Puerto Rico – Takeaways

Auralís Herrero-Lugo and Carmen Cedré

Auralís Herrero-Lugo just may be the visionary designer needed to put Puerto Rico back on the fashion world map. Paired with Carmen Cedré, founder of Clutch Consulting, the two San Juan locals met up early for a beach walk to get to know each other before the rest of the participants arrived. It was the perfect setting for tackling the work ahead – building a road map for transforming Retazo, Auralís’ circular fashion platform, from a non-profit entity to a for-profit model with social impact. Her goals are ambitious: targeting $50,000 in revenue next year through fee-based workshops and increasing manufacturing capacity. “Auralís is an amazing woman,” says Carmen. “She thinks big, and wants to help women in communities across the island by teaching them how to make clothing.” There’s much work ahead, and Auralís is up to the task. “My biggest leadership takeaway this week is that I need to stand in my power.” With Carmen and nine other local mentees ready to support her, there is no doubt she will rise to the challenge.

Isabel C. Fernández and Sarah F. Thorn

Isabel Fernández’s path to GAP traversed Puerto Rico, Panama and Washington, D.C., wearing different hats in business, diplomacy and academia. Her organization, ALL GRANTS, LLC, was created in response to a glaring need: to simplify fundraising processes in the nonprofit sector. The trainings and workshops designed to strengthen mentees’ practical skills in areas from financial management to communications and branding, came at the right time. “We need to get together and rebuild our island,” says Isabel. “We need to bring women together and give them the tools we learned here. It was truly outstanding.” Sarah Thorn of Walmart was the perfect sounding board as they worked through Isabel’s organizational and leadership challenges. “Isabel is such a role model,” says Sarah. “She is a smart and committed person, and I feel very good about the future of Puerto Rico with the work she’s going to do.” 

María Gabriela Velasco Corrada and Christine K. Channels

“I came in with an idea and I’m coming out with a company,” said María Velasco. “Because of Christine, I feel very empowered and ready to start this business.” Between the time she applied for GAP and the weeks leading up to program, María had transitioned away from one company and to the beginnings of a new enterprise. It’s called Bask, and it will create protocols to mitigate and prevent the psychological impact of disaster and trauma on vulnerable communities around the world, starting with Puerto Rico. “María is probably one of the smartest people I’ve met,” says Christine Channels, one of the two GAP mentors from Bank of America. “She’s studied the impact of disaster and trauma on the brain and she has a passion for rebuilding Puerto Rico. I’ve been so inspired by her cause.” María and Christine have already blocked off time to continue their work, targeting – as a first step – “train the trainer” exercises to test the model and establishing initial benchmarks. Watch this space.

Paulina Salach Antonetti and Kirstin Hill 

Mid-week, we had the chance to pause GAP trainings, workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions to go offsite and visit local mentees’ businesses and organizations. We experienced Paulina Salach Antonetti’s Spoon, a company that provides authentic, immersive and educational food experiences in Puerto Rico. Along the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, Paulina and her local guides provided an unforgettable walking and tasting tour, showcasing rising talents and new trends in a buzzing food and beverage industry. “I love what I do, but I find my work and personal life blending too much,” said Paulina, citing a time management challenge common among the female entrepreneur set. “I would love to find a way to balance that better.” She and her mentor, Kirstin Hill of Bank of America, spent a lot of time bouncing ideas off the storytelling and public speaking trainers, to learn how to better tell the story of Spoon and where it’s headed. Paulina credits the week’s success to Kirstin, saying “You have been such an inspiration for me,” and noting how much she benefited from the match. “It wasn’t just a program for empowering the mentees, it was a program for empowering everyone in this room.”

Yari Rivas and Elise Labott

“I’m not a businesswoman. I don’t know math. I’m not a leader.” Global Ambassador Elise Labott was wondering what she could possibly offer her mentee Yari Rivas, co-founder of Alterna Communications. Turns out, the veteran CNN journalist – and very much a leader in her own right – was pivotal in helping Yari map out a post-Maria re-launch strategy. As for many mentees in the Puerto Rico cohort, the hurricane forced a fresh start. Elise’s secret weapon in helping Yari move forward? The power of storytelling. Together, they worked on a new branding strategy and social media campaign to roll out this summer. “My goal this week was to be present, share, learn, and be open and vulnerable to the experience so I can grow,” said Yari. According to Elise, the benefits of GAP were mutual. “I am a different person coming out of this week. Power doesn’t come from status, it comes from your heart. This experience has transformed my life forever.”

