Women hold the key to Puerto Rico’s recovery
In light of recent events that have the islands of Puerto Rico reeling from intense winds and record breaking hurricanes, we wonder, what will happen next for the islands?
While the world waits, co founders at the Animus Summit are actively rallying local Puerto Rican women entrepreneurs. The Animus Summit does not claim to have all the answers, but they are open to the idea of looking past government support and asking, what can we do for ourselves? What can we do for our country?
By actively recruiting women from all demographics, cutting edge innovators and entrepreneurs from an array of industries including agriculture, fashion, beauty, healthcare and technology, to get inspired and connect with potential investors, they may just find the answer. The Animus Womens Innovation Summit, co-founded three years ago by Carlos Cobian and Lucienne Gigante, has grown to be the largest female innovation conference of the Americas and is annually based in Puerto rico. This year’s conference made that much more important in light of Hurricane Maria’s gross devastation. The co-founders made it their mission to continue the summit scheduled for October 6, 2017 and moved to the first of December in spite of the conditions on the islands. Not only would they vow to hold the event but to rebuild the islands themselves.The storm presented its own set of problems but women have always faced opposition and the few women that control business on the islands are not looking to close up shop and throw in the towel just yet. Women entrepreneurs of Puerto Rico will face many hurdles that seem almost insurmountable but in the words of the Animus co- founder Gigante, “We need to think in terms of how we can not waste this crisis.”
The island has been in “crisis” for quite some time even before Hurricane Maria hit. Puerto Rico was $74 billion in debt in the eleventh year of a hard hitting recession. After the Hurricane made landfall it created widespread devastation, knocking out the islands’ main power grid, currently leaving half of the islands’ residents without power. However, this is a vast improvement from the entire territory being without power in the weeks after the storm. Just recently Governor Rosselló wrote a letter urging Congress to give the islands a much needed $94 billion economic boost. With power out and homes and business destroyed, the bill for Hurricane Maria alone is reaching numbers as high as $80 to $100 billion. Although Congress has only recently approved $5 billion to aid in the crisis; hopes are high that increasingly grave circumstances will change the hearts and minds of legislators.
Key speakers at the conference included Puerto Rican icon Rita Moreno, Monti Carlo host of the Food Network’s Help my Yelp and Christina Zoe Mejia, a 17 year with a bright future. Just 6 months before the storm hit she was voted 2017 youth of the year by the Boys and Girls club of Puerto Rico. Moreno condemned the President for his lack of compassion, sensitivity and support in the days and weeks after the storm. While Mejia chose a more unifying message focusing on loving ourselves emphasizing that things will never change until we accept ourselves for who we truly are. Mejia had been volunteering since she was 13 years old, dedicating, her time and energy to helping victims of domestic violence, especially children.The award is the highest recognition available for participants of the organization, given to an exceptional youth for their commitment to their community, family and club. Mejia has become a representative and role model for all hard working young women dedicated to making a difference in their communities. More women like Mejia will be needed in this test of wills, as sixty percent of women in the workforce live below the poverty line.
The islands are in need of a serious rebranding, without it, they could be substantially drained of their most valuable resource: people. Gigante referred to it as a “Brain drain”. A mass exodus of Puerto Rico’s citizens are leaving the islands for the mainland United States in hopes of a better future. An estimated half a million people have left the islands in search of refuge from the aftermath Hurricane Maria. An analysis published by Pew Research Center on the latest county level census data, recorded Puerto Rico’s population at 3.47 million in 2015, that was still 9% smaller than in 2000. Just the year before in 2014, the Institute of Statistics of Puerto Rico reported that the islands had lost 2% of their population in that year alone. 84,000 people had moved off the islands and on average 230 people left the islands a day and headed for the mainland United States. With unemployment hovering around 11 percent, twice that of the mainland US, and less people to tax for basic needed improvements for the islands the downturn in population is only expected to get worse.
With fewer clients for local business that means less money to go around and businesses will be unable to hire new workers. Thus unemployment only dives deeper. Many of the people who were leaving before the storm were young; they left because the nation lacked opportunities in employment, education and access to healthcare. And because conditions have only worsened for the territory it does not look like the population will resurface any time soon now taking with it the rest of Puerto Rico’s demographics like a massive tidal wave taking all with it back in to the ocean.
Women have been called to action, and they are answering that call valiantly. Doing what they can to rebuild the nation to its past glory.