This is the second 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.
As it’s the rainy season, we landed and would spend the day in a downpour. This was not just symbolic of the challenges facing the island. It is itself a challenge given that many people had their homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Maria.
Our first stop after landing was the American Red Cross Headquarters in San Juan. The Red Cross was the impetus of this entire excursion. Middleby had partnered with the Red Cross for years to distribute ovens to refugee camps, and it was through the Red Cross that the idea came about to distribute ovens to Puerto Rico. But, like any global organization, there are different branches run by different people with different priorities. We wanted to visit the Red Cross Headquarters in San Juan to show the oven to the organization’s leaders on the ground, get their feedback on whether it would be useful or not, and talk through a plan for distribution.
When we arrived, the facility was packed with residents on the ground floor and workers throughout the office.
We were ushered into the sole conference room to show how the oven worked. The Middleby team showed the strength of its insulation, the additional solar charger, and related features. The Red Cross workers inspected the oven, asked questions, and discussed amongst themselves the viability of using it.
Throughout the demonstration, Selim would ask, “Will you use this?” He stressed that if they wouldn’t use the ovens, if they would just sit in a warehouse, he didn’t want everyone to spend the resources on getting them to Puerto Rico. Only after careful dissection and conversation did both sides come to agreement that this would be useful and that the Red Cross workers on the ground would be interested in distributing them.
The next step was to discuss distribution. While the ovens could be valuable anywhere, the areas in greatest need are the rural parts of Puerto Rico, where there are few generators and little access to food or clean water. The challenge in getting the ovens there is that many roads are have been destroyed or flooded. Alternative plans ranging from ziplining or air dropping will need to be made based on the Red Cross’s experience supporting them.
While in the waiting room, we showed an oven to one woman who expressed interest. She excitedly said that she and others would have great use for the oven. But one of the biggest challenges for aid at the moment is theft. It’s already difficult to get materials down to Puerto Rico, but when they arrive, it’s too common for them to be stolen and not make the distribution to their final destination. This is something that Middleby and the Red Cross intend to address by attaching trackers to the ovens to be able to find each oven at any time.
The key take-away from this experience is the power of partnerships when done properly. Middleby knows how to make ovens. They do not know how to distribute them in areas in need. The Red Cross knows how to distribute, but needs the resources to distribute. Yet, neither side was comfortable simply accepting an offer from the other. Middleby wanted to make sure that the Red Cross would use its ovens in Puerto Rico. The Red Cross wanted to make sure it knew what it was getting before it received the ovens on the ground. By building a relationship and investing in understanding one another at every step of the process, both Middleby and the Red Cross are able to have a greater impact than either could on their own.
In the next post, we leave the Red Cross and begin making stops in San Juan to show the oven to residents, prepare food, and get direct feedback from residents on the oven and other needs.