On November 13th and 14th, 2014, the Neighborhood Funders Group and the Environmental Grantmakers Association sponsored a funder learning tour in the San Juan area of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s rich cultural, community, and environmental landscape offers significant opportunities for defining innovative solutions that advance equity and resilience. Decades of inequitable development patterns coupled with urgent climate change and economic threats have reaffirmed the need for new public, private, philanthropic, and civil society partnerships that prioritize the needs of the island’s low-income communities. Against this backdrop, community based organizations across the island are forging new community development tools and civic engagement strategies to promote equitable development, resilience, transparency and accountability.

Day 1 - 8:30am
Puerto Rico at a Crossroads: Reflections on Inequality and Development in Puerto Rico
Edificio Banco Popular, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico



Edificio Banco Popular, San Juan, Puerto Rico Gregg Sloan, Flickr


Hosted by the Fundación Banco Popular, our opening plenary took place in the Banker's Club at the Edificio Banco Popular in Old San Juan. After opening remarks from Jose Garcia of the Surdna Foundation, Rachel Leon of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, Jerry Maldonado of the Ford Foundation, and Dennis Quirin of the Neighborhood Funders Group, we took part in a panel discussion with leading public sector, academic, and non-profit stakeholders.



Some topics of discussion included: How are diverse sectors addressing the twin challenges of sustainability and inequality in Puerto Rico?  What are the prospects for advancing more inclusive development in Puerto Rico?


Old San Juan, Puerto Rico Shawn Escoffery


James Albino 

Senior Policy Analyst, President's Task Force on Puerto Rico


Ingrid Vila Biaggi

Former Chief of Staff for the Governor of Puerto Rico


Mike Soto Class

Executive Director, Center for a New Economy


Luz Amelia Vega Rodriguez

Community Activist and Scholar


Moderator: Rafael Lenin Lopez

Reporter and President of the Puerto Rico Association of Journalists

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Day 1 - 10:30am
From Displacement to Inclusion: Reimagining Public Housing and Community Development in Puerto Rico
Caguas, Puerto Rico



Caguas, Puerto Rico Shawn Escoffery


Over the past thirty years, residents of both the Gautier Benítez and the Las Gladiolas Public Housing Projects have battled displacement by developers seeking lower density projects and higher profits. Residents across the island have used diverse legal advocacy and community organizing tactics to claim their right to participate in the redevelopment of their communities.



Traveling from San Juan to Caguas, tour participants, local residents, advocates, and local small business leaders from both communities engaged in discussions about the link between public housing reform, economic development and place-based change in these two communities.





Ana Reyes, Ecoreciclaje, Inc.

Rut Minerva Reyes, Ecoreciclaje, Inc.

Jarellis Flores, Eco- Recursos, Inc.

Doris Pizarro, Director Institute of Social Policy

Mildred Santiago, Executive Director, Liga de Cooperativa

Mirta Colón, Community Leader for Las Gladiola Vive 


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Day 1 - 2:45pm
Balancing Justice, Development, and the Environment: Lessons from Puerto Rico's Environmental Justice Movements
Adjuntas, Puerto Rico

Casa Pueblo. Adjuntas, Puerto Rico Shawn Escoffery


Traveling to the heart of the island’s Central Mountain Range, tour participants visited el Casa Pueblo, Adjuntas - the heart of social movements in Puerto Rico for several decades. In Adjuntas, tour participants engaged in a conversation with leaders of Casa Pueblo and of the Vieques movement.  



Casa Pueblo: In Adjuntas, the environmental movement against the threat of copper mining in the 1960s eventually led to the creation of Casa Pueblo and the Bosque del Pueblo (the Peoples’ Forest), the first community-managed forest in Puerto Rico. Casa Pueblo has since developed successful economic development and educational projects, and organized in opposition of a gas pipeline that would have caused irreparable damage to ecosystems and rural settlements alike. Today, they lead the proposal to create a model forest covering several municipalities.  



Adjuntas, Puerto Rico Lorraine Ramirez

Vieques movement: The successful closure of the US military base in Vieques was one of the most important social movements in recent Puerto Rican history, bringing together multiple sectors of civil society. Vieques now faces gentrification, while still struggling for the clean-up of the former military practice range, just economic development, and access to basic services.  






Nilda Medina

Incubadora Microempresa Bieké, Inc


Arturo Massol

Casa Pueblo


Moderator: Hon. Carmen Guerrero

Secretaria, Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales 

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Day 2 - 8:30am
From Contamination to Resilience: A Guided Tour of the ENLACE Caño Martín Peña Project



The Caño Martín Peña, Puerto Rico Lorraine Ramirez


The Caño Martín Peña is a 3.75-mile natural tidal channel in the San Juan Bay Estuary, heavily contaminated and clogged with sediment and debris. Frequent flooding of untreated sewage water threatens the livelihood and health of over 25,000 residents living in eight low-income informal settlements along the waterway, located next to San Juan’s financial district. The Martín Peña communities are the first community land trust in Puerto Rico, created to avoid gentrification, address the lack of land titling through collective ownership, secure affordable housing, and overcome poverty.




Caño Martín Peña, Puerto Rico Shawn Escoffery


The ENLACE Project is a comprehensive endeavor that seeks environmental and social justice. Strong community organizing, unprecedented participatory planning, and effective partnerships characterize the ENLACE project and the Caño Martín Peña community.




This day featured introductory remarks from Judith A. Enck, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 Office, and an overview by ENLACE’s executive director. Finally, we took a boat tour through lagoons and channels of the eastern Estuary, and a walking tour through streets and alleys to Martín Peña.


Caño Martín Peña, Puerto Rico Shawn Escoffery



Judith A. Enck

Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency Region 2


 Lyvia N. Rodriguez Del Valle

 Executive Director, Corporacion del Proyecto ENLACE and Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña 


Carmen Febres Alméstica

 Grupo de las Ocho Comunidades Aledañas al Caño Martín Peña, G-8, Inc. 



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Day 2 - 2:00pm
Funding Community Engagement to Advance Equity: Lessons Learned from Philanthropic Leaders in Puerto Rico and the United States
The Sheraton Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


Our closing panel featured Guiomar García Guerra from the Fundación Flamboyán, Jerry Maldonado from the Ford FoundationBeatriz Polhamus Lopez from Banco Popular, Jose Garcia from the Surdna Foundation, and Diana Morris from Open Society Foundations, with Janice Petrovich, philanthropy consultant in Puerto Rico and the US, as moderator.

The discussion revolved around questions such as:

  • How do we as a diverse set of funders think about funding a diverse set of community engagement strategies?
  • What are some of the difficulties we have?
  • What are strategies for funding in places and authentically engaging the community as partners in change?




Old San Juan, Puerto Rico Lorraine Ramirez



Guiomar García Guerra 

Fundación Flamboyán


Jerry Maldonado

Program Officer, Ford Foundation


Beatriz Polhamus Lopez

Banco Popular


Jose Garcia

Program Officer, Surdna Foundation


Diana Morris

Director, Open Society Institute-Baltimore and Open Places Initiative


Moderator: Janice Petrovich

Philanthropy consultant in Puerto Rico and the U.S.


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Discussion questions for funders Interested in supporting organizing and development work in Puerto Rico: 

  • Based on the virtual site visit and your current theory of change, what had been the role of your philanthropic institution in enabling systemic change and addressing social problem root causes?
  • How central to your work is supporting groups that engage in organizing and policy advocacy? 
  • What are some of the challenges that you face using this frame and these approaches?
Interested in learning more and getting involved with funder organizing to support civil society organizing and just economic development?

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