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  • Writer's pictureMichael Acevedo

A Pedacito Of Entrepreneur & Social Activist Samí Haiman-Marrero of URBANDER and Casa Culture

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Have you ever met someone who has instantly inspired you? When I sat down with Samí Haiman-Marrero, one of the first things she told me was "entrepreneurship and activism are not mutually exclusive." As a media executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, and Latina woman of color, Samí is a force to be reckoned with and actively promotes real change within Central Florida and beyond.

"Entrepreneurship and activism are not mutually exclusive."
Samí Haiman-Marrero of Urbander and Casa Culture
Samí Haiman-Marrero of URBANDER and Casa Culture

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Samí Haiman-Marrero's Journey

The story of many Puerto Ricans starts back on the island nestled between Hispaniola (the island consisting of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (notably St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) and eventually leads to the continental United States. Many families leave the island for places like New York, Chicago, or Florida, in fact that's what most of my family has done as well.

The parents of Samí Haiman-Marrero did the opposite, however. She was born in The Bronx, New York City then her family migrated back to Ciales, Puerto Rico at the age of eight. Their connection to "The Big Apple" persisted as they traveled regularly throughout the years.

Samí attended the University of Puerto Rico where she earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Communications. After grad school she moved back to New York City to begin her professional career. Between 1996 and 2000 she worked with several firms to create and execute strategies targeting the LatinX market, including high-profile Spanish-language brands such as Glamour en Español, Vogue en Español, Teen en Español, and People en Español.

By 2003 Haiman-Marrero had climbed the ranks in the advertising and marketing industry obtaining her first executive role as Advertising Director at American Media, Inc. Here she led a national sales team for publications targeting the LatinX market, such as Mira, Shape en Español, and Thalia.

While planning her wedding in New York, Samí and her the fiancé (now husband) found that Central Florida could offer the quality of life they were looking for to raise their family. Without telling anyone, they bought a house in 2003 and began looking for work in Orlando while she was still employed out of New York.

In 2004 a friend recommended that she apply for a leadership position with the New York Post. This was a great opportunity for her and the family, however Haiman-Marrero had no intent of staying in New York City. Although it was a stretch, she proposed working remotely once she moved to her Orlando home and would travel to the office as needed; they accepted!

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

As the Advertising Sales Manager at the New York Post she was responsible for the advertising performance of a monthly LatinX lifestyle and entertainment section entitled NYP Tempo. This section was quite progressive for its time because it acknowledged the diaspora of Latin American people and their assimilation into English-speaking society.

In 2008, the economic crisis disrupted much of the U.S. economy including the advertising business at the New York Post. Samí's key role and high performance helped her evade being laid off but unfortunately many of her colleagues were impacted. As staffing levels lowered she was asked to transition back to an in-office role in New York which would require her family to leave Central Florida.

Relocating her family from Orlando was not an option. It was time for Samí Haiman-Marrero to put her education, work experience, and growing professional community network to use in her own practice.

The Birth Of URBANDER, Inc.

Breakthrough moments often manifest at the brink of (what can feel like) failure. After being given an ultimatum by her former employer, Haiman-Marrero made the courageous decision to separate from her company in lieu of relocating her family from Central Florida to New York. Her separation came at a time of layoffs at the newspaper so she managed to negotiate a severance package that could sustain her family while she worked on setting up her own business.

A week turned into a month. A month turned into two and then three months. The light on the horizon was starting to seem dimmer as the weeks went on without securing any clients. She made no less than 30 calls per day trying to make something work... This is when she turned to her faith and asked God to intervene. "I spoke to God and promised that I would take the blinders off if I got through this," Samí recalled.

She was referring to her personal pursuit of climbing the corporate ladder and not dedicating enough of her talents to making a greater impact on society. "I also thought about the sacrifices my parents made for me to become educated and have a good life."

About three days later she received a call from a former colleague who was headed on vacation out of the country and needed someone to handle high-profile corporate clients during their leave. Normally the colleague's teammate would fill in, however that person recently quit the firm and no one could be trusted other than Samí with these particular clients.

This was her break! Although the original request was to fill in for a couple of weeks Samí was able to negotiate a 3-month contract which would get her through the end of the year. The firm agreed and this marked the start of URBANDER.

Learn More About URBANDER, Inc.

Throughout the years, immediately after the founding of URBANDER, Samí Haiman-Marrero had been deeply involved in several civic and social activities and organizations within Central Florida. As a successful Latina woman of color with a breadth of communications and public relations experience, she has been called upon time and again to guide organizations through an array of situations in the private and public sector.

Through her involvement in the Central Florida community, particularly those of Latin American descent, Samí has developed a vast network of highly skilled and influential professionals across nearly all major industries. Tapping into this network she has been able to leverage the talents of local professionals to provide solutions and services for organizations of any size.

URBANDER was founded by Samí Haiman-Marrero in 2008 after about 12 years of working in the media and communications industries at various levels. The firm exists to help transform businesses to advance humanity and they do this by serving as an extension of any organization's key business units, including marketing, human resources, community relations, social responsibility, and more.

"We are about helping organizations transform how they do business to advance humanity."

Haiman-Marrero explained that there are four primary target audiences for any business, they are: employees, consumers, suppliers, and the communities where business is conducted. URBANDER helps executives in the public and private sector engage with those four audiences by keying in on IDEAS (inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and sustainability), which are also an integral part to what we do at Pedacitos.

URBANDER is a full-service communications firm with seemingly no limits. They can help your organization immediately with strategic marketing, branding and graphics, content development, diversity and inclusion, language services, video production, research and reports, and training and workshops.

