Social Entrepreneur Spotlight: Issel Masses of Sembrando SentidoSeptember 22, 2022
Sembrando Sentido, one of eight organizations in New Profit’s latest Civic Lab Cohort, envisions an informed, engaged, and alert civil society that actively collaborates with government to maximize public resources for the long-term well-being of Puerto Rico. Sembrando Sentido harvests knowledge, tools, and inspiration to strengthen civil society advocacy efforts for more transparent, responsible, inclusive, and efficient government practices in Puerto Rico.
Communities across Puerto Rico are currently experiencing extreme conditions due to hurricane Fiona. To help centralize support information following Fiona’s passing, Sembrando Sentido created the “Disaster Recovery” category on their community resources website, PROACCION.ORG.
Below, Founder and Executive Director Issel Masses sheds light on some of the challenges Puerto Rico faces as an unincorporated territory and the sources of inspiration she draws upon to move Sembrando Sentido’s work forward.
Q: What is the one thing you wish more people knew about the issue your organization is working to solve?
A: Puerto Rico’s colonial status, an unincorporated territory with over 3.2M people disenfranchised from US politics, causes an inherent disconnect between citizen needs and government actions. These crumbling democratic structures have led to high levels of government corruption and civic distrust, unequal benefits, and ultimately, the increased social and economic marginalization of our communities. As such, Puerto Rico is considered among the poorest jurisdictions in the US, with a cost of living that is ~65.4% higher than the average in the mainland.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling part of the work that you do?
A: Working alongside other NGOs and advocates passionate about strengthening democracy and social justice in Puerto Rico and around the world.
My commitment to public service was first instilled in me by my grandmother. In spite of numerous economic, social, gender, and health-related challenges, she excelled to become one of the first female senators in Puerto Rico (1969-1977). But what I admired her the most for was our shared passion and commitment to community development and our strong belief that citizen-centered reform is the key to a strong democracy and the betterment of our society.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that helps you in challenging times or that you look to as a guidepost when doing this work? How is it reflected in your work or habits?
A: “Taking the road less traveled” as expressed in “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Although Frost’s underlying intentions had an alternate purpose, these words have inspired me time and again to let go of the fear, to wonder and question, to reflect and create, and to help others do the same.
Q: What person/people have had the biggest influence on your involvement in this work up until this point?
A: My commitment to public service was first instilled in me by my grandmother. In spite of numerous economic, social, gender, and health-related challenges, she excelled to become one of the first female senators in Puerto Rico (1969-1977). But what I admired her the most for was our shared passion and commitment to community development and our strong belief that citizen-centered reform is the key to a strong democracy and the betterment of our society.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?
A: Sembrando Sentido’s Public Contracting Platform – Contratos En Ley is the 1st digital platform that opens, monitors and evaluates public contracting in Puerto Rico. We focus on this area as the government spends ~50% of its budget on procurement, it is the area with the highest corruption risk, and its weaknesses expose billions of dollars to misuse and result in the deterioration of essential services (such as water, electricity, infrastructure, etc.).
The platform includes the following reports (English version of the platform to be published in October):
- Masses Ferrer, Issel, Juan José Jiménez and Sabrina Rodríguez. “Contracting in Recovery: Strengths and Weaknesses in Procurement Processes with CDBG-DR Funds.” Sembrando Sentido. September 2021. Link
- Masses Ferrer, Issel, Juan José Jiménez y Rachel A. Román Villalobos. “Evaluación de los Procesos de Contratación Pública en Puerto Rico” (Evaluation of Public Procurement Processes in Puerto Rico). Sembrando Sentido. 2022. (English version to be published in October)
- “Incumplimiento de Normas y Controles en los Procesos de Contratación y Compra Pública.” (“Non-Compliance with Public Procurement Controls and Procedures in Puerto Rico.” (English version to be published in October)
To get closer to Sembrando Sentido visit their website. You can stay up to date with Sembrando Sentido’s latest activities by following their social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about why Democracy is a key investment area for New Profit in our State of Democracy Entrepreneurship report.