Despite the current foreign policy difficulties between the United States and Cuba, some people are foraging ahead with their business ties with the island. Although many announcements have been made about the reversal of Cuba-friendly Obama-era policies, not much has actually been changed on a policy level; the most significant recent move was the mutual removal of diplomats.
Susan Leger Ferraro is a social serial entrepreneur who has been looking to affect social change since first started Little Sprouts, an early education center in at-risk communities, when she was just 17 years old. In 2015, Ferraro first visited Cuba and has since set out to support the development and expansion of infrastructure in order to meet the needs of its growing tourism industry. Now, she’s sharing some of her wisdom from her experience in Cuba, and on a more ecumenical scale.
One thing that Ferraro stresses is that sometimes, investors need to “help form the industry they want to emerge in.” Although Ferraro is a social entrepreneur whose concerns extend well beyond simply making money, she is well aware that the entrepreneurial panacea is tied to profitability.
Develop and Hire Local Talent
Collaboration with local talent has been especially important, especially in Cuba, where international mentoring programs are limited. Ferraro suggests hosting meet-and-greets with local tradespeople to extend your network, as the ones who show up will likely bring or tell others about the opportunity.
Location is everything to tourists, and making sure that the infrastructure to support the industry is present in areas where tourists want to go is essential. Many Cubans rent out private rooms, or casa particulares, in their own homes; this is one of the few avenues open to Cubans who wish to become entrepreneurs. Ferraro worked with locals to help enhance and market their properties to potential tourists. Such infrastructure-building practices elevate a country’s hospitality industry as a whole.
In Ferraro’s experience, connecting with one local entrepreneur connects you to many others. Just as she invited local tradespeople and grew her network of local talent, she also built up her network of local business owners to create an authentic business ecosystem that in turn benefits the local infrastructure, and thus the tourism industry in general. Ferraro’s connection with a spa in Old Havana, for example, was a two-way street: she promoted a local business and, in turn, guests at her real estate project benefit from its services.
Most of All, Collaborate
An international real estate business offers a unique platform to make a difference within a community and an opportunity to develop the local professionals and infrastructure. This means that not only do you profit from the locals, but the locals profit from you as the industry thrives.
Building trust is an essential part of business development in Cuba, where anti-American sentiment can sometimes run high. But the bad blood between the US and Cuban governments need not dictate the terms of your business relationships.