Joy Barua, Managing director of community benefit, community relations and health policy, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii
Joy Barua credits his global upbringing and boardingschool days for making him the ultra-productive human he is today. Barua lived in Bangladesh until he was nine, when he headed off to an all-boys British Catholic school in Darjeeling, close to Everest base camp. It was mandatory to pick a new hobby to master each year, so he became an ace in things like photography, design, trekking, aeromodeling and sewing, and saw how applying discipline and focus yielded results. After graduating high school in Japan and turning down opportunities for flight school, medical school and fashion school, Barua attended Hawai‘i Pacific University, where he earned his MBA in management and M.A. in organizational change. He went on to complete executive business programs at Harvard Law and Columbia University before jumping into high-profile leadership roles.
Barua spent nearly the next two decades in the nonprofit realm, wearing many different hats—chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer. After a seveninterview evaluation process, he joined Kaiser Permanente Hawai‘i, the local arm of the largest integrated nonprofit health system in the country. Today he leads a dizzying amount of projects as managing director of community benefit, community relations and health policy, working to protect and promote community health via impact, investments and advocacy. He often travels to meet with counterparts in other states to leverage their successes and share what’s working locally, and undertakes extensive research to back the wellness polices he champions for Hawai‘i communities.
“I have grown increasingly fond of seeing problems as windows to possibilities.”
As someone who has always valued creativity in problem solving, Barua prides himself on bringing innovation to a rapidly changing, highly regulated industry environment that is traditionally extremely difficult to innovate. He works directly with government, public and private entities to initiate systemic changes and create environments of health. Using his research findings and collaborative skills, Barua approaches community health centers with ideas for enhancements that will improve the collective health care system. For example, Kaiser has some of the world’s most advanced health information technology, and encouraging other health centers to utilize that technology empowers health care providers to better serve vulnerable populations.
Barua has been working with policymakers to increase the reimbursement rate for local school lunch programs and calling on the U.S.
Department of Education for federal funding. Other projects include initiating a healthy beverage program at Castle school complex, implementing a plan to get several O‘ahu farmers’ markets to accept EBT cards and working with Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui and impact investment firm Ulupono Initiative to get more local food into school lunches.
He also brought together the Department of Health and the City and County of Honolulu to kick-start the very first cityrun farmers’ market in Kalihi.
Barua manages challenging partnerships by helping organizations and agencies find common ground.
“It’s about rolling up our sleeves to jointly solve problems—listening first to genuinely understand the issues, and then empowering others to collaborate. All voices matter, and we strive to find value for everyone involved,” he says. At the end of the day, Barua’s aim is to position Kaiser Permanente as a thought partner that organizations can tap for ideas and resources that improve quality of life in Hawai‘i.
Barua’s unique ability to foster change with alternative thinking has earned him a laundry list of awards, including Diversity MBA Magazine’s Top 100 under 50 Emerging Leaders and Hawaii Business magazine’s 20 for the Next 20. But he’s quick to point out that any success he’s had is the result of collaborative thinking and serving others. “We’re working together to promote a common vision for total health, with people doing things for people,” Barua says. “Health is an asset, and maintaining good health is a responsibility. When we share this belief, we see healthier communities.”
Even outside of work, Barua is devoted to serving others. He helps budding entrepreneurs write business plans to get microloans and volunteers like a mad man, serving on 30 different task forces, issue groups and boards, including Aloha United Way’s financial review committee. He’s also very active on the leadership team of the Transform Hawai‘i Government coalition in pursuit of a transparent, accountable and efficient local government.
What keeps Barua’s cup full in the midst of such a demanding lifestyle? He’s a big believer in the mind-body-spirit connection and in nurturing his creative side to offset the perpetual focus on others.
He loves writing poems and is a bit of a fashion maven on the side—he’s designed over 300 “aloha shirts with a twist” and grown his collection to nearly 1,200 shirts.
“I have grown increasingly fond of seeing problems as windows to possibilities,” Barua says. “To be a successful change architect, you have to be a simulator of possibilities by using your leadership imaginarium as your playbook and the environment as your playground.
The greatest compliment I can receive is when someone comes to me saying, ‘We need your help.’”
KAISER PERMANENTE HAWAI‘I
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