a shadow to me,” Calisay says.

One of the upcoming workshops of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce Hawaii will take place on July 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Honolulu Country Club. The leadership workshop, open to members and non-members, is led by Sonia Aranza, Global Strategist for Diversity and Inclusion.

Because networking is such an important aspect of business, Calisay is committed to active involvement in the Quad Chamber, which is comprised of four chambers of commerce: the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Honolulu, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii, and the Korean Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii.

“I think each of us has our own strengths and I want to leverage them, coordinate them and work with them so we can help each other,” Calisay says.

In addition to providing members with the resources they need to grow their businesses, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii believes in giving honor to those who deserve it and recognizes those who demonstrate excellence through the Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year Award, established in 1988 by former President Cecilia Villafuerte.

Shortly after the establishment of the Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Young Filipino Entrepreneur award was introduced to recognize the entrepreneurial skills of business owners under the age of 35. Calisay notes that more than 30 years later, Villafuerte’s vision continues to strengthen the Filipino business community and inspire others to start their own businesses and climb the corporate ladder.

The next Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year award is tentatively scheduled for next April. Some of the things the organization considers when selecting a recipient include community involvement and evidence of business growth under the nominee’s leadership.

While the Philippine Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii does much to help those in the business sphere, it also supports high school students through its foundation. Its scholarship program, which is funded by the proceeds of the organization’s annual golf tournament, has given out more than $30,000 in college scholarships in recent years.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii is always looking for new members. Membership is open to all ethnic groups. It is not necessary to have an existing business.

“As long as you think the organization will benefit you, you can apply,” Calisay adds. “Don’t cut corners when you’re doing business. You have to do business the right way and be honest in doing business. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of challenges, but hard work and perseverance always pay off.”

For more information, visit filipinochamber.org.

Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy
Former President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii

Susana Flestado De Leon Berardy has been a member of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii since 1996.

“This term as president has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career, and I will be forever grateful to the members of the chamber for entrusting me with the role of their president,” Berardy said of his term as president, which runs from July 2023 to June 2024.

She says she found community service particularly rewarding, recalling how the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii immediately sprang into action, selling T-shirts to raise funds for those affected by the wildfires on Maui.

Before Berarda’s term as president ended, she encouraged Melody Calisay to run for the position.

“I truly believe that the people we elect to lead our organizations should be of the highest moral standing, which reflects our community not only in Hawaii but around the world,” Berardy says. “As chamber president, you will be standing before local and global leaders, and being a leader of character is essential to representing our community. Melody has those qualities, and I am proud to have her lead the chamber.

“We are the oldest and largest Filipino chamber outside the Philippines, and with this distinction comes a great responsibility to live up to the high standards set by previous presidents.”

Berardy hopes community members will join the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii, saying, “Most importantly, we don’t just throw parties and dinners, we roll up our sleeves and get to work, creating an opportunity to connect the two communities in the Philippines and Hawaii.”