How To Shop With A Purpose For Puerto Rico This Christmas

It’s Giving Tuesday -- have you heard of it? -- and I am reminded of a conversation I had earlier this year with a Latina entrepreneur based in Sacramento. Her pitch: a better way to fund quinceaneras, the coming-of-age ritual for Mexican and other Latin-American girls that’s emerged as a multibillion-dollar industry. The problem she’s trying to solve: the wasteful spending on unwanted gifts that are given to so many 15-year olds on their special day.

I loved her pitch, but I averred: “when you are done with Quinces, we should talk about Christmas.”

The entrepreneur -- Fatima Ruiz (keep an eye on her) -- has a big idea: redirecting the huge transfer of wealth that’s sponsored by so many people without wealth on holidays that matter to them. She’s not against gift-giving per se.  You can't stop people from giving because it is one of the most ancient tools for creating social bonds. Never mind the critique that so much ritual and holiday gift-giving is “deadweight” because “it’s a loss to one party that’s not offset as a gain to someone else,” as economist Joel Waldfogel said in an interview with PBS in 2013.  We are wired to give.  The only question perhaps is how we should give.

From where I sit -- as a business consultant working in Silicon Valley -- there are many, many holiday gift giving drives that could be reimagined to become more purposeful. But given the events of this Fall/Winter season, I’d like to highlight a campaign that might help Puerto Ricans -- and other people that want to help Puerto Ricans -- reimagine how they gift over the next few months. And yes, we are talking months. Puerto Ricans don’t stop celebrating Christmas until February.

Last week, a venture in Puerto Rico called Colmena66launched a website that enables people outside of Puerto Rico to shop for products and hire for talent in Puerto Rico. When I got word about the site -- Shop and Hire PR -- I immediately thought about Fatima’s dream: to create a culturally relevant web service that empowers people to give more purposefully.  

I will devote an entire article early next year to how Shop and Hire can help unleash the amazing talent that resides in Puerto Rico; I have an office on the island for my soon-to-be-launched consulting firm and I am already benefitting from the talent base. But today, Giving Tuesday, I’d like to make a short shout-out to Colmena66 for what they are doing for the Puerto Rican vendor community.

Like other smart and socially savvy ventures, Colmena66 is looking at spreading the word over several horizons of activity and promotion.

First, they identified a partner for discovering the many vendors in Puerto Rico who are prepared to sell their goods online. For this part, they teamed up with Brands of Puerto Rico, which already had a site and database of vendors. Since the launch, the database has grown to 84 e-commerce-enabled shops -- vendors in food, beverages, beauty, books, apparel -- ready to do online business on Christmas.

Second: amplifying the work that Brands of Puerto Rico did before Maria hit. Shop and Hire has done a very good job in promoting Puerto Rican brands in both Spanish and English-language media. The latter of course is critical in reaching the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Third horizon -- and this is something I got the opportunity to speak about with Denisse Rodriguez, the head of Colmena66 -- is the effort that Shop and Hire can make to help other organizations, inside and outside of Puerto Rico, to signal their commitment to shopping for Puerto Rico.

I told Rodriguez that if Shop and Hire were to create a label -- saying that I shop and hire in Puerto Rico -- I would proudly wear that label on my website, my social media pages, my email. I’m sure many other people would.  And I’m betting that a lot of well-established e-commerce platforms would be supportive, too.  We are living in the age of purpose, where it matters more and more how we spend our money.  So next time you think about checking into Amazon, think about checking into Shop and Hire instead. Who knows, maybe someday Amazon will help you do that too.

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