When Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico, it left an overwhelming trail of devastation in its wake. Local creatives and small business owners were forced to rebuild their homes, their studios, and their livelihoods. Although this may be “typical” after a natural disaster, these realities decimated the island’s economic infrastructure, which relies heavily on the capacity and success of its entrepreneurs.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), roughly 40 percent of small businesses fail to reopen after such disasters, and 25 percent of those that do manage to reopen go under within a year. In Puerto Rico’s case, however, the numbers seem to be even less promising. It’s been estimated that approximately 60 percent of the island’s 45,000 small and mid-size businesses have remained closed since the morning of September 20, 2017, and that many of its creatives have fled the aftermath to avoid economic crisis.
Despite the exodus and the disheartening statistics, however, organizations are working to help entrepreneurs on the island rebuild and reopen — and, what’s more, we can help with these efforts from wherever we are in the world.
Colmena66, a nonprofit organization that was founded just a few years ago to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Puerto Rico, recently created Shop+Hire Puerto Rico, an online space that gives small business owners a platform from which to export their products and services to the continental U.S. and abroad. Colmena66 launched the site alongside a host of startup accelerators, allowing anyone around the world to support Puerto Rico’s recovery by purchasing the island’s local products and hiring Puerto Rican creatives — including artists, designers, photographers, web developers, writers, programmers, and freelancers of all sorts.
Their message is simple: when you buy from the island’s local businesses or hire a Puerto Rican freelancer, you’re helping pave the way for the recovery of their economy — directly.
The platform is set up similarly to that of Etsy and provides a directory of online stores and freelancers that serves as a tool to boost economic development and encourage the start of e-commerce culture in Puerto Rico. From watercolor paintings to organic soaps, artisan handicrafts, ethically made clothing, handmade jewelry, and locally produced coffee, you can find hundreds of Puerto Rican products for sale on Shop+Hire PR — and the site is already proving to be a success for both sellers and buyers.
Because small companies hold an important role in Puerto Rico’s current and future economy, the export of their products and services represents an opportunity for the island to recover more quickly from the aftermath of the hurricane, come back stronger, and see the foreign market as a long-term strategy for the sustainability of their businesses.
Sometimes, the greatest storms give way to the most impactful forms of creativity. And it is that creativity that has the power to bring people together across borders.
To discover and support Puerto Rican artists, visit shopandhirepr.com.
Header image by Roman Kraft