Fighting For Puerto Rico’s Future

I just returned from a wonderfully exhausting 12 day trip that found me preaching the gospel of entrepreneurship in Sofia Bulgaria, Split and Zagreb Croatia, and finishing on the Caribbean jewel and U.S. commonwealth that is Puerto Rico. My discoveries and opinions in eastern Europe will be the topic of another post – it was my time spent in Puerto Rico that has me conflicted with concern and hope for the island.

I was the invited guest of Echar Pa’lante ( Organized by Banco Popular, it is a confederation of Puerto Rican business, government, academia, economic development organizations and concerned citizens working to reverse the economic decline on the island.

Over a series of talks and meetings, I learned that Puerto Rico is at tipping point – the consequences of which (up or further down) having significant implications for Puerto Ricans; and the U.S. I would argue. Of particular concern is the current flight of Puerto Ricans off island. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans enjoy the same mobility as citizens on the U.S. mainland. As such, and fed by the declining manufacturing base, it has become almost vogue for the young new college graduates of the island to leave – for cities like Orlando. Estimates are that as many as 80,000 – 90,000 folks are leaving annually, which is significant for a region (island) of only 3.8 million. This flight from the island, unemployment more than double the mainland, and stalled construction projects blurring the otherwise beautiful tropical vistas, are reasons for angst.

I am however encouraged for what seems like a genuine community effort to reverse these trends by increasing entrepreneurship education and more broadly (culturally) nurturing entrepreneurial mindsets among the population. Of the many community action plans I have been asked to evaluate, one unique aspect of the Echar Pa’lante plan stands out in particular – focus on parents. They are (rightly) targeting students and faculty with curriculum and training respectively. But they are not stopping there, having included parental intervention as well – which I think is brilliant!

In my humble opinion, the rich latino culture values multi-generational family dynamics more than traditional anglo american culture. Recognizing that, the inclusion of parental (or even Abuela/o) educational opportunity will allow for students to continue the entrepreneurial discovery process at home, instead of leaving it at school. If like-minded proud Puerto Ricans can come together to support such activities, I think we can see a turn around for a great part of the U.S. that more people need to discover.

For more about my keynote address on the island, you can refer to this (spanish) article covered by press.


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