A Legend of Oceania Retires

Failautusi Avegalio, Jr. Credit: Ryan T. Foley

FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, FAILAUTUSI AVEGALIO, JR., affectionately known as “Dr. Tusi,” forged deep and powerful relationships across the Pacific — strengthening the foundation and success of the University of Hawai‘i’s (UH) Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP).  

Retirement ceremony for Avegalio.

Having grown up in American Samoa with genealogical and historical roots from all major island groups of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, Avegalio was born and raised with an intrinsic understanding and appreciation for Pacific traditions, values and practices. As a papali‘i (traditional leader) of Savaii, Samoa, he has always embraced and espoused the importance of local history, culture and ancestral wisdom.

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in education and social science from Emporia State University, he earned his master’s degree from Truman State University and then a EdD from Brigham Young University. His dissertation proposed educational provisions that were adopted into the Constitution of American Samoa in 1984, creating a platform for the country to weave traditional values, lessons and practices into modern education.

Crediting “spiritual IQ as the basis of truly effective leadership among Polynesians,” Avegalio emphasized that, “Good leaders lead, and great leaders heal,” a mantra and technique that has guided his long and successful career as an educator, advocate and leader.

Avegalio joined the College of Business Administration at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1982, becoming its first tenure-track professor from Oceania. He became a nationally and internationally recognized expert and business consultant regarding courses he taught over the years at multiple institutions including organizational behavior, theory and development, executive leadership, international human resource management, cross-cultural dynamics, collaborative decision-making, total quality management and quality circles theory.

Ten years after joining UH, Avegalio resigned to return to American Samoa Community College (ASCC), where he previously served as an administrator, at the behest of the government  — as the college was at risk of losing its accreditation. During his brief term as president, he secured ASCC’s accreditation and established greater institutional autonomy from the government.

Shortly after, he was appointed as director of PBCP, where he helped expand and deepen its network and initiatives throughout the Pacific with the help of his dedicated team. Avegalio focused on weaving traditional wisdom and culture with modern science, knowledge and technology to establish more holistic, systems-based economic development opportunities that reflect U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands culture, landscape and values.

Through his “management by mana” leadership style, Avegalio consulted and developed strong relationships with traditional leaders and village councils gathering cultural context of their organic worldviews to balance and merge them with Western perspectives and opportunities.

“UH is uniquely positioned to be a beacon of the ‘Blue Continent’ as a global model,” Avegalio said. “We understand the importance of values shared throughout the Pacific, and have the expertise and resources to integrate modern science and technology into traditional practices, to allow us to thrive while living in balance with Mother Earth.” 

Through this rule of thought, Avegalio significantly broadened PBCP’s network and successes through new innovative efforts, including:

STARS OF OCEANIA, an event held every few years to honor and gather PBCP partners, organizations and project collaborators, including prominent government and community leaders, educators, innovators, cultural practitioners, athletes and more.

PACIFIC REGIONAL BREADFRUIT INITIATIVE, with its award-winning breadfruit summit held in tandem with Stars of Oceania, has continued to gather hundreds of stakeholders and experts to share research and resources, and discuss the market potential and export opportunities around the region’s indigenous breadfruit crop.

Multi-Purpose Business Incubator partner Phoenix Carbon Company and its Thermal Conversion of Organic Material technology

MULTI-PURPOSE BUSINESS INCUBATOR, addresses the lack of basic needs in remote, regional areas by providing a high-impact, symbiotic university and private partnership model that supports proven, regenerative practices and technologies that weave modern science and traditional wisdom to drive local economic development. PBCP partnered with five local organizations that provided holistic solutions to Pacific Island challenges including food security, water access, waste management, healthcare and connectivity. Each initiative was recognized as a finalist or winner by the University Economic Development Association (UEDA), making PBCP one of the most distinguished UEDA programs in the nation.

In his role at PBCP, Avegalio also served as a catalyst for establishing various organizations including:

HONOLULU MINORITY BUSINESS ENTERPRISE CENTER AT THE UH MĀNOA SHIDLER COLLEGE OF BUSINESS, provides customized business solutions for Hawai‘i’s minority entrepreneurs.

RISING VOICES CENTER FOR INDIGENOUS AND EARTH SCIENCES, a national network of indigenous, tribal and community leaders, scientists, students, educators and other experts from around the world dedicated to advancing science through indigenous and Earth science partnerships and opportunities. 

Avegalio and Multi-Purpose Business Incubator partner Kyle Stice (center) of the Pacific Farmer Organisations receives the UEDA 2022 National Award of Excellence.

COLLABORATIVE LEADERS NETWORK, a select group of top facilitators in the state, as identified by nationally and internationally renowned collaborative decision-making expert Sam Kaner, that helps leaders resolve complex issues through diverse approaches and collaborative methods that offer real, lasting change.

For his prodigious efforts throughout Hawai‘i and the Pacific, Avegalio has received numerous local, regional and national awards including the 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency and National Disaster Preparedness Training Center’s 2017 Community Resilience Leadership Award.

“Dr. Tusi excels at connecting individuals, organizations and our community, and has been a strong advocate in driving economic development that blends cultural practices with opportunities in modern science and technology,” said Vassilis L. Syrmos, UH vice president for research and innovation. “Leading with humility and respect, we want to recognize and thank him for the knowledge, experience, connections and significant contributions he has given to us over his remarkable career at UH.”