From its origins dating back to 1929, Cisneros has evolved into a global enterprise focused on media and entertainment, digital advertising, and real estate. In lockstep with Cisneros’ growth is the company’s vision for sustainable development and our determination to identify opportunities for social impact in the communities where we operate.
One example is Fundación Tropicalia (Tropicalia Foundation), a nonprofit organization that promotes the socioeconomic and environmental development of Miches, Dominican Republic, where we strive to position this community as a sustainable tourism destination. The Foundation was established in 2008 by Tropicalia, a sustainable tourism and real estate development of Cisneros Real Estate located in the northeastern coast of the country on Samaná Bay.
Describing what the Foundation does is easy, but turning words into action has been a challenging and fulfilling professional and personal journey for everyone on our team. Some of us relocated to the Dominican Republic and others moved to Miches, a town home to about 21,000 people. Living side by side with the destination, the people and the country has provided a unique space to build relationships with persevering and admirable people, all of whom have inspired us to give our very best every day.
When we arrived in Miches in 2008, I remember introducing our programs to the community in one of our first open-house meetings; we let people know that we were bringing education and culture programs to public schools in partnership with Fundación Cisneros, that we had been doing this for years throughout the region and now we were in Miches. A woman stood up and asked us: “That’s great, but other than education and culture, what else are you offering?” I was taken aback and understood that we failed at communicating properly the value of our programs, but more importantly this question raised the poignant point that Miches had many more needs, being one of the poorest and historically isolated settlements in the country at that time. Though we felt overwhelmed with responsibility, the path forward became clearer as we began thinking about a comprehensive and participative approach to community development.
Ten years later, and with the tireless work of our passionate team, I can confidently answer that woman’s question, not with ideas but with tangible, measured and participative actions that have supported the development of her community. Over the course of these years, major investments have been made in the region, not just by us with Cisneros Real Estate, but by our partners and the government as well, bringing significant improvement to school, road and telecommunications infrastructure among other indicators of growth.
Our work began in 2008, learning from one of our oldest partners, Banco Popular Dominicano’s Rural School Renovation Program. We studied the methodology of the program, involved the community and adapted it to the local reality; this is how we launched Fundación Tropicalia’s School Renovation and Maintenance Program (PRyME). PRyME was such an important program (and still is), because we learned that every school is a focal point for rural communities, where parents, teachers and children gather not only for education but for all kinds of community events and meetings. Through PRyME we gained a deeper understanding of local needs, and built genuine and strong relationships with school and community leaders, ultimately instilling in us a profound empathy for the people supported by our programs.
Having empathy, developing local knowledge and living side-by-side with your stakeholders are key factors when designing and implementing programs that create value and stay relevant for the community, program beneficiaries, Miches as a tourist destination and even the Foundation. Subsequent programs were developed, including: teacher training, scholarships and complementary school education; beach rescue and environmental studies; training for small business owners and farmers; and several sociocultural and gender equality initiatives.
Our initial strategic partners, such as Fondesa, Universidad Abierta para Adultos, ISA University, INDOTEL, Artemiches, MINERD, CONATURA and many others, helped us lay the groundwork for a varied, complex and challenging work structure that has been nothing short of fulfilling. Through these partnerships we were able to build a portfolio of programs and experiences that would later attract donor funds and/or technical assistance from the likes of USAID; various U.N. agencies including U.N. Women and U.N. Population Fund; IDB Lab (formerly known as the Multilateral Investment Fund) of the Inter-American Investment Bank (IDB); and IDB and IFC Advisory Services.
We began communicating and organizing our programs under the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic. Yet we soon realized sustainability is transversal, and so we restructured our program areas into four overarching themes that guide our work to this day: environment, productivity, education and sociocultural advocacy. We started with one employee, and then grew to a team of seven, supported by tens of facilitators and consultants and hundreds of volunteers. This has been a journey of continuous learning, where successes and failures go hand-in-hand, and the latter puts us to the test. Ever the optimists, we never lost sight of our mission and commitment to support the sustainable development of Miches as a tourist destination.
In these 10 years, we’ve been recognized by United Nations World Tourism Organization as one of the most innovative NGOs in terms of sustainable tourism, we’ve launched more than 30 initiatives for community development, eight of which are permanent programs, and have impacted nearly 10,000 participants.
Beyond the numbers, what most drives us are the stories of a family, of a child, of a teacher with whom we interact. In particular, the stories of our scholarship students, who have seized an opportunity to continue on to higher education, many have graduated as agricultural engineers and successfully joined the workforce, effectively disrupting their family’s generational cycle of poverty.
To commemorate our 10th anniversary, we designed a logo inspired in mosaics (pictured above). Much like an impressionist painting, when looking at it up close all you see is a brush stroke or a color; you can’t see the entire image. Rather, you have to step back from the work to understand that many small shapes pieced together makeup a great image. We feel that the road to sustainable development is similar; it takes many actions from many people over many years to build a balanced, unified vision for a place. Over the next 10 years, we will continue building and contributing to that great mosaic.
Sofia Perazzo is is the founding member of Fundación Tropicalia. She worked as Project Manager of the non-profit (2008-2011) and then became its Executive Director (2011-2017). In 2018 she became the Vice President of Sustainability for Cisneros Real Estate, and currently oversees the environmental and social performance of the company's investments.