International Connector and the Centro para Puerto Rico at the Fundación Sila M. Calderón are committing to upgrading and enhancing six Community Technology Centers (CTCs) across Puerto Rico to offer not only robust technological resources, but to act as community resiliency and empowerment hubs.
In 2018, International Connector established their first hub, an internet-connected community space, in a primary care facility in a community in Arroyo that does not have its own library and where more than 50% of the population lives in poverty. The partners will expand on this model by upgrading five additional CTCs currently managed by the Centro para Puerto Rico across different municipalities on the island. International Connector will conduct technology assessments and provide advanced technical solutions to these five existing technology centers, and Centro will provide a robust round of entrepreneurship and community sustainability training to International Connector's existing hub in Arroyo and the five additional CTCs that will receive technological upgrades.
In order to reduce the digital gap in Puerto Rico, these six centers will provide access to free satellite internet connectivity, computers, and a wide range of services and programs from assistance in the use of the computer and the Internet, to tutorials, trainings, and workshops on topics such as technology management, entrepreneurship, and leadership to approximately 300 people in each center annually. In addition to providing a safe community space year-round, these facilities are intended to also serve as emergency response centers to support the community with communications technology in the event of a future hurricane or other emergency.
Additionally, build local capacity and women's leadership, the partners, through support from Women's Campaign International will train and employ two community members in each location to manage the centers, with the majority of these employees being women. The centers will be transitioned to independent 501c3s in early 2020 to be run by the communities themselves with ongoing support from the commitment partners. Through this commitment, approximately 1,500 people in each of these six underserved communities on the island will gain access to digital resources and skills that will ultimately bolster the communities' resilience and economic potential.
May 2019: Submit grant applications for additional funding to close funding gap.
June 2019: CGI and other partnership building meetings.
July 2019: Centro para Puerto Rico to run community sustainability trainings in Arroyo hub.
August 2019: International Connector to run technology assessments in five of Centro’s current technology centers.
September/October 2019: Implement technology upgrades and best practices for a co-working technology center.
October/November 2019: Start entrepreneurship and community self-sustaining trainings.
January 2020 - Centers are independent 501c3s and partners' teams provide support through partnerships, workshops, and operational support.
March 2020 - Finalize long-term sustainability strategy for implementation by the communities.
The U.S. Census Bureau indicates in its report (2016) that 45.1% of the population in Puerto Rico lives under the U.S. federal poverty level. After the recent hurricanes, several economists estimate that this number could rise to a striking 52%, and in some municipalities in the center of the Island to over 60% living under U.S. federal poverty levels.
Meanwhile, the Census Information Center of the University of Puerto Rico (2017) reported the Island was one of five countries with the greatest inequality in the world. The wealthiest 20% of Puerto Ricans own wealth equivalent to 55.3% of the Gross National Product, while the wealth of the poorest 20% over Puerto Ricans amounts to only 1.7% of the GNP. Official estimates from Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor and Human Resources (2018) reported an 8.3% unemployment rate compared to 3.3% in the mainland. In specific rural areas of Puerto Rico, unemployment rates are as high as 14% (Data USA).
This reality is exacerbated by significant digital gaps in Puerto Rico. In non-metropolitan areas where International Connector works, the organization has observed that in some cases, over 78% of community members do not have access to reliable or any internet access. At the same time, the UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasize technology as a key basic service and tool for poverty reduction and economic growth globally; in particular, goals 1 (No Poverty), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth); and 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) highlight the need to expand access to technology and communications, expand training opportunities in diversified economic sectors including technological upgrading, and provide resilient infrastructure that can not only support economic growth, but also speed up the recovery of individuals after natural disasters.
The partners seek additional financial resources to fully fund the commitment activities, additional technology partnerships to enhance technical offerings, and additional implementing partners to enhance skill-building workshops.
The commitment partners can offer best practices for the establishment and operations of a community technology center, and topic expertise in the following areas: community-focused social investment, technology expertise including resilient communication systems, coordination of co-operative partners, community participatory strategies, entrepreneurship training, and community capacity building trainings.