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.
"It's the same as a parranda in Puerto Rico, only now it's virtual doors, because Puerto Ricans are living everywhere," said Polanco.
With an opening door as a logo, Parranda's first order of business is to document where the scattered Puerto Rican community is by using an interactive virtual map at their website Parranda.org. Like real-life parrandas that take place during the holidays, the project will officially launch on Christmas eve.
Later initiatives will include an online mentoring program and a crowd-funding capability, much like Kickstarter, to fund projects that will improve life for those on the island. Inspired by the White House Hispanic Initiative, which Rodriguez advised, Parranda also plans on real-life events where Puerto Ricans around the world can get together in person and discuss a path forward for the island. The first of those will be the 2013 Spring Summit in which the organization will send top Puerto Rican US leaders in academia, business, and the arts to the island, with airfare and hotel included, in order to participate in the summit. Island leaders will also be sent to local summits in the U.S. by the Parranda group, according to Rodriguez.
With their kick-off mapping project and the 2013 summit, the creators of Parranda hope to demonstrate the very first core belief of their new endeavor: "That nations are defined not only by their borders, but by their people regardless of where they live."