The Give: Miranda Foundation’s Lourdes Miranda Applauds Puerto Rican Philanthropic Sector’s Growth


The Miranda Foundation recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Premio Solidaridad awards program, recognizing nonprofits that work to bring people together in Puerto Rico, which makes Puerto Rican entrepreneur and philanthropist Lourdes Miranda very proud.

She is quick to say that her 20-year-old foundation was originally started in Washington, D.C., where she lived for about 30 years before having returned to the island of her birth in 1999.

As an entrepreneur, she started Miranda Associates Inc., a consulting company that worked under contracts with federal agencies on a variety of projects.

“We did the first survey of English proficiency of Spanish-speaking students, she recalled. “We did program evaluations, we evaluated the bilingual program in the Chicago public schools… . We did program management; we ran several centers for the Peace Corps volunteers. They were training centers in the countries that the volunteers were sent to.”

But the daughter of a Puerto Rican importer of hardware and other goods wasn’t happy with the limitations of the business world. She had left Puerto Rico to get her bachelor’s degree in International Relations from UCLA, where her father allowed her to study only because they had relatives living nearby. She later married a U.S. Army officer; the marriage ended in divorce 17 years later. They were sent to Spain, where she completed a master of arts degree in Spanish Literature from Middlebury College in Madrid, finished doctoral studies and started to prepare a doctoral thesis. Upon their return to Washington, D.C., she taught at Trinity College. Her grown daughter and grandson now live in Mexico City.

“I never was just in business,” said the co-founder and former president of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, former president of the National Association of Women Business Owners and former board member of Amnesty International USA, among other positions.

So starting a foundation was for her both a natural outgrowth of her business success and her interest in giving back. “I wanted to be able to spend resources in those things that I consider important.”

“I wanted to do something for Puerto Rican women at that time, which U.S. feminism wasn’t addressing,” she said, adding that the foundation started slowly.

“It became more active in Puerto Rico when I moved to Puerto Rico in 1999…” she said. “It was time to do for Puerto Rico what I had spent several years doing outside of it. It was time to do it at home.”

“I was quite taken by surprise when I saw how polarized and divided the society seemed to be, and I didn’t like that,” she recalled. It was polarized, she said, “along the spectrum [within issues]: class, gender, political ideology, race, you name it — all the causes that divide people.”

So she decided to establish the Premio a la Solidadaridad awards program for nonprofit organizations that serve as models for bringing people together for the common good. Each year, the Miranda Foundation recognizes one winner with a sculpture and $7,500, two honorary mentions, which receive $1,500 each, and a special $5,000 Premio a la Solidaridad en Educación, which is sponsored by the Banco Santander.

This year’s winning nonprofit was Casa Pueblo, a grassroots environmental advocacy organization based in Adjuntas, with Proyecto Matria and Centro de Periodismo Investigativo receiving honorary mentions, while Fundación Nueva Escuela para Puerto Rico, Niños de Nueva Esperanza, was recognized with the education award.

Miranda said that they were selected from 45 nominations this year. The selection process includes at least a couple of former award winners among the judges who conduct site visits of the semi-finalists. Although pleased with the award program’s first 10 years, Miranda added that she would like to expand it in the next decade to include mainland Puerto Rican organizations.

“I never wanted this award to be money driven,” she said. “I wanted it to be values driven. The organizations nominate themselves because they feel they are doing a good job for the greater good and for a common cause.”

How did you get interested in social justice causes?

I guess it was in the ’70s… . I was a teacher of Spanish literature at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. [and became disenchanted with teaching Don Quijote to rich students.] I came to it by way of feminism, civil rights, and Puerto Rican rights. I left teaching and went to work with a nonprofit. ….

Puerto Rican educator and civil rights leader] Antonia Pantoja established and created the major Puerto Rican institutions in New York City, the Puerto Rican Forum and Aspira. She created the first institution of higher learning for Puerto Ricans in the United States, and I was in charge of development and the library. It was the Universidad Boricua, and it later became Boricua College, which is still there.

What developments have you seen in U.S. philanthropy?

What I’ve seen in the smaller private foundations, what I’ve seen both in the states and later here in Puerto Rico, is a move to seeing philanthropy in a different way, from what used to be more of an approach as a charity. The change has been to more proactive, strategic philanthropy, which is about something different from donations. Strategic philanthropy is about transformation — about change, about looking to solve social problems, especially at the root, and about impact. This is something I’ve seen as the biggest change in philanthropy in the states, in Puerto Rico, and it’s a very welcome change.

What developments have impressed you about philanthropy in Puerto Rico?

The philanthropic sector in Puerto Rico is very active. There are more foundations giving more grants than before. There is a movement afoot to organize the philanthropic sector. So I am involved in a small group that has started a network of grantmakers — La Red de Fundaciones. And that’s good news, we meet [and enjoy] excellent accomplishments, like changing the Puerto Rico tax code so that charitable donations are deducted more like legislation in the states. We are hoping that will increase giving. So that is an example of what can result from coming together in common cause …

What would you like to see in the future?

More of the same — increased understanding of strategic philanthropy and coming together. I’d like to see more of that happening. There are many foundations that are at the charitable level approach. I’d like to see them move forward to the strategic approach.

I would like to see them be more active with minority populations in the states and with Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. If you look at the HIP study, [Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and for Latin America, conducted by the Foundation Center for Hispanics in Philanthropy. It found that over a decade the amount of philanthropic contributions specifically targeting U.S. Latino communities was less than two percent.] It’s a pittance.

I would like to see more partnerships between U.S. foundations and Latino foundations in the United States and Puerto Rican foundations in Puerto Rico.

I think some of that is already happening which is, for the first time ever, a funders collaborative powered by HIP , is in place with several Puerto Rican foundations. So that should be a continuing HIP role. …[Starting with the Foundation Center report, which included philanthropy in Puerto Rico] I would like to see HIP increasing that role of creating awareness for both populations. By awareness it means educating on both sides of the ocean.

Is there anything that you would like to add?

I believe in philanthropy as the biggest tool for transformation, for making changes in society, for impacting change. And this is the way that U.S. foundations need to see it, viz a viz the U.S. Latino community and Puerto Rico, and how the Puerto Rican foundations need to see it. This is the one thing that can make a big difference, so support it, grow it. If you think of the big discoveries, they have been driven by foundation funding, the development of the [anti-polio] Salk vaccine and, in Puerto Rico, the establishment of the Museo de Arte de Ponce — big changes, big impact.