Poverty prevention comes from empowerment, not charity.
The wise old adage “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” is a testament to this truth and the underlying force driving the work of Friends of Puerto Rico.
Founded in 2015, Friends of Puerto Rico is a nonprofit organization on a mission to eliminate poverty on the Caribbean island by empowering women and children with entrepreneurial skills.
“Puerto Rico has the highest poverty rate in all of the United States, with the majority of women and children being worst affected,” said Angelique Sina, the initiative’s President. “Many children and their mothers live in rural, mountainous areas of the island, making it difficult to connect with the outside world and make a living. Our programs aim to change that.”
SEEDS of Success
One of the nonprofit’s initiatives is SEEDS, a program designed to empower women and children with the skills to grow their own products, manage their profits, and handle all aspects of running a small business.
“This course teaches the basics of entrepreneurship, such as how to spot an opportunity, how to manage money, and how to market products,” said Angelique. “On top of that, people learn how to build and operate a basic website with e-commerce capabilities, allowing them to earn money from any location.”
FoPR sends specially trained teachers out to rural communities to deliver the SEEDS curriculum since accessing capital San Juan would be too difficult from these remote locations. Thanks to generous donations to the nonprofit, these teachers are paid throughout the entire course, allowing them to focus on providing the best possible education to those in need.
SEEDS has already led to the formation of 25 companies in Puerto Rico, all led by kids aged 9 to 12. The children come from different Montessori public schools in the towns of Vieques, Aibonito, Guaynabo, Toa Baja, and Barranquitas.
One notable success story is Mia. At only ten years of age, Mia Isabella, from a small mountain municipality called Aibonito, is the founder of a pet accessory company and another small business, which she started in less than 30 weeks.
“Mia started out very shy due to her rural upbringing, but after seeing success with her entrepreneurship, she has really opened up,” said Angelique. “We’ve provided her media training for interviews, advice on how to pitch her products, and she has even visited New York with us. It’s all very exciting to see her grow so fast.”
Another student, Dara, founded a company called Recycle, Share, and Play, which involves using objects around the house and converting them into educational toys. Her story was recently picked up by the National Youth Foundation, which provided her with a US$1,000 grant.
FoPR also supplies Cafe Ama coffee to teach kids about entrepreneurship. Similar to the girl scout cookies model, the children sell Cafe Ama coffee door to door and hold on to the funds as seed money for their own business when they’re ready.
(Friendly nudge: whoever buys Cafe Ama coffee is automatically supporting the SEEDS program, so pick up your fresh beans on the website.)
Inspiring the Future
Born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, Angelique has been living in Washington DC since 2010, enabling her to raise funds and support the initiative from mainland U.S. for around a decade. Still, 2020 has been a difficult year for Friends of Puerto Rico.
“During the pandemic, we’ve been quite worried about what would happen to the program,” Angelique told us. “Around 20% of the children in our programs haven’t had easy access to food, which has been stressful, but we’ll continue to support everyone as much as we can during this challenging time.”
As the pandemic rages, the nonprofit has been working to strengthen its operations on the island of Puerto Rico, where the majority of the team works. FoPR has strong partnerships with community organizations around the country. On Vieques Island, for example, the nonprofit’s partners keep them informed about which families on the island are most vulnerable, allowing them to prioritize those who need support.
“Much of the country’s population lives on government welfare, so we want to enable people to fulfill their dreams regardless of their location or social status,” said Angelique. “Being poor is not always about having less money; it’s about not having the contacts or network of people who can help you accomplish what you want to, so our mission is to help develop that network for people and bring them together.”
Along with The Clinton Foundation, Angelique and her team have committed to developing 1,000 women and girls in the next year, both through SEEDS and the Amigas program, a networking and collaboration initiative for women. “Now, after Hurricane Maria, there is a need for skills development and training, so Amigas is a great way to share knowledge and enable women to learn new skills,” said Angelique.
As the nonprofit looks to the future, Friends of Puerto Rico is offering companies the opportunity to directly and positively impact the lives of people in need.
Help people acquire the skills and capabilities they need to improve their lives by donating to Friends of Puerto Rico, buying Cafe Ama, or supporting the initiative however you can. Visit friendsofpuertorico.org to find out more.