Forward Cities' Co-Founder and a native of Puerto Rico, Denise M. Byrne, and ConPRmetidos (a key player in the island's innovation ecosystem www.conprmetidos.org ), took 33 leaders from Puerto Rico — from the philanthropic, higher education, entrepreneurial and nonprofit sectors of the island — to New Orleans, March 1-2, to meet local leaders and institutions, and learn valuable lessons from their post-Katrina recovery work.
These Puerto Rican leaders will be applying these NOLA insights and successes towards their post-Maria recovery work on the island. And many of these lessons centered around the importance of involving community from the start, and in being inclusive throughout. The Puerto Rican delegation included CEOs of some of the island's most important foundations (i.e. United for Puerto Rico Foundation, Foundation for Puerto Rico, the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico and Banco Popular Foundation); the president, chancellor and deans of the island’s universities (i.e.University of Sagrado Corazón, University of Puerto Rico, Inter-American University); key executives from the island’s largest hospital chain (HIMA) and healthcare and biotech sectors; and entrepreneurial organizations, venture capital firms and nonprofits that are collectively leading post-Maria recovery efforts on the island. ConPRmetidos (www.conprmetidos.org), a Puerto Rican non-profit, organized the trip with help from Denise Byrne, also Executive Director of Friends of New Orleans (www.friendsofneworleans.org), and with funding from the Skip Battle Foundation.
While in New Orleans, the Puerto Rican leaders got to examine the critical role of philanthropy, non-profits, neighborhood associations, universities, local government, and media in the Crescent City's recovery efforts. They also visited leaders and organizations recognized for their work in economic development, social innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainable building and green energy, and K-12 public school reform, including City of New Orleans Mayor Elect LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans City Council Member Kristin G. Palmer, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Idea Village, BioInnovation Center of New Orleans, Propeller, GNO Inc., Broadmoor Neighborhood Association, Posigen, New Schools for New Orleans, Karen Gadbois of The Lens, Tulane University, Loyola University, NOLA Media Group, Allen Square – Chairman of Friends of New Orleans and Jeff Hebert, former head of NORA. Mayor-Elect LaToya Cantrell — who will be inaugurated as the first African American Woman Mayor of New Orleans in May — told the delegation, assembled at her transition team headquarters, the story of her neighborhood, Broadmoor, after the community was inundated with flood waters and the city’s plan to turn it into greenspace . Her advice to the group centered on reliance on one another in the face of potential government inaction or bureaucracy. She also advised the group of P.R. leaders on how to organize volunteer efforts on the island, and to make sure to listen to what the local communities need and want.
It is important for New Orleans to share what it learned post-Katrina — the successes and models that can be replicated, as well as the mistakes and pitfalls — with Puerto Rico, which is experiencing a crippling economic downturn compounded by historic, storm-related devastation. Five months on, 40 percent of the island’s inhabitants remain without stable power, the agricultural sector lost 80 percent of its capacity, and hundreds of thousands of its citizens have felt compelled to move to the mainland.
"Puerto Rico needs a big leap forward. It is crucial we learn from previous disasters’ response and management in order to place innovation at the core of our recovery. We can help our island overcome this disaster, and strengthen its social and economic fiber along the way."
~ Mariely Rivera – Executive Director, Unidos por Puerto Rico Foundation
By standing in solidarity with its fellow U.S. citizens, New Orleans proves to the world that Puerto Rico will not be abandoned on the long and difficult road to recovery and reinvention.
“When I look around at the inspiring talent that is helping lead Puerto Rico’s renewal, at the never-say-can’t attitude of Puerto Rican doers who’ve risen to the occasion for their families and communities, I see that despite best intentions, the magnitude of what we face can be overwhelming. Then I think about New Orleans; how its citizens and friends rescued and reinvented the city from devastation and despair, and in doing so, rewrote its future. New Orleans can help us innovate our own path for Puerto Rico. That’s why we’re here.”
~ Isabel Rullán, Managing Director and Co-Founder, ConPRmetidos
New Orleans and Puerto Rico share a rich history and heritage grounded in the vibrant and mixed influences of native Indian, West African and Spanish cultures. Over the past few decades, New Orleans has been a magnet for Puerto Rican undergraduate and graduate students who’ve found paths towards fulfillment and success via Tulane, Loyola and LSU. While some have stayed and many have moved on following completion of their studies, it is commonly known on the island that those who’ve studied in New Orleans remain deeply connected to it.
– Giberto J. Marxuach Torrós, President, University of Sagrado Corazón
"The entire group (33 leaders) did a conference call last week to discuss the lessons learned while in NOLA. They are calling themselves the #InNOLA4PR group and, like Forward Cities, have already set up a web site platform for learning, sharing and collaborating. They also set up a group chat and are on it, sending messages, every day, supporting each other's efforts. Plans are now to form an advocacy movement based on what they learned from the leaders they met in NOLA. This has been an absolutely transformative experience for them. And an emotional trip for everyone involved, including the NOLA folks. As you well know, it's the NOLA leaders that fully understand what the people in Puerto Rico are going through right now."
~ Denise M. Byrne, Executive Director – Friends of New Orleans & Co-Founder of Forward Cities
ConPRmetidos is a nonprofit organization founded in 2012 that believes Puerto Ricans can build a global model of community-driven success. Our mission is to help create a stable, productive, and self-sufficient Puerto Rico.
Media Contact: Mili Landrón, Mili@conPRmetidos.org, +1 (787) 644-6216