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Chamber Strome Business Series Brings Social Entrepreneur from Puerto Rico to Hampton Roads

By Jon Cawley

The 2018 Chamber Strome Business Series on April 10 brought Isabel Rullan, a Puerto Rican social entrepreneur, to Hampton Roads to discuss her role leading a team that has raised over $3 million in funds to assist vulnerable communities since the island was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Rullan is co-founder and director of ConPRmetidos, a non-partisan and non-profit organization based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The group's focus is to develop a stable, productive and self-sufficient Puerto Rico by leveraging international relationships, particularly with Puerto Ricans living abroad.

The series is a partnership between Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business and the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

In introducing Rullan, Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, said she was excited for her visit because the discussion of her experience will "help leaders in our community think of new ideas in problem solving."

Rullan said ConPRmetidos was originally launched to spur economic development in Puerto Rico and counter a diaspora from the island where more than 400,000 people - particularly young, talented professionals - left between 2005 and 2015 to seek opportunities elsewhere.

"Before 2005, people didn't know what the diaspora was," Rullan said. "Now everyone in Puerto Rico knows what the diaspora is. We were able to chance public policy in that sense."

The organization's focus shifted when Irma and then Maria hit the island in quick succession knocking out 100 percent of the island's electricity, tainting drinking water and knocking out cellular signals.

The ConPRmetidos office was one of the only places on the island with electricity (from a generator) and internet access. As a result, up to 300 people from various non-profits used the office during the height of the crisis.

"Every day, brigades of people were going out distributing water and supplies," Rullan said. "The community really came together and helped each other out. Puerto Ricans outside the island were key in the effort.

"We believe in the power of networks," Rullan continued. "It's incredible how generous people have been. There is still a long road ahead. But there is no other option than moving ahead."

Rullan is a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Global Program on Social Innovation and an alum of the Schusterman Foundation, Reality Adelante Latin American Leaders program. She has been invited to speak at Harvard, MIT, Hunter College, the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce and the ANIMUS Women's Leaders Conference.

Prior to her work with ConPRmetidos, Rullan worked as the production manager of the documentary "Mala Mala" that was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and as a special assistant to the U.S. Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. She studied business administration at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez and at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, where she is a business management graduate.

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