Business Relief for Puerto Rico: Part 1

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This is the first in a five-post series about Conscious Capitalism CEO, Alexander McCobin’s, recent relief trip to Puerto Rico and plans for rallying businesses to help in the rebuilding effort following Hurricane Maria’s devastation. 

Last Monday, I traveled to Puerto Rico on a relief trip. This wasn’t just a short trip to see what was going on or volunteer for several hours, though. This was a trip to begin the process of business supporting rebuilding efforts on the island.

Four days before the trip, I was attending Conscious Capitalism’s CEO Summit in Austin, Texas, when Selim Bassoul, CEO of the Middleby Corporation emailed me out of the blue with a surprise invitation. For years, Selim and Middleby have distributed portable ovens to refugee camps across the world:

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Selim wondered if these ovens would be useful in a natural disaster zone. There are many common problems: lack of access to electricity, clean water, and safe cooking supplies. But would the solution for one situation apply to the other? The American Red Cross had asked him to donate several hundred ovens. If he did so, would the ovens get used, or would they sit in a warehouse?

Selim wanted to find out for himself. As he put it to me, he wanted to do “consumer research” to make sure this oven was actually of value to Puerto Ricans. And he wanted to do it soon.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he started talking about the idea with others. He received a lot of suggestions. Some said he should set up appearances with mayors of various towns. Others suggested that he spend his day in meetings with local agencies. Selim took a different approach. Instead of waiting for the right meetings or appearances, he decided to charter a plane, load it up with Middleby’s ovens, and fly down to Puerto Rico to meet with people on his own, both with those who would be distributing the ovens, and people on the ground. This way he would not only provide immediate relief, but also learn what people actually think of the ovens. The key concern: impact.

It was with this background that Selim invited me and Conscious Capitalism to join him on the trip. This was to be an excursion to show the power of business as a force for good. And so it was.

~ Alexander

In the next post, I’ll talk about our first impressions upon arriving in San Juan and our visit to the Red Cross headquarters. Below is a photo of San Juan from above. Notice how many blue tarps are in the photograph. This is what many are using to fix damage to their roofs while waiting for construction services to become available.