These days, it's hard to be an entrepreneur and an optimistic woman in Puerto Rico, our “Isla del Encanto”. Today, being a Puerto Rican worker isn't easy, but it isn't impossible. As a people, we have been deceived and abused by our government. But we have lived and enjoyed times of false prosperity without asking ourselves: How can it be possible? For convenience or ingenuity, we allowed this situation to progress.
Now, we must work hard because years of inactivity and bad government caused a $70 billion debt crisis, where five out of ten Puerto Rican citizens are unemployed and 10% of the population have left the island. A shrinking population means a shrinking tax base (less money for education, health care, road maintenance, etc.). Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and that's why it’s easier to leave the island for the mainland, and we do understand those who are leaving to give their families a more stable life. But many of us, many families, are willing to stay on our beloved island, we are Puerto Ricans, and we want to contribute, acknowledging that each one of us has a speck of the blame for the current economic situation.
Puerto Rico doesn't need our tears, Puerto Rico needs our effort, talent and commitment. A year ago, five women decided to join up and be part of the solution. We wanted to break with the sense of powerlessness and help germinate the seeds of entrepreneurship. We want to contribute to the socio-economic welfare of our island. Mujer Emprende PR (MEPR) was born in the middle of this dilemma, at the crossroads where the country is in. The five women who make up this initiative are: Vanessa, Karen, Yaneza, Jessica, and myself. We want to share with you our reality as Puerto Rican female entrepreneurs and executives and why we pledge: I’m staying.
"Puerto Rico is certainly at a crossroad. Our crisis isn't only fiscal but also social. I define myself as an idealistic executive. Because of that, I decided to stay here and put my talent and experience to work and help activate our economy and empowering women to build self-esteem. We aim to provide them the tools needed to thrive through entrepreneurship. It thrills me and fills me with energy when I hear the stories of successful women and men who reinvented themselves experiencing being owners of their own destinies for the first time through entrepreneurship," said Vanessa Marzán, founder of the event, Mujer Emprende Puerto Rico, in May, 2016.
"Like many Puerto Ricans, I was laid-off from the highest leadership position after 30 years in the company. At that moment, I made the decision to stay in my island with my family and be part of the solution. I decided to collaborate with these 4 amazing women and co-founded Mujer Emprende PR, a nonprofit organization created to 'Awaken the Entrepreneurial Spirit Within Every Woman'. In my time, being successful meant to work at a multinational, reach an executive position, and retire from that company. Life taught me that it doesn’t work that way and you should never depend on anyone but yourself, because others can turn their backs on you. That's exactly why I want to help other women awaken their entrepreneurial spirit so they never have to depend on others”, said Karen Oliver, director/mentor of MEPR.
"I can't say I haven't thought about getting out of here. Especially, when my sons decided to move to Miami with their father a few years ago. But I don’t leave because I love my island and I know we can still do amazing things. Due to the economic and social crisis, people have no choice but to reinvent themselves. One of my favorite proverb is, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Half of Puerto Ricans are unemployed, and our young people are struggling to find work to start their careers. But I dare say, we are seen more micro-enterprises and more startups than ever before with people of all ages. People are learning new skills to reinvent themselves and change their path," said Jessica Tirado, director/mentor of MEPR.
Yaneza Bravo, our mentor of MEPR that leads in a male dominated industry, is focused on bringing real change. "We can do anything we put our minds to, tenaciously reinventing ourselves. To get different results, we must think differently, break paradigms, and awaken our passions. The quality of our people is our strength. As Puerto Ricans, we are known for our warm hospitality and our famous athletes, artists, educators, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Every one of them inspire us to leave a legacy helping our island and our people to move forward. That is exactly what being a patriot is."
I’m so proud to be part of such a talented group of women who never give up, and are thrilled to share their experiences and talents to grow our future. This piece of land has watched me grow up, leave and come back. My island watched me being on my own, getting married and becoming a mother. I have worked hard; I've reinvented myself; and I feel the same uncertainty of my fellow citizens.
But no more! Today, we take our future in our own hands.
We don't want promises; We want a purpose. Empowerment means to give power or authority to someone to do something. And today, we officially take responsibility for our present and, more importantly, our future. I'm Boricua de pura cepa (100% Puerto Rican), and can proudly say that there are still many chapters waiting to be written in the history books of my beautiful island. Measuring only 100 x 35 square miles, our island is full of gifted, dynamic and innovator individuals. The biggest benefit of hitting rock bottom... is that the only way is up! With a new vision and mission, together we'll weather this storm and come through the progress and well-being needed as a country.
I love you, Puerto Rico. I’m staying, count on me... #YovoyaME !
And remember… 'You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.'
Your mentor, Virginia