Puerto Ricans are leaving their island in droves. Decades of brain drain, the result of economic and political factors, has prompted 18 Puerto Rican entrepreneurs, scientists, and business people to start an online social network specifically for the boricua community on and off the island.
The network, called Parranda, will integrate other existing social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But the new platform's founders hope to help unite a scattered community, and build a site that will allow Puerto Ricans in the diaspora to discuss real solutions to the high crime rates, high unemployment, and the rapid brain drain in the U.S. Commonwealth island.
The creators of Parranda said that the recent unprecedented outcry on social media after the brutal murder of a 32-year old publicist José Enrique Gómez made them certain that the diaspora was in need of a tool like the one they had been building over the past year.
"[José Enrique Gómez's death] was a big reminder that Puerto Ricans, like most Hispanics, love social media and that Puerto Ricans are looking for outlets to express themselves and take action on the issues that most concern them," said co-founder Giovanni Rodriguez, 54, a U.S-born Puerto Rican entrepreneur living in Silicon Valley. Among Rodriguez's various projects, the social media entrepenuer has served as an adviser to the White House to organize social media campaigns.
While in San Juan to deliver a TEDx talk last year, Rodriguez became aware of the island's diverse range of problems, and started thinking that perhaps those Puerto Ricans on the mainland and around the world could help come up with and implement solutions -- if only there was a tool to do it.
At the TEDx conference, Rodriguez met two of his co-founders, who also became devoted to the idea of building the diaspora network. The small group started having bi-weekly calls, from Silicon Valley to San Juan, and soon started bringing together more brains, including Miami-based marketing executive Natascha Otero. The small team of founders grew quickly, and now includes 18 diverse boricuas, who have been born and raised in different parts of the world, and live both on and off the island.
The creators of Parranda took inspiration from other diasporic communities, such as the Jewish community-driven financing projects like the Israel Bond, and Indian community's support for entrepeneurship both in their home-country and abroad through groups like TiE. These examples also demonstrated that a scattered group of people can empower themselves without being dependent on one nations' weak institutions.
"We have to get out and escape from those failing structures," said Marcos Polanco, 43, one of the San Juan-based partners helping to launch the site."And that's the opportunity that social media provides us."
The name of the site -- Parranda -- comes from a Puerto Rican Christmas tradition in which neighborhoods start a party together by going door-to-door singing and playing instruments; waking each other up at night to join the celebration. Given that the site intends to find solutions to the island's crime problem, perhaps it's ironic that when calling for their neighbors to join a parranda many Puerto Ricans shout the word "¡Asalto!" which means "Stick-up!".
But, the founders of the site say the celebration is a perfect metaphor for what they want to do, because the parranda involves waking people up, and getting them excited to join in a greater movement.