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Banco Popular Foundation: sharing energies of all social actors to better answer local challenges


The Banco Popular Foundation, the biggest bank in Puerto Rico, has been active for more than 35 years in the support of high-impact social organizations, most of which not-for-profit, but also a few social businesses. Nearly 2 million dollars are allocated each year to 80 to 90 organizations all over the island, acting for the majority of them in the educational field.

These 35 years of experience enabled the foundation to study deeply the country’s social scene and to bring to light the insufficient sharing of information and experience between different projects. “Each year, we used to receive new project files that reminded us of those of the year before. Everyone was constantly reinventing the wheel but with no real innovation or capitalization on what was already there”, says Beatriz Polhamus, executive director of the foundation.

Banco Popular

Last year, the foundation implemented a transverse program aiming at solving this lack of communication in the solidarity sector. During one day, the 83 organizations supported by the foundation reunited in San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, to learn and work together. These structures were split into six categories according to their field of action and each of these groups were asked to bring out three of the most pertinent and efficient transverse projects or challenges to work on. A new division was then made according to the geographical breakdown and the final groups had to chose a project to work on together.

For the ten biggest organizations of the island working in the field of special needs education, this day allowed to highlight a key challenge that is at stake for each of them: the lack of data collected on the beneficiary populations. Knowing how many children are autistic in each region or how this illness evolves over the years on the island is essential to enable the organizations to answer the needs of the populations. Thus working together to provide these data means a real adjustment of the specific services that are provided but also to allocate better the different action plans between the various organisations, to come up with a stronger social impact.

Several months after this first experiment, the 83 structures met again in order to share their thoughts, best practices or results.

The third step, which took place last November, consisted in connecting these organizations with experts, institutions or investors who could help in the process of developing their transverse projects. Then again the progress is huge as a few months before they were still considering each other as competitors when they wanted to raise funds or request help. But after one year of working together, social impact is back to being the focus. The sharing of information, good practices and experience was set up by the foundation and makes a real difference for the island’s social business sector. Progress that were made will later enable a better organization of the sector and a better allocation of energies and actions, leading to a stronger social impact.

The area of Puerto Rico allows us to go from one end to the other in about 4 hours. It makes it easer to put in place such programs, that need physical meetings of the different stakeholders. But this model can be replicated on a regional scale, in a district or a neighbourhood. Its efficiency has already been proven.