Business Relief for Puerto Rico: Part 5 – Take-Aways

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This is the fifth 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. 

After our stop at the community center, we headed to the airport. We were scheduled to depart at 4:00 p.m. Due to a combination of the damage from the hurricane and the large number of relief workers staying in Puerto Rico, there are no hotel rooms available. We hadn’t sought a permit to go down there, but it was made clear that we should not stay overnight.

On the plane ride back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I reflected on the experience. A lot happened in just five hours. We made three stops in San Juan. We cooked food at two of them. We showed at least 50 people how to use the Middleby oven. We confirmed firsthand that these ovens would be used and could be distributed in Puerto Rico to assist with relief efforts. We saw what the hurricane’s impact meant with our own eyes. And we saw smiling faces all day, reflecting the human spirit and resilience.

It was an incredible experience that taught me many lessons. Here are a few of the most important ones to share:

  1. There is a great deal of work to be done to help Puerto Rico. The hurricane’s impact is devastating and lasting. Rebuilding will take a lot of time and resources. And it needs to start now.
  2. The importance of applying a business mindset to the world’s challenges. I appreciated from the start that the purpose of this trip was not relief tourism or optics. It was about making an impact both right away and in the future. We made food and gave out 10 ovens in one day. But more importantly, we did consumer research to learn, on the ground, what people in Puerto Rico needed, whether the product we had would actually serve their needs, and if the distribution channels were in place to make sure they would be used. This kind of business-thinking has the potential to transform the way we approach helping one another.
  3. Partnerships matter. Middleby can make ovens. The Red Cross can distribute materials. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, the organizations have figured out their comparative advantage in providing relief and are working with the other to create a comprehensive support structure.
  4. Just do it. This trip was planned in matter of days. Not months or even weeks, just days. None of us who went were from Miami. None of us knew what to expect. And the day wasn’t perfect. We didn’t take the most efficient routes. We probably didn’t help as many people as if we had a closely planned schedule. It wasn’t high visibility because we didn’t take the time to notify local politicians or others that we were going. Taking the time to plan things out, worrying about making it perfect, and informing people, would have delayed the trip and the impact we could make, ultimately making the trip even less efficient. Selim is the kind of person who does something when he thinks it’s time to make a difference. That’s one of the reasons he’s so effective.
  5. It’s simple and it’s hard work. Nothing that we did was particularly complex. Fly down, make food, give out ovens, and talk to people. But it took a lot of work. I can only imagine how much effort the Middleby team put into making the arrangements. When we were in Puerto Rico, we were moving nonstop and had to keep going given our limited time. More often than many realize, doing good work is not complicated, it’s just hard work. And we shouldn’t let that hard work stop us from making a difference.

The conclusion: Business should take a leadership role in relief efforts. 

To that end, Conscious Capitalism will be doing more to support the relief effort. We’ll soon announce a fundraiser to support relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And we are speaking with individual businesses in the CC community to coordinate support in the form of both donations and commitments to do business with Puerto Rico as part of an effort to rebuild the economy. If you want to get involved and help, please email relief@consciouscapitalism.org.