COMMITMENT TO ACTION

Empowering Women-Led Enterprises for Food Justice

Commitment by Voz Activa

In 2019, Voz Activa and partners committed to supporting women leaders in Puerto Rico by transforming their community kitchens (fogones) into place-based social enterprises. After the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, women leaders in the communities of Toa Baja, Cayey, Yabucoa, and Salinas served 31,000 plates and discovered the need for nutritious, hot meals for those who cannot cook for themselves, particularly for ill and elderly citizens. These volunteers were also unemployed, highlighting the need for local economic development initiatives. Through their one-year commitment, Voz Activa aims to support each of the fogones in formally registering as a legal entity, providing an opportunity for 20 local women leaders to earn income where they had not previously. Voz Activa and partners aim to create a locally-based solution to malnutrition and unemployment that generates economic activity, unlike traditional charity-driven models, while empowering women.



Overview
Summary

Commitment

Empowering Women-Led Enterprises for Food Justice

Launched

2019

Est. Duration

1 Year

Estimated Total Value

$15,000

Region

Latin America & Caribbean

Countries

PUERTO RICO

Commitment by

Voz Activa

Partner(s) of the Commitment Maker(s)

Hispanic Federation; Instituto de Ciencias para la Conservación de Puerto Rico (INCICO); Fogón de Toa Baja; Fogón de Cayey; Fogón de Yabucoa; Fogón de Salinas; Civitas plus; Grupo Legal Acosta & Diaz
Details

Voz Activa and partners commit to supporting women leaders in Toa Baja, Cayey, Yabucoa, and Salinas, Puerto Rico by transforming their community kitchens into place-based social enterprises. Voz Activa and partners aim to create a locally-based solution to malnutrition and unemployment that generates economic activity, unlike the traditional charity-driven models while empowering women.

Voz Activa will provide 20 women leaders across these four community kitchens with technical assistance to develop their enterprises. This will include (1) hosting meetings and workshops to create a feasible plan for the development of a local, workers’ owned, social enterprise; (2) providing capacity building for collaborative work and decision making, including conversations on governance, ownership, solidarity, and collaboration; (3) writing, editing, and filing corporate documents; (4) providing guidance for defining roles of a collaborative enterprise; and (5) crafting and submitting operating agreements and other documentation to ensure they are mission-driven entities with a strong and transparent governance structure.

Each of the four enterprises will work independently, while also convening under cooperative values to support each other in building a simple organizational structure that aligns with their social mission, the principles of solidarity economy, and with sustainability and resilience practices. By the end of the year, Voz Activa aims to have each enterprise formally registered as a legal entity, providing an opportunity for 20 local leaders to earn income where they had not previously. The team targets the creation of ten full-time jobs and ten part-time jobs, at least 90% of the jobs ultimately being filled by women.

Voz Activa and partners will transform their makeshift community kitchens, which proved incredibly impactful after the hurricanes, into social enterprises that will (1) provide nutritious hot meals to neighbors who cannot cook for themselves, (2) produce low-cost nutritious meals to sell to local workers and residents, and (3) generate a basic income for social entrepreneurs.

Q1 2019: Voz Activa will host monthly meetings to begin the capacity building, training, and technical assistance for the four enterprises.

Q2 2019: Voz Activa will support the groups as they begin working on their documents and operating agreements, data gathering, and legal research. This will include phone calls, reviewing documentation, and hosting meetings, as needed.

Q3 2019: The community kitchens will begin finalizing their documents for filing as legal entities. Voz Activa will support the leaders in the drafting of documents, review of compliance measures, and provide continued technical assistance.

