Photo: Nancy Warner;photographer
San Francisco software investor Orlando Bravo saw a Facebook post Wednesday from the mayor of a town in Puerto Rico, desperately asking for help. A week after Hurricane Maria swept through, the town of Lares was running out of water.
“That picture for me, I couldn’t tolerate it,” said Bravo, a native of the island. “We’re hearing people are panicking, especially in places I know well.”
The private equity investor decided to try to “plug the holes that we hear are not being served,” committing up to $10 million to his homeland, which would be one of the largest donations to hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. territory that is home to million of Americans.
But he didn’t want to just write a check. On Friday, Bravo boarded a plane for Florida and on Saturday he said he will will charter a jet to Aguadilla Airport on the northwest side of the island carrying 100 water purifiers capable of serving 10,000 people in Lares and at least 20 IVs for another town desperate for the medical supplies.
The flight, Bravo said, will be something of a test. Because so much infrastructure was devastated, information out of Puerto Rico — especially from small and isolated towns — has been spotty. It’s unclear whether there are the trucks, drivers, fuel and passable roads to get urgently needed supplies to communities.
“What we’ve been hearing are very mixed reports. You may hear that there’s no power, there’s nothing going on, but they’re safe,” he said, citing conversations with family and friends on the island. “Then you hear another say, ‘Well, I’m a physician and I’m working in the last hospital in town, there’s one generator and it’s leaking diesel.’”
Bravo, who was born in Mayaguez, said he wants to see for himself what is possible.
“If we can come from San Francisco, California, and in two days deliver what the mayor of two towns desperately need,” he said, “then it can be done.”
The funding will come from the Bravo Family Foundation and a project it is calling, “We can,” said Bravo. He is the co-founder of Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm that manages more than $17 billion in capital and specializes in the software industry.
It may be difficult for an independent effort like Bravo’s to succeed, cautioned Kevin Conroy, chief product officer of Global Giving, a nonprofit group that helps raise money for community organizations in 170 countries.
“I think the general pattern we see is an outpouring of generosity and support,” he said. “People want to do something and feel like they’re having an impact. … It’s about getting the right supplies to the right place at the right time.”
Conroy added, though, “If he’s got $10 million he’s in a different class. If he’s got sufficient funds, it’s almost a separate class unto itself.”
Bravo said he hopes to take a piecemeal approach, responding to cries from smaller communities. He is contributing $2 million to the initial effort, he said, and up to $8 million more in the coming months and years.
“I just want to take what is a huge logistical challenge and divide it into component parts,” he said. “How can we get to town A?”
He said he isn’t concerned about whether the U.S. government is doing enough to help Puerto Rico.
“Could I make a difference in influencing the federal government to do more? Probably not,” he said, adding there’s no time for that. “If all we do is help one community, that’s enough.”
Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @jilltucker
‘We Can’ project
For information on Bravo’s effort, go to bravofamilyfoundation.org.