This fall, Carrie Johnson, ’97 MA-HRIR, visited Cuba on a trip led by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to learn about emerging business opportunities, with an emphasis on HR practices.

“I’ve always been curious about Cuba, and with the recent shift toward normalizing the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, the trip presented a wonderful learning opportunity,” she says.

Johnson and her 14 colleagues had an intense schedule. They spent most of their time in Havana, where they were some of the first Americans to visit the U.S. Embassy. While in Havana, Johnson met with legal experts on employment and foreign investment law, HR practitioners, business representatives of foreign companies operating in the country, and more.

“Our contacts talked about the impact of 2014 changes to the Cuban foreign investment law, how employment regulations affect daily operations and also discussed topics that are familiar to us: staffing, competencies, compensation, motivation, and engagement,” Johnson says. “When we asked one HR professional what she thought the biggest obstacles would be for a new foreign business, she predicted it would be attracting and motivating employees.”

The group also took a tour of the University of Havana, met with an expert on U.S.-Cuba bilateral and economic relations, took a trip to a tobacco farm, dined at privately owned restaurants, and learned about important restoration projects time in Old Havana.

Citizens of Cuba benefit from free education, free healthcare and subsidized food. However, there are limited types of food available in stores and there are shortages of medicines, building materials and more.

“Most people have very little money [the average monthly salary is equivalent to $17-$20 USD],” she says. “Tourist and business groups like ours experience a Cuba that is very different from that of the everyday citizen.”

Johnson describes Cuba as a beautiful destination, saying the 1950s American cars, the colonial buildings, and traditional Cuban music give Havana a romantic feeling of days gone by. 

“It was a great trip, the people we met were wonderful, and I am eager to go back,” she says.

Anyone interested in hearing more about this trip, or discussing Cuba, can contact Johnson directly at