Notes from the Field: Inclusiv 2022 Annual Conference Site Visits and Proclamation Ceremonies in Puerto Rico
Visiting local credit unions and cooperativas is a much-anticipated benefit of our Annual Conference. This year's conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico was no exception. Conference attendees had the opportunity to visit Inclusiv members Cooperativa Jesus Obrero, Cooperativa Aiboniteña (BoniCoop) and Cooperativa La Sagrada Familia. This year’s site visits were organized by Inclusiv's partner in Puerto Rico, the Asociación de Ejecutivos de Cooperativas (ASEC).
On May 2, the first day of the conference, we visited Cooperativa Jesus Obrero, a $112 million CDFI serving the rural communities surrounding the cities of San Juan and Guaynabo. Aurelio Arroyo, the Executive President of Jesus Obrero warmly welcomed over 70 conference attendees. The site visit included a reproduction of the cooperativa's Granito de Arena Marketplace, a Juntos Avanzamos Proclamation Ceremony, and a rapturous journey through Puerto Rico's musical traditions.
Cooperativa Jesus Obrero, Puerto Rico's first Juntos Avanzamos designated credit union, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Dominican Republic Consulate in Puerto Rico to expand financial inclusion among the Dominican population on the island.
After two content-rich days of the Inclusiv conference, attendees had the opportunity to accompany the Inclusiv team on a site visit to two cooperativas deep within the mountains of Puerto Rico. Early Thursday morning, May 5, after driving through endless winding roads, the group of attendees reached the town of Aibonito at the island's center. (Nestled in the mountains, Aibonito is the town with the highest elevation in Puerto Rico, and holds the record for coldest temperature, at 38°F.)
Aibonito is a rural town of 24,000 people with a strong cooperative heritage and is home to two cooperativas, both Inclusiv members, BoniCoop and Cooperativa San José. BoniCoop played a critical role in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane María by helping thousands of community members access both cash and affordable financing to rebuild their lives.
Bonicoop is a CDFI that serves 18,000 members, 60% of which live in Aibonito, and holds $136 million in community owned assets. Upon arrival in Aibonito, attendees were received at Bonicoop by Carlos Ortíz, the cooperativa's Executive President, and Milagros Ortíz, the Board Chair. After breakfast and a tour of the facilities (which were bustling with community members) the group was invited to walk through town, stopping at local landmarks. Everyone in the attendee group was amazed by the bustling activity in the town center and had an opportunity to visit the town's church, Iglesia San José, built in 1897.
After saying goodbye to Carlos and Milagros, we headed to the Town of Naranjito, for a visit of Cooperativa Sagrada Familia's OASIS Project. The OASIS is a state-of-the-art facility that includes a community meeting room, volunteer training center, deep water well, cistern, gasoline and diesel reserves, generator, and a space for helicopters to land and deliver supplies. Attendees were received by Eddie W. Alicea Saez, Executive President at Cooperativa Sagrada Familia, who expounded on the history of the OASIS Project and its role as a macro community hub.
One of the most beautiful moments of the site visit occurred when a young entrepreneur, supported by the cooperativa, spoke about her experience selling her chickens' eggs with her brand, "Finca de Colores." The site visit ended with a tour of the OASIS facility and the Cooperativa Sagrada Familia Naranjito Branch.
After leaving the OASIS, the group boarded the bus to the Naranjito Center of Fine Arts, where Cooperativa Sagrada Familia hosted a community event and Juntos Avanzamos Proclamation Ceremony that included a Bomba and Plena, contemporary music, and a traditional music show. The visit was joined by Todd Harper, Chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, and Mabel Jimenez, Executive President of the Public Corporation for the Supervision and Insurance of Financial Cooperativas.
Cooperativa Sagrada Familia was the first CDFI financial cooperative in the island, offering affordable and relevant financial services to 30,000 member-owners through five branches in rural and urban areas of the island. Eddie W. Alicea Saez, Sagrada Familia’s CEO was the first ever executive from a financial cooperative to be elected to Inclusiv’s Board of Directors.
Thank you Puerto Rico cooperativas for the warm welcome during our 2022 Inclusiv Conference!
Onward to Memphis for Conference 2023!