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

$10,000

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
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

June 2019

Thus far, Voz Activa has helped the leaders of the four Fogones in exploring legal and organizational structures. The group decided to form a workers-owned L3C (low profit, limited liability company) that will function as an umbrella for the four Fogones. This will allow for each Fogón to keep its autonomy, while being able to work together for things like procuring inventory or negotiating prices with suppliers. The L3C structure will also allow them the flexibility to be a mission-centered enterprise. As members of the L3C, each Fogón has one vote regarding decisions that might impact the collective. With respect to internal processes, each Fogón keeps its autonomy and its own structure —for example, on how to distribute profits, assign tasks, etc.

In addition, there have been updates on each location and building. At Fogón de Las Mareas, Voz Activa has worked with community leaders to create a public-purpose Trust that is currently in the process of getting official control of the community center and the adjacent canteen. The canteen will be assigned to Fogón de Las Mareas for its services. The municipal legislature agreed on transferring the property to the community Trust, and all parties are in the process of finalizing the agreement documents. This is a significant milestone, since having community control over the building is crucial for the Fogón to be able to invest in retrofitting and fixing the structure, and also to make sure there will be no interruption of services later on.

At Fogón de Las Vegas, Cayey, the team is working in a school building for which legal property is not clear (state or municipal government). This is an obstacle that is requiring a deeper intervention. Nevertheless, in a period of 12 weeks, this team has produced and served 2,987 lunches. Of these, 2,587 were distributed without charge and 400 were paid by customers. In terms of access, the team has identified 33 neighbors that need home delivery — which they do on a daily basis (Monday-Friday). The process has led to awareness among neighbors regarding the value of this service. Some of them are supporting the enterprise by helping with inventory and small donations.

Fogón de Villa Calma, Toa Baja is in the process of initiating a conversation with the municipality regarding the process of gaining control over the building. Lastly, Fogón de Guayanés, Yabucoa is in the process of identifying an adequate space, as the one they used after the hurricane is no longer available.