Project Coqui Summer Update: The Rewarding Work Continues
Es un gran placer para mi el poder describir el progreso de nuestro Projecto Coqui. Well, we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, therefore, at least had to write one sentence in Spanish. It is a great pleasure for me to provide an update on our Project Coqui a year after Hurricane Maria. We started because doing nothing was not an acceptable future for the local conditions in PR and VI. The magnitude of destruction brought on by Hurricane Maria presented a unique opportunity to innovate. We are still going strong, there is much to be done, and we have the support of many families, friends and organizations, such as People-Centered Internet (PCI), the Federal Government Faith-Based Program Managers, and Carahsoft. In our quest to build capacity, our efforts led to the establishment of Coqui Building Systems, a new construction company that seeks to facilitate home ownership.
During the last three-months I visited Puerto Rico four times. So far, I have visited 12 times and spent more than 120 days volunteering on the ground. It is important to note that some of the action took place in DC. For example, last Sunday I was interviewed by emerald-planet, on my work supporting PR. My interview starts at 15 minutes and 15 seconds.
A significant story this summer was a one-week visit to Singapore by a delegation from Puerto Rico of a Not-for-Profit called Echar Pa’Lante (moving forward) comprised by academia, industry and government, sponsored by Banco Popular. Ms. Mei Lin Fung Co-Founder of PCI dedicated significant effort to coordinate a high-impact visit and the team really appreciates the lessons learned from Singapore and seek to coordinate and implement a way forward in PR.
I am really humbled at the strong support we have received from the Federal Government Faith-Based Initiatives Program Managers in support of needs in PR. On May 18, 2018 the President signed a new Executive Order amending the original one establishing the program in 2001. This EO encourages greater participation at the community level, which is in alignment with our efforts. The first paragraph of the Executive Order reads as follows:
“Policy. Faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government. These organizations lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level. The executive branch wants faith-based and community organizations, to the fullest opportunity permitted by law, to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other Federal funding opportunities. The efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities, and the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.”
To show their commitment, the Federal Government Faith-Based delegation made a trip led by the White House which took place in September. The first city visited was my hometown of Ponce, PR! Yes, this is the first White House Faith-Based Federal Government delegation, since the program was established in 2001. The visiting officials spent several days meeting with key government and community leaders, to include: Faith-Based representatives from all the municipalities, visited several towns, and held a mass service.
Last week a representative from the Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust and I were Speakers at the USDA, where we presented our community work in PR. The goal was to present best practices and collaborate on the way forward. We made strong connections with representatives from Mississippi and Texas and will be developing ways to collaborate. There was strong participation from the Federal Government Faith-Based PMs and several national organizations. Ms. Lucy Crespo, Director of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust and I were asked by USDA to identify four Puerto Rican cities to be added to a national pilot project. We agreed to nominate: Ponce, Humacao, Utuado, and Aguada. The top three problem sets identified by the faith-based communities are:
· Agriculture: More than 1 million U.S. citizens go to bed hungry in PR. Before Hurricane Maria we imported 85% and after 95%.
· Ocean Economy: Fisheries for lobster/red snapper are closed (even though those catches are healthy), but the decision is due on bad data. Imported 90% prior to Maria and after 95%.
· Hearts, Souls, and Minds: The fabric of the society has been torn; seek to heal with focus on customs, culture, and tradition, through music, arts, dance, theater, social media, training, and employment.
We are also coordinating with Program Managers from HUD, Education, VA, NASA, and Labor to address other problem sets.
We are in direct contact with USDA and have engaged to address agriculture. We are also in direct contact with the Department of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and they are helping to address the ocean economy problem set. Last week made contact with Health and Human Services and look forward to making progress on the Hearts, Souls, and Minds problem set.
In our quest to build capacity, our efforts led to the registration of a construction company in PR, called Coqui Building Systems. It is comprised of a merger of Concretek, a local construction company, and Gigacrete, a Las Vegas Corporation. The next couple of months will be spent purchasing a building to operate from, order equipment, hiring of personnel and set-up operations. We want to create new models that facilitate home ownership. We are also coordinating with other companies, such as trash to fuel, renewable energy, Cyber tools, among others to establish operations in PR.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure to meet Obie Quiñones and absolutely had to adopt his community, because he is a true Champion. Obie is from Barrio Moca, a community with an 85% below poverty rate in Peñuelas. Obie, the community leader is a 29-year-old that in an eight-year period has turned the neighborhood around from high drug use and school drop-outs, to a safe and educated community. He established an annual pro-bono four-day music festival with top bands and hosts boxing world champions, among other stars. Our sponsor Carahsoft donated $5,500 that were used to support a Summer Camp for young children in the community. Photos of the Summer Camp are at the end of this document.
Let me give you a local story. Reconstruction funds for PR should start flowing in 2019, but money at this moment is really tight and banks are not lending. I learned from a friend, Dra. Eileen Figueroa, President of the International Council for Small Business, that she was a week out from holding an ICSB conference, reached out to every potential sponsor and had not been able to get donations, with the exception of Echar Pa’Lante. I reached out to Carahsoft to consider being a sponsor and immediately said yes. Thank you team Carahsoft!
PROJECT COQUI DESIRED OUTCOMES FOR THE NEXT YEAR
• Our competitive advantage is to learn faster and to rapidly convert this knowledge into action for economic recovery. We need game changing steps in thinking, technology, education, infrastructure, services and processes in preparing our local communities and workforce.
• Our mission is to enable communities to help themselves. The greater vision is for communities to take control of their future, learn, and show others how to ride the wave of digital transformation. This will create the next generation of Internet living-learning network of communities.
• Help establish at least six new companies in PR that hire more than 300 personnel.
Well, Puerto Rico is a white canvas, so let’s innovate the next phase of the Internet there by developing new models that seek to empower communities by assisting them in developing a local vision with a global response in a centralized collaboration and decentralized execution manner.
Ha sido un placer, y Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana!