WHY PUERTO RICO?
Puerto Rico is a microcosm of massive, worldwide challenges:
- Battered by natural disasters
- Constrained by a dysfunctional economy
- Hampered by deteriorated infrastructure
- Burdened with debt
- Suffering from unmet social needs
The result? Disillusioned, disempowered and disconnected citizens.
Now imagine . . .
Puerto Rico can serve as a beacon of hope for a different future, for ourselves and for the world. A future of healthy and resilient communities united in a commitment to find a better way; of a solidarity economy that allows creativity to flourish and enables prosperity for the many, not just the few; of a market that can deliver vital investments in people and planet; and of a regenerative, environmentally sound economy based on innovation and entrepreneurship.
Working together, we can make this possibility a new reality.
” Maria has opened up a window of possibility, one that could yield a fundamental shift to a healthier and more democratic economy — not just for electricity, but also for food, water, and other necessities of life.”
–Naomi Klein, The Battle for Paradise, March 2018
Building on Grassroots Efforts
Hurricane Maria greatly exacerbated the desperate economic reality for the vast majority of Puerto Ricans. Struggling under austerity measures related to the island’s $73 billion debt and subsequent 2017 bankruptcy filing, they have watched as the U.S. federal government and their own government have been painfully slow in repairing and restoring basic infrastructure. This reinforces claims that (wittingly or unwittingly) such a slow response is enabling the “disaster capitalism” written about by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine and most recently in her article The Battle for Paradise
In that article she documents how the rich and powerful are trying to take over the energy, food and land along with other resources. And although the island has rich and extensive farmlands, most of it is dedicated to large agribusinesses growing mono-crops. Around 80%-90% of the food needed by islanders has to be imported, along with 100% of gas and oil. Only 2% of Puerto Rico’s electricity comes from renewables.
In addition, the hurricane damaged or destroyed many of the island’s schools. And in spite of resources ready, willing and able to fix those schools and get the students back in, and teachers ready, willing and able to teach, privatization forces are pushing for turning many of them into charter schools. And now cryptocurrency advocates from around the world have converged on Puerto Rico with the vision of making the island the epicenter of this multitrillion-dollar market.
But the people of the island can turn that concept towards their benefit as well.
That’s where National Commonwealth Group’s program comes in. By first understanding the concepts about money described here, then following the guidelines of the system we lay out in this document and this one, Puerto Ricans can bootstrap their failing economy. This short presentation explains how momentous change can happen quickly using our mechanism. Now the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated just how quickly change can occur, transcending ideological boundaries and decades of entrenched practice.
Many more of Puerto Rico’s workers and its remaining small businesses, whether in agriculture, retail, manufacturing or services, are again under threat, this time because of the pandemic. Nothing will be as it was. NCG’s program offers a systemic solution that can not only salvage local economies, but support sustainable, widespread recovery and regeneration.
The SERV Program
Puerto Rico’s New Resiliency Commission also highlighted the importance of non-profit organizations and the contributions they make immediately after a disaster and throughout the longer recovery and rebuilding period. And FEMA notes the critical role of volunteers in disaster relief and recovery and emphasizes preparation, stating “While newly recruited volunteers may not complete training in time to assist with current response efforts, they will be prepared to help with the next disaster event.”
Ideally non-profit agencies should have a roster of trained volunteers that not only serve in normal times, but are especially ready to respond when disaster strikes.
Our program builds on successful programs on the U.S. mainland that incentivize college students to volunteer in their communities as part of their coursework. Our SERV (Students for Economic Renewal through Volunteering) program uses a complementary currency to encourage the roughly 160,000 college students throughout Puerto Rico to volunteer at non-profit organizations.
The program will be implemented under the direction of Dr. Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University. Dr. Kaboub runs the DVD (Denison Volunteer Dollars) program, a service learning (SL) program that has generated thousands of volunteer hours for community non-profits. Dr. Kaboub will design a series of workshops to educate key faculty and staff at colleges and universities in Puerto Rico about the SERV program and the underlying SL structure that justifies its inclusion in their curricula.
Experts from Denison, and from other institutions with deep academic and practical knowledge of similar programs, will conduct the workshops. A number of top-ranked students from Denison will also have the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico to share their experiences of the program with their peers and discuss applications that might be unique to Puerto Rico.
To measure program outcomes against rigorous academic standards, and to develop core best practices, we have teamed with the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR) at Middlesex University in London to study the project implementation.
NCG’s Executive Director Michael Sauvante, an Honorary Research Fellow with CEEDR, will lead this formal research program.