The People Centered Internet Puerto Rico team has applied to lead the development of a “Digital Puerto Rico” plan to leverage technology for recovery, resilience, and innovation on the islands. From initial disaster response efforts led by Melvin Cordova through Project Coqui, to “Dream Hubs” facilitated by Marti Grimmick’s International Connector, PCI has embraced a “Local Vision – Global Network” approach in Puerto Rico, emphasizing people, families, communities and local institutions.
The most recent visit (described below) opened possibilities for supporting the formation of networks of community health centers; engaging with the Puerto Rican “Echar P’alante” coalition of business, education, and government leaders; and facilitating bonds of trust and empowerment among the schools and colleges. Puerto Ricans have demonstrated tremendous strength and resilience in response to Hurricane Maria; PCI seeks to empower and amplify local efforts and catalyze global resources to aid in success and scale.
________________________By Mei Lin Fung
Marci and I are here on our last evening in San Juan Puerto Rico – we have had a pretty amazing series of meetings since arriving on Sunday, and our final meetings tomorrow will take place before we fly back to the Bay Area.
Our visit coincided with the ICANN61 conference, which was the first major conference to take place after the hurricanes. The ICANN meetings are held three times a year in different regions of the globe and set up to facilitate face-to-face discussions and airing of opinions among those who are dedicated to the continued stable and secure operation of the Internet. I have been part of the Auction Proceeds Working Group (APWG) for the last year, and on this occasion I attended my first event and meet up.
During our time here, we have heard many moving stories of how life has suddenly changed after the ten to twelve hour onslaught of Hurricane Maria. The impact of this disaster didn’t just last for two days, but has lingered on for months. Four hundred thousand people are still without power. Those with power find that it fails intermittently, and others spoke of being without power for one to two hours a day. We met with Mrs Lisa Sanchez, a high school teacher who came home each night crying for the suffering of her students. Her husband Julian has been the most patient and utterly reliable driver during our entire stay.
We spent today in Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, with an estimated population of 155,000. We visited the Pontifical Catholic University to meet with the Architecture Department (Lorna Baez & Juan Emmanuelles) and the Business Administration Department (Eileen Figueroa & David Meyer), and for this it is a special thanks to Melvin Cordova and Marti Grimminck, who helped to set up these initial introductions.
Lorna and Eileen both spoke with appreciation of a visit from the California based Yosem Company, and its’ Technology Management Program that sits within UC Santa Barbara, last week. The program sits within the College of Engineering and is facilitating a series of Dream Workshop within Puerto Rico.
In addition, everyone that we met in these meetings is thrilled to hear about the ‘Vatican Hackathon’- providing a valuable angle for marketing and communications, and aimed at attracting the interest of the Bishop (and Chancellor) and raising profile around the concepts of the Internet and entrepreneurship.
We presented information about the ninety health centers in Puerto Rico, and the groups were surprised to learn about this network spanning the island. We also toured the cathedral and the historic Armstrong house on Ponce’s central plaza, and enjoyed the very tasty Domplines, which you can only be found in Ponce. We met with Crystal from the Ponce Tourism and Economic Development Board and looked at potential sites for co-working spaces, and the sites that our other associate, Dror, has visited previously with Melvin. There are in existence large and unused modern buildings with adequate spaces to house dozens of start-ups.
For one full day we visited the Puerto Rico Primary Care Association (PRPCAN) Network, whose Director Javier Jimenez (Georgia Tech, Motorola, IBM, Cambridge Technology Partners – a technology and business savvy dynamo), told us about the weeks after the hurricane. At this time, the entire staff in the network headquarters rallied to support the community health centers around the island, despite the fact that some of the staff had also lost their own homes.
In the afternoon, we were joined by Matthew Rantanen, the Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, and we drove out in two cars to the west of the island to Cielles and Lare, to meet with the IT directors of two community health centers. It was at this stage we realized that most of the seventy eight municipalities of Puerto Rico have one or more Community Health Centers (there are ninety in total) with adequate connections to fully operational broadband fiber. Consequently, we identified this existing purchasing power as an opportunity to harness services and reduce the cost of broadband to the wider community. As a result there is a strategic benefits for health research, where members of the community are now able to enjoy free a Wi-Fi service in exchange for the sharing of information about their health and well being (with appropriate safeguards built-in).
Over the course of our visit, on another day Marci, our colleague went with the Net Hope organisation to visit a remote rural school, and Mei Lin, a co-founder of People Centred Internet (PCI) met with local community leaders who are engaged with social impact and economic recovery programs at Banco Popular, the largest bank in Puerto Rico.
Banco Popular are rallying the local business and academic community to support the recovery of Puerto Rico, and they have set up a placements programme called ‘Moving Forward’ to bring business leaders together across a variety of sectors.
Marti Grimminck, the founder and CEO of International Connector, the innovation and marketing agency specialising in next generation engagement, was far sighted in calling our attention to the ‘Moving Forward’ programme, and himself set up a meeting with Eileen Figueroa and Gloria Aponte of the Pontifical Catholic University Business Administration Department, to explore the potential for further initiatives.
There are definitely many reasons for pessimism, and the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917, giving Puerto Ricans U.S citizenship, the politics, and the previous attempts to bring fair and equal rights and opportunities to this country are to name a few that have all but fizzled out. It remains a positive that Hurricane Maria has spurred individuals and communities into action, and businesses and their outlooks have been transformed through these steps towards progress. The hurricanes are coming again in the summer and these communities in Puerto Rico must act equipped with foresight and be equipped with knowledge.
We are all very excited to see the Stanford Graduate Business School (SGBS) program for Vision Puerto Rico for example, and this has concretely demonstrated how the rest of the world stands ready to spur into action at short notice. And, at the very least observing what we are doing and working towards as collective effort in Silicon Valley has gone some way to inspiring this community to seize the baton and change the island for the better.