Puerto Rico - Rebuilding the Santurce Neighborhood
Universidad del Sagrado Corazon
Puerto Rico is a beautiful Caribbean island and a territory of the United States - but Puerto Rico has also suffered with a difficult economic situation combined with recent natural disasters. The island has been in a recession for the past 12 years, suppressing the full potential of the Puerto Rican economy. The devastation that the island suffered from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017 left a scar on an already weakened state.
What was the problem?
Our partner, the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon (USC), is a small, private, Catholic university located in the heart of the Santurce neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Though the neighborhood has experienced some revitalization thanks to its vibrant artistic community and growing restaurant and coffee shop scene, hurricane damage and abandoned buildings still break up pockets of up-and-coming businesses and bring down the look, feel, and safety of the area.
The President of USC, and Notre Dame alum, Gilberto Marxuach asked the BOTFL team for ideas to help rebuild the neighborhood, especially by helping creative people who want to start or grow businesses, learn the skills they need to be successful. The University hoped that by enabling businesses to grow and thrive, it could be an integral part of improving the local economy for the entire community.
What did we do?
We began our investigation at the systemic level, attempting to identify industry sectors in which Puerto Rico has a competitive advantage. We coupled this examination with consideration of new and creative ways that the university could be a good partner to local businesses. Since our project was so open ended, we spent much time conducting basic interviews and research.
Ultimately, we split into five main areas of focus - arts and music festivals, the tech sector, infrastructure, medical tourism, and workshops for entrepreneurs. While on the island, we met with business owners in the arts, tech, medicine, tourism, hospitality and even an internationally recognized trap music artist. We talked to people at non-profits, government organizations, banks, and multinational corporations. We spent time in meetings but also wandering the neighborhood, observing the culture and getting to know the people we wanted to serve.
What was the turning point?
Our process was extremely iterative. We tried our best not to fall in love with any ideas and to let them adjust and shift with each new piece of information we found. We were lucky enough to be able to use this strategy because our partners were constantly encouraging us to be creative.
We were a little apprehensive as we built out our recommendations that our ideas would be too aggressive and capital- and time-intensive for our partners. After we finished giving our final on-island presentation to our partners at Sagrado, President Marxuach told us he liked the work we had done so far, but that he would encourage us to be even more bold in our ideas. The Notre Dame team left the meeting excited about the feedback and energized by our partners enthusiasm for working toward positive change for Puerto Rico.
What was the recommendation?
While we were on the island, our five main ideas shifted a bit. Many of our recommendations included ways that students can help businesses develop and grow, and how business can provide important experiential learning opportunities for students.
In arts and music festivals, we recommended that the university work with groups to make sure they are working together and with the community to put on events. We recommended that USC build a program that would allow marketing and arts students support festivals to provide fun experiential learning for students and much-needed support to local festivals. In infrastructure, we proposed ways in which the university can provide more housing for students near campus, like creating a database of available housing and, in the long term, building new dormitories or apartments. We also created a framework for a co-op program that would employ students full time with local businesses to connect students to valuable work experience and businesses. This program would make it possible for students to work for up to a year before they graduate. It would also allow local businesses to work with students, helping them grow as employees, while taking advantage of their fresh ideas and perspective. This could be especially helpful in the tech sector, where students need more help preparing for roles on the island. Students also told us they did not feel there were many opportunities on the island, so we saw that Sagrado could connect those students to the tech companies seeking talent. Finally, we recommended expanding on existing workshops for entrepreneurs to help family businesses and to teach business owners how to access capital either through equity or debt financing.
What actually happened?
Our partners at Universidad del Sagrado Corazon were excited about our ideas, and BOTFL is working on sending a team next year to develop out one or more of the recommendations, help the university iterate and begin execution and work into the future to measure and improve upon the ideas.