RIIC partnership helps R.I.’s Hispanic small-business owners

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PROVIDENCE – On April 29, the Rhode Island-Israel Collaborative (RIIC) and the Rhode Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced the winners of the R.I. Latino Biz Web Design Project, which partnered Hispanic college students with local Hispanic-owned small businesses to help improve those businesses’ online presence.

The event, which was attended by R.I. Gov. McKee and Israel Consul General to New England Meron Reuben, took place at the Marriott Hotel and was also broadcast live on Facebook. The event emcee was the project’s manager, Martha Perez-Barton.

All of the prize winners are students at Providence College. The top prize, $1,000, went to Andrés Castillo Lares, for his work with Rhode Island Security Services. In second place was Jerusalem Castro, who won $500 for her work with La 70 Bar and Grill. Third place went to Jazmin Diaz and Nayely Furcal, who split $250 for their work with the New York Style Beauty Salon.

In the first stage of the project, selected students from Providence College, Rhode Island College and Salve Regina University were taught how to build websites with the Israeli company Wix’s web-development platform using services donated by Clickto, a Tel Aviv-based tech startup specializing in virtual classroom and program-management software.

“The Israeli Consulate was an instrumental part of this project, as they connected us with Wix and provided most of our funding,” said RIIC CEO Avi Nevel. “They were with us from the beginning, along with [then-Rhode Island Lt. Gov.] Dan McKee, whose International Economic Ambassadors Initiative let us show those companies the incredible benefits of doing business in Rhode Island.”

The next stage of the project paired students with local businesses in need of increased online visibility, to design websites. Hosting for these sites was provided by Wix, also based in Tel Aviv. Wix gave each participating business a free one-year business premium plan and access to additional online resources.

Regarding the Rhode Island-Israel connection, Nevel said, “It was an honor to initiate collaboration between our partners in Israel and Rhode Island, particularly for the benefit of Rhode Island’s Hispanic community. This was a collective effort. Small businesses are the heart of this state. If we don’t give and help each other, we go nowhere. Our organizing committee deserves special thanks for making this project happen.”

That sentiment was echoed by Oscar Mejias, president of the R.I. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who said, “It’s a beautiful part of this project, because we have two communities that really need each other – the student community and the small business community. I feel like we are taking the first big step, creating that connection.”

The students’ completed work was evaluated by a six-person committee that included members of Rhode Island’s business community and was chaired by RIIC board member Miriam Ross. The websites were judged on several criteria, including content, design and bilingual accessibility. Prize money was provided by the Consulate General of Israel to New England.

Israeli diplomat Reuben remarked at the award ceremony, “We see this project as the first part of something a lot bigger. We hope this will be a model that we will be able to take around New England and other communities. We will do our utmost to make sure that this continues.”

Governor McKee praised Nevel’s and Mejias’ work on the project and cited their leadership and tenacity.

“Our students are so important to our state, but we have to engage them in a productive and instructive way, and this project does just that,” he said.

McKee closed by saying, “I’ve always believed that the best way to solve a problem is by bringing people together, and that’s exactly what this project did.”

To learn more about the R.I. Latino Biz Web Design Project, go to https://www.theriic.org/rhode-island-latino-web-project.

MICHAEL SCHEMAILLE is a Cumberland-based freelance writer and editor. Reach him at mbschemaille@gmail.com.