Whatever your organization needs, you can trust Samí Haiman-Marrero and the diverse and highly talented team at URBANDER to deliver. URBANDER. has worked with organizations of all sizes across a diverse set of products and services. These include Orlando Health, CareerSource Central Florida, Florida Hospital, Under Armour, Prospanica, Orange County Library System, Dallas College, Language Testing International, and UCF Restores, just to name a few!

"We help organizations in the corporate, nonprofit and government sectors attain their equity and social impact goals."

URBANDER has been called upon many times to provide culturally competent services for the community, even in the wake of tragedy. In 2016 the City of Orlando called upon Samí Haiman-Marrero in response to the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

The mass shooting occurred on a night catering to the LatinX LGBTQ+ community and many of the 49 innocent victims shared Samí's Puerto Rican roots. During that year, Samí was serving as the president of the Hispanic American Professional Business Women's Association (HAPBWA) and assisted the City of Orlando's Office of Multicultural Affairs by providing volunteer bilingual phone support through HAPBWA members to families and friends of victims who were desperately seeking information regarding their loved ones.

Photo taken from the Orange County Regional History Center's exhibit on the 5th anniversary.
Photo taken from the Orange County Regional History Center's exhibit on the 5th anniversary.

The following year Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, which induced a mass exodus of impacted families to the Central Florida area. This led to the implementation of half-day "Welcome Workshops" created by URBANDER in 2014 to orient incoming families from Spanish-speaking countries on how to navigate all aspects of daily life in Central Florida.

URBANDER and Samí Haiman-Marrero were being continually tapped to provide culturally competent support across the corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors throughout the years. Some of the most rewarding impact was work that went into supporting the community and Samí knew that she could amplify her impact by starting her own nonprofit organization.

SOS By URBANDER & Casa Culture

During her work supporting nonprofit and governmental organizations, Samí Haiman-Marrero recognized an opportunity to amplify the impact that she and her network could have on the community by starting her own nonprofit organization.

SOS by URBANDER was founded in 2017 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Orlando, Florida. Its mission is to "provide aid to individuals, families, and communities facing hardship and adversity due to natural disasters, personal loss, under representation, and discrimination by amplifying collaborative philanthropic initiatives that bring positive social change."

Through SOS by URBANDER, Samí and her team are able to more actively steer the direction of their resources to ensure funds are used in the most efficient and effective ways. Additionally, establishing this organization meant that the individuals who previously created solutions for other nonprofit and government organizations to implement could also be involved in executing the work. Solutions by people in the community for the community.

Since its founding, SOS by URBANDER has worked with prominent organizations such as AARP Florida, Florida Blue, OVoz Latina Broadcasting, and the Hispanic Federation, to name a few. Some of their current projects include Talleres de Bienvenida (a digital version of the "Welcome Workshop" resources created by URBANDER), Gender Advancement Project (a Trans-led grassroots movement dedicated to the progression and inclusion of Transgender and Gender Non-Binary individuals in all facets of society), and Casa Culture.

Casa Culture is a "collaborative arts equity and entrepreneurship development program" founded in 2021 through a partnership between SOS by URBANDER and Voz Latina Broadcasting. However, the idea for this project was three years in the making.

Samí Haiman-Marrero sat on the Arts and Culture Council for Orange County, Florida. It was in this role where she witnessed firsthand the inequities experienced by artists of color. Casa Culture was created to specifically support these underrepresented groups of artists.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Samí at Casa Culture. Touring the space I was so impressed by its design and capabilities. The main meeting area is inviting and feels inclusive. All of the walls are decorated with art pieces from creators of color within the community, so its part art gallery and part functional space. There's a comfortable sitting area that is perfect for meetings. The main space also has several computer workstations that can be used by individuals who need access to technology, those seeking virtual skills training, and more.

The center of the space is a full on broadcast radio station that can also be reserved to create content for a small fee by corporate and nonprofit organizations. The far back room serves as a multipurpose space with one wall colored completely green making it perfect for video recordings.

As for the future, Samí's hope is that Casa Culture will grow into a space that inspires and supports artists and community members of all ethnicities. She imagines a time where Black and LatinX entrepreneurs work even more collaboratively to help advance the scope and reach beyond what is possible individually.

Samí Haiman-Marrero and Johanna López, colleagues at URBANDER
Samí Haiman-Marrero and Johanna López, colleagues at URBANDER
"We should all be working together to break the poverty trap, pursue and achieve generational wealth for our families, and reinvest into our communities."

Support The Advancement Of Culture

Through URBANDER, SOS by URBANDER, Casa Culture, and all of the other services and ventures undertaken under Samí Haiman-Marrero's leadership, the community of Central Florida is growing more inclusive and supportive each day. But there is still a lot of work to do!

Orange County, Florida Mayor Jerry Demings at Casa Culture's grand opening
Orange County, Florida Mayor Jerry Demings at Casa Culture's grand opening

There are many ways you can get involved to support Casa Culture's mission, but the easiest and most immediate way is to donate. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, all donations to SOS by URBANDER are tax deductible and go to a supporting a great cause!

Here are some suggested donation amounts. If you have any questions, please reach out to Samí Haiman-Marrero.

  • Be A Friend: $2,500

  • Be An Advocate: $5,000

  • Be A Steward: $10,000

  • Be An Ally: $25,000

  • Be A Champion: $50,000

  • Be A Partner: $100,000

  • Be An Accomplice: $500,000

Stay Connected

You can stay connected with Samí Haiman-Marrero and her teams on social media. Follow URBANDER on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Learn more about SOS by URBANDER by visiting their website or Facebook page.

Casa Culture is located in the Fashion Square Mall at 3201 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32803. You can follow Casa Culture on their Facebook page. Let them know you read about them on Pedacitos Travel & Culture Blog.

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