A year ago, desperate citizens in Punta Santiago with no food or water and cut-off from the rest of Puerto Rico by the lack of telecommunications and gas wrote a plea for help on the pavement: SOS, Necesitamos agua -alimentos.
Today instead of a cry for help there is Bienvenidos scrolled on the same pavement or Welcome, a sign that the community is hard at work to spearhead the area’s revitalization. Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR), a leading NGO in Puerto Rico with a mission to drive the island’s economic and social development, is working closely with the community in collaboration with a regional NGO, P.E.C.E.S., to help map the area’s resurgence. Through its Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative, FPR, private and public sectors and the community are working together in various towns across Puerto Rico such as Orocovis in the central mountain area, Aguadilla-Isabela in the northwest coast, and San Germán-Cabo Rojo, among others. The program plans to impact 24 communities in 12 towns in the next two years, including 300 small businesses.
“The goal is to help communities recover quicker, develop resilience for their long term economic growth by creating a Community Destination Development Plan to take advantage of the visitors economy potential and help increase both local and international tourism,” said Annie Mayol, President and COO of FPR.
In the case of Punta Santiago in Humacao, the work with the community has focused in three of its main tourist assets, the Humacao Natural Reserve, which includes lagoons, hiking trails, mangroves and abundant bird life, the Villa Pesquera or fishing village and Cayo Santiago, a University of Puerto Rico research facility that dates back from the 1930’s. Cayo Santiago has a Rhesus colony roaming free for research purposes since the 30s, attracting researchers from around the globe.
“FPR works with four components as part of the Bottom Up Initiative: basic needs and infrastructure, social capital, business support (for both the existing and the development of new), and branding and marketing,” said Alma Frontera, Director of Strategic Programs and Alliances for FPR.
Because this is a “bottom up” approach, Alma explained that it is critical that community members take a front row seat in the revitalization planning and implementation. That is why in the case of Punta Santiago they joined forces with P.E.C.E.S. and leveraged on their community knowledge, experience and commitment. P.EC.E.S., founded in 1985, provides prevention services, education and entrepreneurial training to communities in Puerto Rico’s southeastern region to foster socioeconomic development. “The objective is to co-design the entire process with our partners and the community. For them to envision their future and demonstrate the power of collaborations,” added Alma.
For José Oquendo, who leads P.E.C.E.S, “the collaboration with Foundation for Puerto Rico and its Bottom Up initiative has been an excellent opportunity to revive the Punta Santiago community and help P.E.C.E.S. to reactivate our people on social and economic terms.”
The community leader sees the collaboration as an opportunity “to think of community-based development alternatives based on our people, our potential and resources.” Another benefit of this approach is that it should lead to “sustainable development based on mutual collaboration and solidarity.”
He added that they are grateful to Foundation for Puerto Rico and to United for Puerto Rico for the “extraordinary collaboration” among the organizations and the community.
Meanwhile, the Bottom Up makes sure that all key stakeholders have been mapped and consulted. FPR moved eight members of its team to the community for five months to speed up the process and gain a better understanding of the needs and opportunities.
Businesses in the area also received support and training from FPR’s allies and key local organizations that specialize in providing support to entrepreneurs and small businesses, including Centro para Emprendedores and INprende.
Promoting an entrepreneurial atmosphere and mindset is also a priority reason why events such as the Startup Weekend and Actívate Humacao have been brought to the area. Selected start-ups will get the chance to go through boot camps and three finalists may have access to a capital infusion that will range from $40,000 to $70,000.
The sense of preparedness and safety is also an important part of the initiative. Community groups are being certified in preparedness, while 100 solar lamps have been placed in the area and a local community security council has been established.
The initiative in Punta Santiago was awarded a $500,000 grant from United for Puerto Rico. “At United for Puerto Rico we value the holistic approach developed by Foundation for Puerto Rico and its emphasis on having communities lead their recovery in a sustainable way,” said Mariely Rivera, Executive Director of United for Puerto Rico. “They are focused on developing the potential of the region’s major assets.”
The work FPR is doing with its allies and the community through the Bottom Up Initiative will provide tools for long-term sustainability and resilience. “There is no future in rebuilding the past,” according to the President of FPR. For more information on Foundation for Puerto Rico, please visit www.foundationforpuertorico.org. For more information on P.E.C.E.S., please visit www.pecesinc.org. For more information on United for Puerto Rico, please visit www.unitedforpuertorico.com.