Recently, I spent a week in Puerto Rico volunteering through IEDC as part of a disaster recovery grant program. This program was funded by the Economic Development Administration to support Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria, as well as other hurricanes and effects of the pandemic.
To put it in perspective, Hurricane Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. Homes, roads, bridges were destroyed and power was knocked out across the entire island. It’s been estimated that the cost to Puerto Rico’s economy was at least $43 billion.
I volunteered alongside other economic development professionals and together, we led marketing workshops, provided one-on-one consulting, and did lots of strategizing and brainstorming to support the local business community.
It was a full-on week with not a moment to spare!
We helped two different communities for two full days each, in Caguas and Ponce. In Caguas, we led a Fundamentals of Economic Development Marketing workshop, which was attended by many partners that support the business community and collaborate together. This included bankers, a small business development center, business incubator, workforce trainer partners, and the staff of the municipality.
At the beginning of the first day, most of these individuals didn’t know each other. By the end of the second day, people had made great contacts, found ways they could work together, and built a stronger team to support the business community and entrepreneurial system in Puerto Rico. That was amazing to witness and be a part of.
For the two days in Ponce and San Juan, we supported the nonprofit organization Centros Sor Isolina Ferré, which offers a host of services including job training, entrepreneur support, a head start program and a business incubator. We taught some core basics of economic development marketing and then offered program support and coaching, meeting with nearly ten different departments in one-on-one meetings.
The most challenging part of the trip? Not speaking Spanish! At many points, they spoke in English for us volunteers or we had a translator. When they spoke Spanish, there were some elements I could pick up, but it was definitely more difficult with face masks.
Overall, this was an amazing experience, and it took all the energy I had, between full-time teaching, presenting, discussing, and working through language barriers. A big thank you to my team, who covered for me as I was out of the office for the week.
It was fulfilling to share my passion with these organizations so they can see their work through a new lens, and it was exciting to see the new ideas they got from our work together. And, I enjoyed getting to see a different part of the world!
We all have our own special skills to share that can make a big difference to communities that need help. I would absolutely do something like this again. And if you can, I encourage you to find creative ways to give back as well.
Have you ever considered a volunteer experience like this where you can share your expertise with communities that really need it? Send us a message to share! 🙂
‘Til next time,