Three years after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico—the worst to make landfall there in more than 80 years—tens of thousands of residents still live under “blue roofs.” That’s the term for the tarps covering homes across the island, which was devastated by the Category 5 storm in 2017, killing nearly 3,000, causing an exodus of more than 130,000, and inflicting an estimated $90 billion in damage. Recovery has been slow, not only hampered by earthquakes and now, a global pandemic, but also a lag in federal funds. Seventy-thousand homes were destroyed, yet none have been rebuilt by the government.
Enter Glenisse Pagan-Ortiz and Filantropía Puerto Rico, which connects philanthropic entities to amplify their impact, an exemplar of the sum being greater than its parts. It convenes funders from every sector—private, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic—and then makes grants to improve the lives of the marginalized. Shortly after Maria, Pagan-Ortiz joined the organization in 2018 as Chief Operating Officer and became its Executive Director a year later. “I have always had a clear intention to serve and contribute,” she said. “Supporting and learning from the nonprofit sector is inspiration in itself.”
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Filantropía PR wasn’t the first brush with hurricane recovery efforts for Pagan-Ortiz, an electrical engineer who had a long career at technology companies. After seeing the devastation left behind by Maria, she founded nonprofit Rayo de Luna and co-founded Harimau Conservation, and built 41 water purification towers so people had access to clean, safe drinking water.
Now, as she works to reimagine philanthropy as the head of Filantropía Puerto Rico, Pagan-Ortiz has an opportunity to help build back her home for her fellow 3.2 million Puerto Ricans. She’s wasted no time. This fall, with her urging, 22 foundations and major donors committed to redoubling their support to restore the U.S. territory.
She couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make a positive impact—and for something so deeply personal as her homeland. She’s proving that after the storm comes a calm when the sky’s the limit.
Illustration by Agata Nowicka