It’s been ten months since Hurricane Maria put Puerto Rico’s crumbling infrastructure in the international news. As life returns to normal for the locals, the headlines fade but the hard work of preventing another catastrophe has not yet begun. Humanitarian organizations were quick to focus on water, shelter, food and warmth. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took emergency food stamps from the government.

This guest blog comes  from  Joseph McKinney, CEO of the Startup Societies Foundation

But standard humanitarian and government responses — food, shelter and pocket change — is a one-size-fits-all solution. Residents of the island fell into another blackout last week and the media slept. The only way forward is a tailored solution for the people themselves, funded by young investors who are driven to support long term growth and stability regardless of the weather.

And so, we at the Startup Societies Foundation is calling for investors, blockchain entrepreneurs, policymakers, green infrastructure companies, real estate developers, NGOs, academics, Special Economic Zone experts, and exponential technology startups to form a consortium to rebuild Puerto Rico with sustainable startup cities.

Getting the Lights on

As the government in Puerto Rico continues to choose to dash money off to their friends and sign bonuses for supporters, the people of Puerto Rico are uncertain as to who might be a viable lender willing to support growth at a low interest back. This is not a failure of government. Government should not be holding the hands of their citizens. The greatest era of American accomplishment was when frontiers were unfurled and new immigrants poured in bringing hard work and a commitment to build something for themselves. Businesses built themselves up and started to look to their fellow men who were sick, hurt, bored, hungry and filled with life. The earliest American charities produced the SPCA, funded museums, equipped hospitals and trained young men and women to read and write. Later, these duties were consumed by government officials, and private contributions dwindled.

Hurricane Maria’s aftermath in Puerto Rico. Photo credit: Joseph McKinney

Governance

Why choose to live under a government? For justice, for the recognition and enforcement of contracts, for the stability of knowing that what is permitted here will be permitted tomorrow and down the road. The need for a government came after humans were able to create and recognize value in themselves, in others and in the land itself. Startup Societies Foundations thinks the same way. Value comes first, and government invites itself in afterwards. But Puerto Rico is stuck in a whirlpool of debt, sluggish politicians with heavy hands for writing personal checks and no desire to ask what the island will be known for a century from now.

Puerto Rico can only welcome back its sons and daughters when governance has been addressed and their homeland prospers. Without economic growth, there will be no way to keep the lights on, green or otherwise. This is where policymakers come in. They should not join the consortium to give out favors and money. Their role is to secure permission to use an uninhabited land for a zone for private development. The consortium will do the building, but we need the legal framework to do so.

Special Economic Zones are areas within host government that allow for experimentation in innovative policies to spur economic growth. Special Economic Zones can be implemented anywhere where humans want to live and have a proven track record of success because SEZs are built with the intrinsic value of humans and the objective value of production in mind first, and governance second. Government-funded solutions like tax incentives are slow moving, and Puerto Rico is only months away from another hurricane season.

Powered by the Blockchain

To move the consortium’s efforts, it needs the support of policymakers, the knowledge of SEZ experts, and the abilities of green infrastructure companies, but capital is needed to power it. Consequently, the consortium will call on the blockchain community as crucial partners. This won’t be difficult since they are already flocking to the island in hopes to rebuild.

But their advantage is only partially about financing. Their main benefit is creating a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that will sustain Puerto Rico’s economy in the long run. With SEZs, the consortium can make it increasingly attractive for them to build their companies in Puerto Rico.

Excitingly, the power of the blockchain itself can be used to address governance on the island, via blockchain governance applications. Puerto Rico can then upgrade to transparent and efficient land registration, voting, business licensing, and taxation.

A Call to Everyone

When you get up and drive to work in the morning, you pass more than just the roads. Your day relies on the participation of all levels of society from the farmers who planted the plants for your coffee, to the locksmith who installed your door lock, to the guy who delivers the Windex to the janitor’s closet in your office building. Societies are not built and inhabited solely by rich outsiders, and SSF recognizes that a top-down, outsider approach will not take hold without people who want to live and work in a zone.

A city is not grown by housing only certain industries. That is why we are also calling for companies from all exponential technology startups to instigate long term economic growth. Even beyond economics, cities as a systemic societal rebirth are co-created by all cross-sections of society. From artists to students, to religious institutions, everyone contributing to a thriving societal organism is welcomed and desperately needed.  

The event:

Taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico from July 27-28. The 1st annual Hacking Democracy Summit intends to continue developing a consortium of partners across key fields to help revitalize Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and economy in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria through education, discourse, and sustainable startup cities that benefit Puerto Ricans and are managed by the locals.

The summit will include a hackathon to build E-Governance products for Puerto Rican cities, a Town Hall Meeting to engage locals about startup cities and a consortium networking workshop to discuss and develop proposals. The first major event of the summit is a 24-Hour Hackathon hosted by local not-for-profit organization Link at Piloto 151. The hackathon provides an opportunity for participants to receive $25,000 worth of prizes!

The hackathon will engage anyone who wants to participate — from students and local developers to magnates and entrepreneurs — to create applications for open data, E-Government, and infrastructure. The goal is to engage local organizations and demonstrate proof-of-concept for modern technology, as well as their role in smart cities and governance.

With the intent of developing a unified holistic plan, the Hack Democracy Summit will host a Consortium Meeting of existing and new consortium partners. The event will take place at Foundation for Puerto Rico offices and will include breakout sessions for specific focus areas followed by a general session where each working group merges their proposals into a fully fleshed-out plan. After feedback from local governments and grassroots organizations, the consortium proposal will be published two weeks following the event.

In order to foster support and provide a platform for local organizations to voice their opinions, the Puerto Rico summit will include a Startup Societies Town Hall Meeting at the Bahía Urbana Amphitheater, in which local organizations will explain the concept of special economic zones and their potential benefit to Puerto Ricans. While the Town Hall Meeting will help Puerto Ricans learn the benefits of experimental zones, the true purpose will be to listen to visions, doubts, priorities, and concerns of the locals.

A recent conference in DC. Photo credit: Joseph McKinney

Central Intention

The central point for consideration is whom the Consortium must be led by and ultimately benefit: Puerto Ricans. Only they can best chart the course of their revivification. This is their destiny; we simply aid them on their path. The goal of the Summit is to overcome a sickening cycle of apathy besieging our fellow Americans.

It’s time to do what Americans have done since 1776: Get in a room, make a plan — and execute.

Don’t argue. Build.

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About The Author: Joe McKinney

Photo credit: Joseph McKinney

Joseph McKinney quit his career in electoral politics after learning that entrepreneurship and technology are the best ways to instigate social change. He founded and served as CEO of his first company, Proudsource, a proto-ICO crowdfunding company which allowed small businesses to recieve investment in exchange for revenue shares for a definite period of time. While pursing Proudsource, he co-founded the Startup Societies Foundation, a think tank that studies and promotes experimental governance zones by conducting studies, publishing digital content, and hosting international conferences. He is now the CEO of Nuhanse Network, a firm that provides consultation of Special Economic Zones and  E-Governance applications.