When the island was in the beginning of recovery and reconstruction, the Operation HOPE coaches began to bring HOPE to these remote communities through the partnership of the American Red Cross. The ARC’s support was instrumental in reaching people through their Coordinated Assistance Network (CAN). This platform collected necessary information from the survivors, especially their needs, which allowed us to refer them to applicable resources. Thanks to the Red Cross and their CAN platform, it was possible to expedite aid and meet the needs of these remote communities.
Through the Banco Popular Foundation, we received the initial impetus to begin disseminating our 2020 Small Business Programs on the island. The HOPE team in Puerto Rico presented our program to all Banco Popular branch managers, which led them to grant us access to their Finanzas En Tus Manos platform. Their support allowed us to connect with dreamers and small business owners. Additionally, they provided us with printed flyers that were distributed in communities, shops, churches, and educational institutions. Banco Popular was our first step on our wonderful Small Business Development journey in Puerto Rico.
Our Strategic Alliances
Operation HOPE has made 190 alliances and grass-roots partnerships throughout Puerto Rico, which include educational and religious institutions, non-profit organizations, municipalities, savings and credit cooperatives, and public and private agencies. This has been driven predominantly by the relationships and trust our coaches have built within – and extending out from – their communities. As Coach Ana Doris explains, “From the beginning of the program in Puerto Rico we have managed to establish good alliances that have helped us carry out our services and Operation HOPE’s mission.”
ASPRI is a nonprofit that uses federal funds from the Economic Opportunities Act to serve the most vulnerable populations with programs and services that reduce poverty. Their special projects include home repair, emergency, services for the aged population, education, community improvements, training, and employment. “Acción Social de Puerto Rico became involved with our alliance in such a way that they link [their groups] with our Business Development course. In other words, in addition to passing the Acción Social course, their participants need to graduate from Operation HOPE’s Business Development course in order to be granted the aid package,” explains Coach Hector. They are also a valuable partner in representation at community events such as job fairs.
“These are two main alliances that have been crucial for the development of the Small Business Development program in my region. They have sponsored nearly 100 participants,” says Coach Jose. The Farmer’s Association promotes the SBD program to its members, which has garnered 79 participants in the last two years. The Municipality of San Lorenzo has sponsored four small business workshops – over half of the participants in those workshops went ahead to register for the SBD program.
A 40-year-old nonprofit with a well-established reputation and audience, Casa Para Niños Nuevo Hogar is expanding and diversifying beyond their original program of temporary or permanent foster for children that were removed from their families. Some of their new projects focus on life skills for youth, a center for the elderly to avoid isolation, and access to – as well as training in – telecommunication. “They provide Operation HOPE with state-of-the-art facilities to hold in-person workshops and classes. They also have a large audience and have facilitated the expansion of our outreach throughout the Puerto Rico Midwest Mountain Range area,” explains Coach Julisette. This is a target market for Operation HOPE, as the region is an opportunity zone for financial development.
A program of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust and a member of the SourceLink national network, Colmena66 works to assist Puerto Rico entrepreneurs and merchants by providing easy and free access to the resources they need to start or grow their businesses. Their network is made up of more than 250 organizations that provide business support throughout Puerto Rico. “Colmena66 is a very important alliance for the platform and visibility it provides, and the network it gives us access to,” advises Coach Julisette. The network has reach in the public, nonprofit, and academia sectors, providing resources for incubation, acceleration, technical assistance, mentoring, access to capital, co-working spaces, and export, among other resources. Comena66 also analyzes the gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to strengthen the business community.
The Department of Commerce and Export is a government agency that offers assistance and grants to new and developing entrepreneurs. Operation HOPE’s liaison within the department, Mrs. Grisel Negrón, has referred great candidates for our services. “Since 2020, we have worked with her referrals to develop viable business plans, with many participants establishing new businesses and/or improving on existing businesses,” says Coach Ana Doris. This year Operation HOPE was invited to participate in a Conectate al Desarrollo tour where we had the opportunity to promote our services throughout the island.
Specializing in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Industry, the Escuela Hoterla de San Juan school prepares students to work as entry-level cooks. It covers hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and menu planning, professional cooking, international and local cuisine, and a bakery/pastry program. However, a large percentage of graduates are eager to open their own businesses, thus needing extra training in legal entities, budgeting, market research and financial projections, and creating a business plan. According to Coach Isabel, “That’s why our Small Business Program was a great help for the participants, and they welcomed it with a lot of enthusiasm. Our programs have had a decisive impact when it comes to these graduates and students of the program, in opening their eyes and showing them that they were qualified to open the business they had wanted for a long time. The program gave them the tools and more importantly the confidence to be able to do so.”
INPESO is a business incubator within the nonprofit organization SACED (Sabana Grande Community and Economic Development), providing training, mentoring, and assistance to entrepreneurs. The town of Sabana Grande lacks the incubators and resources that are found in more populated regions of Puerto Rico, and therefore provides a ripe market for impact. “By creating this alliance, I was able to provide the workshops and technical assistance to the participants, to educate them on various business topics that are important to running a business and achieving its objectives. Most of the participants are from the lower-middle class, which benefits them from the services to improve their economic situation and knowledge,” says Coach Afnelly. She commends INPESO for their constant communication, and their support in her being able to reach more individuals in need.
As the largest for-profit private university in Puerto Rico, the institution has seven campuses in Puerto Rico, nine campuses in Florida, and an online division with students across the US and Puerto Rico. Operation HOPE has had the opportunity to offer services in all NUC campuses as well as participate in more than 15 job fairs in the Technical Division promoting entrepreneurship and financial education. Coach Ana Doris explains, “The profile of its students is from all age ranges (18 to 60) with limited economic resources, but who have a great need to learn how to formalize businesses to work on their own. Cohorts [of our business development program] have been created for around 50 participants, in which we have achieved success stories and good feedback.”
With a mission to “fight poverty by helping people build regenerative farms, businesses, and markets that increase incomes,” TechnoServe connects people to information, capital, and markets in almost 30 countries. The organization arrived in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria to assist in the response and recovery of the agricultural sector of the economy, specifically the coffee farmers. Coach Julisette considers them a sister organization because “their mission and vision are very much aligned to us, and the reason to open operations in Puerto Rico is very similar to ours. TechnoServe gives us access to their huge audience and network and has helped us increase our audience and outreach.”