For many Puerto Ricans, there is an understandable “here we go again” fear. It is well known that Maria left more than $90 billion in damage, causing nearly 3,000 deaths and the longest blackout in US history. Some towns waited around 11 months to regain power. If this type of disaster had occurred in the continental US, the appalling federal failure to respond in 2017 would have been unthinkable.
The road back has been long and challenging. Only about $25 billion of the nearly $80 billion authorized by Congress after Maria arrived on the island. Emergency agencies were slow to intervene. The entire federal response was summed up by Donald Trump, who briefly visited the island and casually threw rolls of paper towels into a crowd of Guaynabo residents.
Maria was followed in quick succession by multiple earthquakes in 2019 that delayed rebuilding, and of course the covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Five years later, the power grid is still crippled, providing unreliable electricity, stalling growth. of large and small companies. . One thing is for sure: More help is needed to support entrepreneurs and nonprofits.
But the inept federal response had a silver lining: It spawned new partnerships and creative ways of doing business. In community after community, we have seen Puerto Rico’s nonprofits rise to the challenge of rebuilding the archipelago in a way that is more sustainable and more just. Our family has worked together with the Hispanic Federation, a Latino membership organization in the United States, which has invested more than $50 million in the recovery of Puerto Rico and has funded 140 non-profit organizations.
The federally qualified health centers, which serve hundreds of thousands of mostly low-income Puerto Rican residents each year, were beacons of hope in the weeks after Maria, often becoming a gathering place for for people to gather, charge their phones, and store temperature-sensitive medications. . Several nonprofit organizations came together after Maria to provide solar power to 16 clinics, stabilizing services for future disasters. One of the centers is the Orocovis ER, located in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, which was kept running through Fiona when other institutions lost power.
Maria also destroyed about 80 percent of the island’s coffee trees. Coffee is fundamental to the cultural and economic identity of Puerto Rico; supports many families who run small multi-generational farms. So we set out to reinvigorate that sector by bringing together philanthropy and business to help.
A coalition including Nespresso, Starbucks, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others, came together to distribute 2 million climate-resilient coffee seedlings to more than 1,100 farmers. According to a 2017 agricultural census, 67 percent of coffee farms on the island qualify as small businesses, generating less than $10,000 in sales that year. Thanks to these kinds of collaborative efforts, and the leadership of local farmers’ organizations and the hard work of coffee farmers themselves, Coffee production on the island today has surpassed pre-Hurricane Maria levels.
Harder to resist have been the island’s arts and cultural groups, who always take a beating in natural disasters and are often the last to be resurrected. The Flamboyán Fund for the Arts enabled direct support for 541 artists and 106 arts organizations, including museums, theaters, arts education programs, and concert halls. The fund is behind the largest private investment in the arts in recent history and has sustained many organizations after Maria damaged her facility and deprived them of income in the months that followed. A typical grant went to the Museum of the Americas in San Juan, which lost power for more than 80 days after Maria, causing significant damage to a key exhibit on the Taino and other indigenous groups. The grant enabled the museum to restore artifacts and reopen an immersive exhibit for the public.
All of these groups again need help now that Fiona has attacked. The two storms remind us that Puerto Rico is in a state of increasing vulnerability. Solving its energy crisis, the effects of climate change and the continued migration out of the island are essential priorities both for the citizens of this island and for the nation of which it is a part. Nonprofit organizations cannot address these issues alone, but they can play a critical role in creating affordable health care, supporting the arts, and innovation in agriculture to improve farmers’ lives.
We call on all of our partners in philanthropy, business, and the arts to join our family and make direct investments in Puerto Rico.