Q4 2019: Voz Activa will provide coaching, as needed, to address outstanding needs and questions

Background

With a poverty rate of 43.5% (Data USA), it was no surprise that Hurricanes Irma and Maria unveiled food scarcity and malnutrition among poor, rural communities in Puerto Rico. While providing emergency help, volunteers, and community leaders throughout the island confirmed that there is an increasing number of neighborhoods without access to healthy prepared meals and other food services. Access to meals is crucial for the survival of ill and elderly citizens who cannot cook on their own, even when they have access to funds through government programs. In these communities, residents need a car to travel to purchase food and the closest place that carries food items is often a gas station. While buying food can be a challenge for the poor, ill or elderly, there are others who may have access to food products through government services but are still not able to cook for several reasons, including health or mobility needs.

After the 2017 hurricanes, many neighborhoods resorted to community kitchens (fogones comunitarios). In particular, community leaders in Toa Baja, Cayey, Yabucoa, and Salinas extended their services after the emergency to provide cooked meals to those without access. Overall, these four communities served 31,000 plates in a period of five to eight months. In the process, they discovered the need for a place-based service that provides nutritious, hot meals for those who cannot cook for themselves. They also discovered that workers and residents in their neighborhoods could benefit from a simple and nutritious food service prepared with a simple operation, such as a bakery or a small diner. The volunteers, most of them women, were also unemployed, underscoring the need for locally based economic development initiatives.

Partnership Opportunities

The enterprise leaders are looking for economic support, specifically $35,000 for kitchen remodeling and retrofitting, and $10,000 as seed money for promotional and other services needed to start the businesses. The leaders are looking to apply for corporate donations, and to connect with food banks and local agricultural projects for inventory. In-kind support is welcome in the form of capacity building for nutritional best practices, and promotional services for the for-sale menus. Voz Activa would also welcome media support and funding to conduct outreach and education on the benefits of community-centered and collaborative business models. Funding would also help document best practices identified in this process. Voz Activa and partners are looking forward to prototyping, and sharing, a new model to address malnutrition and place-based economic development that is based on the principle that all residents should have access to nutritious food. These enterprise leaders see the potential to partner with business incubators, food banks, agroecological farmers to create an innovative local chain of value for the food-service industry. Voz Activa is also interested in documenting the process and best practices of creating community-based enterprises from very simple and local initiatives, and in sharing the experience with other groups and communities.

Progress Reports

December 2019

To date, Voz Activa and partners Instituto de Ciencias para la Conservación de Puerto Rico (INCICO) and Grupo Legal Acosta & Díaz have achieved an important objective: providing capacity building and technical assistance to the core members of Los Fogones Comunitarios so they can commit to a legal structure for their operations. Group workshops, individual meetings and interviews, and different technological resources were used by Voz Activa and partners on this phase of the commitment, to support the members in defining their common goals and intentions for this enterprise. As a result of this, the members decided on the formation of a legal entity under the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Corporation Act named “Low Profit Limited Liability Company” or L3C, to be known in the future as ‘Los Fogones L3C’.

This type of legal entity allows for the common good mission to be embedded as a foundational requirement under the law, while maintaining the for-profit nature of the organization. This type of legal structure meets the members’ goals of serving the community and creating jobs and better economic conditions.
With technical assistance, the members determined that they will structure their L3C as a sole entity instead of four different entities for each community. They made this decision after long and deep conversations. This decision shows their determination for unity and collaboration, not only on intentions, but also on the operational side of the enterprise.

Los Fogones L3C will be incorporated at the Commonwealth Department of State before the end of 2019 and its Manager named at that time. From there, the Operating Agreement, the document that will regulate and define the details of their operations (already on draft version), will be approved.
Two of the Fogones continued to provide services while going through this organizational process. They served over 20 families daily, and some more families on special occasions. Also, some communities developed other services in order to improve economic sustainability: Cayey is producing pasteles and guanimes for sale, for example; and Toa Baja is developing relationships with new donors and allies.

There has been some progress regarding legal tenancy of the buildings and spaces where the Fogones will operate: a not-for-profit trust was formed for the Salinas Fogón, which now has an agreement with the Municipality of Salinas for the use of their location. The Municipality of Cayey just agreed on a long-term lease for the abandoned school that the Fogones are using there. Yabucoa still has to solve this issue.