At Atlas Network’s 2021 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner, Tere Nolla, from the Center for Economic Renewal, Growth, and Excellence (CRECE), was one of the contestants for the annual Think Tank Shark Tank competition. Nolla pitched a project called “Portraits of Prosperity: A Puerto Rican Perspective.” The project aimed to engage high school and university students through a photo contest to raise awareness of the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists on the island but is not often seen or celebrated.
In Nolla’s pitch, she described, “Through Portraits of Prosperity, we hope to inspire curiosity about entrepreneurship, raise awareness of entrepreneurial realities in Puerto Rico, and rouse support for policies that encourage economic freedom.” Less than a year after Nolla’s pitch, the project came to fruition.
CRECE, a non-profit think tank in Puerto Rico, focuses on cultivating market-based solutions to foster economic prosperity in three main areas: ease of doing business, poverty alleviation, and entrepreneurship. Although Puerto Rico is an island known for its rich culture, beautiful beaches, and of course Latino reggaeton, it is also a territory that has been devastated by natural disasters, economic crises, and poor governance in the past decade.
Although a recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring report revealed that only 30% of Puerto Ricans consider entrepreneurship to be a viable option for work, the current economic crisis has inspired a new surge of interest and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. CRECE intends to capitalize on this mindset shift, and the “Portraits of Prosperity” project aimed to show young people that entrepreneurship can be a path to sustainable prosperity.
“Success is contagious.” This was a key foundation for the project. By sharing hopeful success stories, CRECE has perpetuated more desire for growth and fostered an attitude of self-reliance among those whom the project engaged.
The project, completed this past spring, engaged 55 students representing 20 towns and 17 schools and universities throughout Puerto Rico. Photo submissions celebrated entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries, including construction, food and beverage, agriculture, retail, tech, and the arts. Following the contest submission deadline, a panel of judges convened to determine a first-, second-, and third-place winner who were awarded prizes, as well as a number of honorable mentions. An exhibit of the submissions was displayed in a gallery in San Juan with a celebratory opening night, followed by a multi-week exhibition period. The exhibit received nearly 800 visitors from 44 different towns and cities throughout Puerto Rico and the continental United States.
Taking in the photos and written descriptions from the exhibit, onlookers could see a wide representation of entrepreneurs, not only in the range of industries, but also in age and location. Some started their own business to follow a passion, whereas others discovered their business as a new path after losing a job or becoming disenfranchised with the status quo of their industry. Across the board, the stories depicted through the photograph submissions showed that a deep connection to community was integral to many of the businesses.
Surveys conducted throughout the project revealed that 84% of participants indicated that their involvement with the project made them interested in becoming an entrepreneur in the future. Of the exhibition visitors, 97% stated that they believe entrepreneurship adds value to communities throughout Puerto Rico.
CRECE is working toward a future where natural disasters and careless fiscal policies do not dominate the stories that the island has to tell. Through projects like “Portraits of Prosperity,” individuals will continue to demonstrate how Puerto Rico’s path to sustainable development can be forged through diverse and vibrant private enterprise.