Scott Coppa ’15 and Paul Anthony ’15 count a couple of dogs and a pet pig as their roommates in Constanza, a city in the mountains in the center of the Dominican Republic. It looks a little different than their days as roommates in Keough Hall on Notre Dame’s campus, but the duo has made Constanza their home as co-founders of the nonprofit Puente, which uses technology and data collection to connect people in need with development organizations and grassroots solutions that can help.
“We start each day with some great Dominican coffee and a strategy session,” Coppa says of life in their home office. He was the first to move to Constanza, as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduation. That’s where he met Hope Tambala, Puente’s third co-founder and resident tech expert and chief technology officer.
Anthony came on board after visiting Coppa in the Peace Corps, where, Anthony says, he “fell in love with the place,” and was energized by the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the community.
Puente officially launched in summer 2018, providing a mobile data collection platform used to map unmet needs in marginalized communities. Coppa, Anthony, and their colleagues use this technology platform to design their own projects—including installations of water filters, bathrooms, and cement floors in local homes—and also sell it to nonprofit organizations working in the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries. In the past year, partner organizations have used Puente’s platform to deliver free medical care to over a thousand Dominican residents who were previously invisible to healthcare providers.
“Puente means bridge in Spanish, and that is what we aim to provide -- data and relationships that bridge the knowledge gap between foreign organizations and marginalized communities,” Anthony says. “Data is an international language, so our community needs databases help everyone get on the same page in terms of what needs to be prioritized and accomplished. We also train local volunteers to use our application and work alongside partner NGOs to solve problems validated by data.”
In the past six months, Puente has distributed 100 water filters and facilitated the construction of 44 cement floors and 27 bathrooms for Dominican families lacking these basic necessities. One of the first families to receive a bathroom and water filter has nine children and another on the way.
“Nine children, plus two parents, living under one roof without clean drinking water or a bathroom,” Anthony says. “And, the mom was also pregnant with the 10th child. In situations like that, it’s easy to see how transformative these projects can be for an entire family.”
With the help of trained local volunteers and neighborhood association leaders, Coppa and Anthony surveyed marginalized communities to identify which families were in need of bathrooms, floors, and filters. An important component of Puente’s work is giving the community ownership and investment in the projects. Households must contribute 25 percent of the total cost of the bathrooms, whether through financial contributions or sweat equity.
“We’re all about building local capacity,” Coppa says. “We want to give host country nationals the tools to conduct these needs assessments and find solutions on their own. A key word here is ‘confianza,’ which is trust or rapport, and that is crucial. We have a ton of volunteers throughout Constanza and we’re always expanding. They’re great, and they all know sustainable development and can see communities that might need it more than others.”
Anthony says that Coppa’s greatest strength is his leadership, both of the Puente team and of the local volunteers.
“He’s always taking the right approach to involving community residents, making it their work and not ours. That approach ensures that Puente is helping as much as possible while still empowering locals to be the leaders and to be the ones that maintain it in the long run,” Anthony says.
As for Anthony, a former investment banker who also worked in venture capital, Coppa says his co-founder brought much-needed financial expertise and professionalism to the team.
“Paul brings a business mindset to an organization that didn’t have one previously,” Coppa says. “It really allows us to focus our efforts on where we can have the biggest impact. For me, that is out in the community. For Paul, that is in the office reaching out to partner organizations, figuring out financials and funding. It really is a fantastic thing to be able to work with a friend. If we’re frustrated with each other, we can just say it, and the fact that we know each other so well helps us get things done, and get them done right.”
Both South Bend natives, Coppa and Anthony have known each other since grade school and went to the same high school, but their friendship solidified at Notre Dame.
“Had I not had a friend like Scott coming out of college, I certainly never would have thought to start a nonprofit and move to the Dominican Republic,” Anthony says. “Notre Dame connects you with great people who can set your life in the right direction going forward.”