A workshop on women empowerment and leadership in Puerto Rico

Viasat Carlsbad’s Kaitlin Murphy was part of the skills-based trip to help those still recovering from the hurricanes


Kaitlin Murphy traveled to the Innovation Hub in Puerto Rico as part of Viasat’s recent volunteer service trip. Murphy and Viasat employee Jeshsika Martinez led a workshop that inspired participants with information on female Puerto Rican leaders.

When Viasat’s Social Impact team sent me an email about their volunteer opportunity in Puerto Rico last March, I was hesitant to take the offer. I wasn’t sure if I’d be accepted, and didn’t think I had enough time to make the trip — although it did pique my interest.

Luckily, my co-worker Jeshsika Martinez encouraged me to take a leap of faith. Viasat’s Social Impact team wanted employees to give a workshop on women empowerment and leadership, and Martinez knew we’d be perfect for the job.

And so, with a little push from Jeshsika, we submitted our applications and hoped for the best.

Fast-forward to our first day as part of Viasat’s Puerto Rico volunteer opportunity. Jeshsika and I, along with four other incredible women, were going to present workshops in Arroyo and Utuado’s Innovation Hubs. It was clear from all the preparation done beforehand that the entire group was all in. Each workshop had been put together with a great deal of thought and intention.

Viasat Denver’s Meredith Totten presented a workshop on “Digital Marketing and Building a Brand,” which demonstrated how the internet can bring small businesses new opportunities. Viasat Carlsbad’s Sarah Iglesias delivered a workshop with an interactive job search element that helped participants refine their job searches specific to their locations. Jeshsika and I used video clips to incorporate strong female leaders of Puerto Rico in our workshop, which we called “Empowering Young Women and Building Future Leaders.”

All of us were selected for this opportunity because our themes were relevant, but we also sought to build workshops that would resonate with these communities.

Game time

Day two of this opportunity was when it hit us — It’s game time. We drove to Arroyo in a 12-passenger van and talked about our pre-presentation jitters: What if no one showed up— or only one person showed up? What would happen if the attendees didn’t want to participate?

But as any strong team does, we reminded each other of why we were there – Viasat’s mission — and resolved that we would push through any unforeseen challenges.

An hour-and-a-half later, we pulled up to Arroyo, and eye-opening moment number one struck. While Old San Juan (the place we were staying at) seemed to have recovered quickly from Hurricane Maria, Arroyo was still marked by devastation and recovery. The buildings, homes and habitats around us were either abandoned or undergoing repairs. Two years later, this community was still working to get back on its feet.

The sight made me understand that Viasat is in Puerto Rico to build this community up in a way that we may not realize — to provide connectivity and assist its people in rebuilding and improving their quality of life. While the company’s initial involvement was a reaction to a natural disaster, it is clear that Viasat’s mission evolved in a way that is intended to make a long-term impact.

The workshops

As the day progressed, Meredith kicked our workshops off with a winning presentation on building a digital presence, and Sarah kept the momentum going by dropping some serious job search knowledge and interview tips. Jeshsika and I closed out the day with a diverse group of women ranging from 18-80 years old. While this was not the demographic we had originally imagined, we were heartened to see each participant find a message to hold onto and use as a source of motivation.

One participant at this location, Maria, brought her two sons. The boys were quietly fiddling around in the Innovation Hub (with connectivity provided by Viasat) while she attended the workshop. While Maria was not a vocal participant, she did not hesitate to jump onto a laptop soon after we left. She researched how she could transform her profession into a business, marrying aspects of each workshop and utilizing the resources at the Innovation Hub to chase after her new goal.

Our second day of workshops flew by. Utuado bubbled with even more engagement and excitement over our presentations — and the people were thrilled with their new Innovation Hub. We had full audiences for each workshop.

Each gathering was filled with people from different backgrounds, a testament to the dedication of these people who, regardless of age or demographic, cared deeply about their community and its success. I watched women from different tables help out with one another’s fidgety children, and I saw men participating in our women empowerment workshop. There is a clear presence of love and support that runs throughout these communities.

And there is certainly no lack of motivation to be successful. There were participants who came ready with their businesses or business plans to review. There were women who, despite not having childcare, brought their young ones with them so they could soak up the knowledge and tools myself and others take for granted every day.

Humbling experience

Reflecting on this experience has humbled and enlightened me. It has humbled me in a way that reminds me to be thankful of how much I have, and appreciate how much of my life depends on connectivity. It has enlightened me to see how CEO Mark Dankberg and Viasat’s mission — to “connect the unconnected” — can come to life.

I am so grateful to Viasat and the Social Impact team for giving me a chance to participate in this life-changing opportunity. My experiences in Puerto Rico have allowed me to gain a new perspective of our mission and the world around me, and has helped me build lasting connections with other Viasat employees.

I encourage anyone who happens upon an opportunity like this in their lives to take a chance on that the experience. Be a part of the change, welcome the chance to gain a new perspective, and help empower communities around the world.