Arelis Rodríguez, Falcondo Foundation Executive Director
Philanthropist Arelis Rodríguez knew when she was growing up in the Dominican Republic that she wanted to help those less fortunate. But it wasn’t until years later, during a Scandinavian trip, that she understood what would become her signature approach.
“I was really impressed when I traveled to Norway to see how very young children would go alone to school, so I asked how that was possible,” she wrote in response to a HIPGivers question. “The answer is simple: Everyone cares for them along their route to school (the adults help them to cross the street, the pedestrian, the motorist, the business owners, etc.).”
“It struck me how lovely it was that the community understood that the children’s welfare was the responsibility of the whole community,” she added. “I dream that someday we will see all of America’s children feeling protected, guided along a path of peace and happiness.”
Rodríguez has been the Executive Director of the Falcondo Foundation since a Canadian mining subsidiary created it in 1989. She is most driven to find ways to fix social problems’ underlying causes.
“I knew that I not only had to help but, to reach more people, I had to find a way to motivate those who have to invest more, to embrace our people’s aspirations and sign on to the solutions, not only with money but with ideas, examples, commitment,” she said.
Rodríguez set out to fight high-barrier poverty in the Dominican Republic, where the median age is 27 years. The CIA Factbook puts unemployment of its 15-24 age group at nearly 30 percent, and overall joblessness was at 15 percent by a 2013 estimate. Even so, with modest per capita GDP of $9,700 in 2013, its economy is far healthier than Haiti, with which it shares Hispaniola.
In her quest, Rodríguez headed two nonprofits targeting poverty and unemployment. Her community development and environmental expertise increased. Her efforts generated models of corporate social responsibility that have been replicated in her Caribbean country and elsewhere.
She is proud to have been a founding partner of the HIP Funders’ Collaborative for Strong Latino Communities in the Dominican Republic. Rodríguez also partnered with the Dominican Education Ministry and others to create the Falconbridge Foundation School Sponsorship Program, which has helped 77,000 children and 2,100 teachers in 135 schools. USAID has recognized the schools program as a successful private sector-public instruction model.
“I have had the privilege of having worked with hundreds of youths, and I have noticed that, when we change even one life in a community, we are betting on the socioeconomic transformation of that family and that community,” she wrote for HIP. “The enormity of the problems shouldn’t overwhelm us or discourage us, since it is with everyday actions that we can change our people’s fortunes, one by one, and one day at a time.
“We need to personally feel the frustration of our people who, despite working so hard, can’t manage to climb out of poverty,” she added. “We have to do it with ganas and ingenuity, to identify creative, brave and sustainable solutions.”