“The main asset Puerto Rico has is its people. We need to transform brain drain into brain circulation,” says Isabel Rullán, co-founder of ConPRmetidos, a millennial think tank that promotes public and private partnerships to advance Puerto Rico's economy.
Talented, young Puerto Rican professionals are emigrating in record numbers as the island's economic crisis worsens; some 84,000 Puerto Ricans left the island and migrated to the U.S. mainland last year alone, according to data from the American Community Survey. There are now more Puerto Ricans living abroad than on the island.
The island is losing money as fast as people; the government is now facing a $73 billion debt and many fear the commonwealth could soon run out of cash.
“The continued loss of people, particularly school-aged children and those in their prime working age, has only worsened the island’s economic situation and outlook,” warns a report by the Pew Research Center.
That's where initiatives such as ConPRmetidos are trying to encourage Puerto Ricans living on the mainland to come together to give back.
To do so, Isabel Rullán and the ConPRmetidos team recently created a new digital platform, called Puerto Rico Global, to facilitate networking between Puerto Ricans on the island and those on the mainland. She describes the application as “LinkedIn meets eHarmony,” in the sense that it functions as a matchmaking service for professionals looking for development opportunities.
Network initiatives such as ConPRmetidos are not only trying to build economic bridges between the two Puerto Rican communities, but also bond Boricua expat communities.
“We are doing a poor job at community-building,” Carlos Dávila, the CEO for Century Bank, told an audience of mostly young Puerto Ricans at a ConPRmetidos launch party in Miami last week. Dávila said other Latin American communities are setting pace when it comes to being united and active. “Venezuelans have already elected a mayor in the City of Doral,” he noted.
Some Puerto Ricans believe it's time to be more proactive as a community and less dependent on the U.S. government.
“Puerto Rico is often seen as the kid that was adopted by the United States,” said Puerto Rican event planner Mario Catalino . “We’re realizing no one is going to come and rescue us. We have to rescue ourselves.”
“The silence is killing us,” said Boston-based Puerto Rican public policy student Alejandro Manzanares. “Ultimately the future of Puerto Rico will not lie in an eternal wait to see if Congress will help us or not, we have to find ways ourselves to be equal partners so we can get the tools we need to get the Puerto Rican engine running again.”
Not everyone arriving on U.S. shores is a highly skilled college graduate eager to network.
Many of those migrating to the mainland, mostly to communities in Florida and New York, are having to start from scratch. “Some might stay with family for a few weeks, but for those who don’t have a family, people end up homeless because of the lack of services,” Puerto Rican activist Edgardo Gonzalez told The Guardian.
“The situation is more complex than an exodus simply of the island’s best and brightest,” reports Al Jazeera. “Leaving is something that almost all sectors of the population have been increasingly seeking to do.”
ConPRmetidos won't stem the flow, but it could help people who have left reconnect with those on the island, the initiative's backers say.
There's been other initiatives in the past but this time it seems the stakes are higher. “This is the first time in many years all sectors of society seem to be coming together to support Puerto Rico,” claims ConPRmetidos co-founder Isabel Rullán. “And an individual doesn’t necessarily have to be physically present to help home.”