Tania Rosario-Méndez and Aleksandra Gren

Aside from the occasional blue tarp on the drive east from San Juan to Loíza, about 15 miles through lush, tropical vegetation, the visible scars of Hurricane Maria are hard to see. It’s the invisible scars that worry Tania Rosario-Méndez, executive director of Taller Salud, a local nonprofit feminist organization focused on health advocacy and gender equality. Taking GAP offsite for an afternoon offered a glimpse into Tania’s critical work in this marginalized community – domestic violence has increased in the past 18 months, and Taller Salud has barely been able to keep pace with demand for services. As a result, Tania’s ability to stay balanced has suffered, something she wanted to work on during the week with her mentor Aleks Gren of Fiserv. “After a session on strategic planning, she realized that that ‘finding balance’ wasn’t enough,” said Aleks. “She has since moved her schedule around and is taking more time for her family and friends.” In addition, Tania will make some strategic hires and address the financial picture to keep Taller Salud on the right track. “I feel as though I am a custodian of a treasure,” said Tania. “I really want to go and do the work I was entrusted to be doing.” 

Mariangie Rosas and Silvina Moschini

Mariangie Rosas (Mari) came in to GAP with a small business, intending to work on profitability and scale. But after a week with mentor and serial entrepreneur Silvina Moschini, she’s now thinking about the potential for global impact. “Mari is driven, resilient, smart, determined and hungry for success,” said Silvina, who sees cocohaus, a co-working community in San Juan, serving an important need that could be replicated around the world. They pored over the financials to identify ways to increase revenue and developed a strategic plan for growth. “What I’m most grateful for is this unbelievable, incredible match,” said Mari. “I feel like I found a role model and a lifetime friend.” For Silvina, founder of SheWorks!, the experience was a call to live more fully. Moved by the warm welcome the group received at the site visit in Loiza, she said “Modesta [representative of Taller Salud] struck my heart when she said we need to ‘live life with all of our senses.’ This sisterhood and everything Vital Voices is teaching us are lifting each other and building a better world.”

Lucienne Gigante and Tara Rush

“Mutual admiration society” best characterizes the dynamic between Lucienne Gigante and Tara Rush, two high achieving supermoms who have reached the peaks of their professions while staying committed to giving back. “I was star struck by how much she accomplished in her life,” said Tara, describing Lucienne’s portfolio of clients and role as convener of Animus, an innovation summit in Puerto Rico designed to inspire women to reach their highest level of personal and professional development. Lucienne’s strategic communications firm, LuGi, LLC, was the focus of their work together, and Tara, SVP and Chief Communications Officer at Audi of America, helped Lucienne prioritize solidifying LuGi’s brand identity and serving existing clients before expanding outside of Puerto Rico. “Tara put herself in my shoes,” said Lucienne. “I realized I don’t need to accomplish everything right away.” Tara came away with an appreciation for how GAP is “the best example of women helping women,” a sentiment shared throughout the cohort and not lost on Lucienne. “Investing in women is economic development and this program is close to my heart,” she said. “My ask to mentors is to share the beautiful experience you had here, with others.” If more programs like GAP can reach Puerto Rico, she said, one could only imagine their impact on economic growth. 

Ana Yris Guzmán and Wendy K. White Eagle

Wendy White Eagle felt connected to her mentee, Ana Yris Guzmán, even before the week began. “This week all I wanted to do was be present. I wanted to be here.” The two shared a special bond in San Juan and really focused on Nuestra Escuela’s finances for long-term sustainability. Getting the numbers right is a challenge for so many GAP participants, but Ana couldn’t have been in better hands with the founder of Native Capital. Going forward, Ana is reviewing her company values and working to optimize community impact, in addition to building unrestricted funding and reserves. Stepping in to her personal leadership was another achievement by the end of the week, and it took a subtle suggestion from communications trainer Allison Shapira to break through. “I didn’t feel ready to be in the spotlight,” said Ana, describing her discomfort in being more of the “face” of the organization. “Then came Allison, who told me ‘You are not in the spotlight, you are here to heal others.’ Thank you for empowering me the way that you do, because I am a leader.”

Isabel Rullán and Robin Leeds

“It’s been an amazing week,” said Isabel Rullán. “Let’s just say I haven‘t stopped laughing.” The age difference didn’t matter for Isabel, a millennial leader of ConPRmetidos, a high-impact local NGO, and Robin Leeds, a lifelong advocate for gender equality, civil and human rights. A shared commitment to making their communities better for everyone was the secret sauce that made their feisty mentorship work. A robust sense of humor also helped. Jokes aside, they set about creating clarity around the organizational business plan and developing communication strategies for better board and donor management. “I felt that there was a real need for Isabel to focus on low hanging fruit,” said Robin. “Take things one step at a time and focus on priorities.” Addressing new key hires will also help create space for Isabel to use her time more efficiently. “Last year was very hard. I feel like a truck ran over me,” said Isabel. “This year I wanted to take care of myself… I finished this week feeling like I can go and conquer the world.”

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Photography: David Hume Kennerly