Bank Encourages Entrepreneurship

By Laine Crosby

As a result of Puerto Rico’s recent economic problems, Banco Popular developed a unique program to bolster growth by encouraging entrepreneurship among the island’s residents.

The program, called Echar Pa’lante (EPL) has won many awards and has been studied by some banks on the U.S. mainland for possible replication there.

It’s been no secret that since 2006, Puerto Rico’s economy has suffered. The decline began, in part, due to the expiration of tax credits for companies that set up manufacturing on the island. Since then, the resulting drop in employment has encouraged people to migrate from island. The out-migration began before the recession sent the U.S. economy into reverse in 2007. Today, unemployment remains stubbornly high at more than twice the U.S. average, as of June.

However, as a five-year recession ended in 2011, Banco Popular decided that a coalition in the private sector was just what Puerto Rico needed to encourage growth. The bank developed what can only be called a collective impact initiative, led and powered by Banco Popular, but with help from a dedicated group of businesses, educational institutions, civic and nonprofit associations. The initiative was developed to coordinate multisector efforts to accelerate the development of a global entrepreneurship culture to help restore growth on the island.

Banco Popular named this program Echar Pa’lante, which is an idiom often used in Puerto Rico to mean “to go forward putting one’s best effort to become successful.” Echar Pa’ lante was established following the principles of the collective impact initiative model developed by the School of Innovation at Stanford University. Because of the success of the program, Banco Popular believes that the program is scalable and can be replicated at other banks.

Echar Pa’lante

Even though Banco Popular has been serving as the integrator, facilitator and engine, the bank’s leadership decided to foster collaboration and shared leadership to gain engagement, long-term commitment and full support of the organizational allies and local leaders. This engaged the leaders of collaborating organizations to personally participate and empowered them to also develop efforts to help move forward with uniting and inspiring others to achieve success, and to help the community and the economy.

Echar Pa’lante’s main allies include the largest universities, the largest professional associations (Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, Made in Puerto Rico, AARP and SHRM), government agencies (Department of Education, Youth Development Agency, Department of Economic Development and Commerce), the Association of Private Schools, foundations and key institutes, and island-wide and regional economic development groups, among others.

The bank believes that for the Puerto Rican economy to be competitive again, the Island needs to work towards the following goals:

  • Cost-effective energy.
  • Tax reform.
  • Education that fosters innovation.
  • Development of strategic industry clusters.
  • Become a center of expertise in entrepreneurship and Innovation.
  • Become a welcoming society.
  • World class connectivity.
  • Growth of exports.

With these goals in mind, to begin the Echar Pa’lante initiative, a team of economists analyzed Puerto Rico’s main challenges and opportunities and developed a model proposing how to become competitive, and they chose to focus priorities in two specific areas:

  • Accelerating the development of the entrepreneurial sectors and becoming a center of expertise for entrepreneurship.
  • Improving school performance while reducing dropout rates and to restore growth by developing world-competitive citizens.

The initiative’s five main strategies to accomplish these “building blocks” are:

1) Executive Training. Movement building via entrepreneur advisory networks to make social responsibility a priority amongst executive teams.
2) Education. Entrepreneurial mindset and skills capacity-building.
3) Promotion of high growth entrepreneurship/BIG ideas.
4) Investing. Facilitate access to capital for micro-entrepreneurs.
5) Industry Development/Networking. Entrepreneurship knowledge building as a means to uncover business opportunities.

Universities have started to implement systemic efforts to accelerate the development of an entrepreneurial culture and skills throughout their campuses for the benefit of both their students and communities The Department of Education already started efforts to train a critical mass of teachers in the entrepreneurial skills proposed by Echar Pa’lante, following the initiative model. Other associations are assuming ownership of some of the building blocks proposed by the Echar Pa’lante competitiveness model.

Ad campaign success

Echar Pa’lante began in August 2011 with an advertising campaign called “The Most Popular Song” with the objective of bringing hope and optimism thus transforming Puerto Rican’s attitudes. The campaign shared new lyrics with the move forward theme for an iconic salsa song well known by most Puerto Ricans, implying that if the song could be changed, the Island’s destiny could also be changed.

The campaign helped change the general public conversation from a helpless, negative tone to the discussion of alternatives to move forward. The campaign was reinforced with 20 mini-documentaries about Puerto Ricans who successfully reinvented themselves in times of crisis. The initial movement activation meetings were dedicated to promote collaboration and train multisector leaders on how to coordinate efforts effectively.

Initiative is scalable

The bank is hopeful that other banks can replicate the initiative in their own communities. The EPL leadership team has been carefully documenting the initiative development, specific process design, and they have even videotaped most workshops and sections of events for future reference.  Additionally, the team is in the process of developing a case study that will be used by local universities in their social responsibilities classes. All these materials are being shared with other banks or interested organizations.


Banco Popular has received numerous awards and positive press for its initiatives. The bank has been recognized locally, nationally and internationally for the initiative. The initiative prepared the way for new industry and trained the next generation of entrepreneurs. Amongst a number of awards, Banco Popular ‘s initial campaign received the Cannes Advertising highest recognition, the local Sales and Marketing Association’s highest recognition, and the ABA Community Commitment Award for Community and Economic Development.

Laine Crosby is the editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine.