unconventional economic recovery and stability initiatives in Puerto Rico
Expeditionary Entrepreneurship — a deployable capability designed to identify and bolster local last mile capacity both for disaster readiness and in HA/DR response, recovery and emergency economic stability operations
In disaster response environments, economic stability is a critical component to establishing equilibrium. In this context, there is a need for a deployable entrepreneurial capability that has the ability to operate in more austere and unconventional environments. The idea of rapidly deployable expertise from medical professionals to communications experts is not at all uncommon. But, to date, legitimized professional entrepreneurs have not been organized to form an expeditionary capability, and as a result, this function has not been woven into the overall disaster response ecosystem. That is changing, and Puerto Rico is the test bed.
Bringing an entrepreneurial capacity into a disaster zone is not about exploitive measures or profit maximization. If long-term sustainability is in the vested interest of impacted communities than NGOs, local and federal government resources cannot be entirely relied upon. Empowering local merchants and resources to handle challenges facing the community through strategic support is to build truly sustainable, long-term resilient capacity. Often, for myriad reasons, these local assets are not privy to the resources brought into disaster response environments and are often hindered, in the long-term by this “external aid.” The concept of an expeditionary entrepreneurial capacity is to have the ability to rapidly identify these local assets and true last mile challenges. Once identified, significant resources and expertise to rapidly empower these locals to address the challenges they face as the impacted community can be summoned.
In some cases the private sector is simply able to move faster and more nimbly than government initiatives. That is not a negative, and or a slight to any official capacity, it is merely a fact, and a notion that should be celebrated and embraced. What is detrimental, is a paradigm where a local business community has the resources and wherewithal to stimulate operations but does not act as a result of waiting to secure some form of special government contract.
There are huge opportunities in Puerto Rico at the moment and the local private sector should be motivated to resolve the challenges and to capitalize on the opportunities. instead they are waiting on government funding to do anything. Expeditionary entrepreneurship serves as an initial post occurrence instigation force, leading by example to demonstrate both the capacity of the private sector to have significant positive impact and to help stabilize the local economy by working to ensure it is the local market participants that play as large a role as possible in recovery and economic restoration activities.
What does expeditionary entrepreneurship look like in practice in Puerto Rico?
In the near-term aftermath of Maria’s impact, a number of the local food markets were able to get onto generator power quickly. While supplies were more limited, they had food and water. Shortly after the immediate life saving response stage when lots of outside support was needed rapidly, these merchants had the capacity to serve their communities. However, due to traditional communications infrastructure being out of service, the stores were not online and could not use their point of sale systems. This prevented them from being able to accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer social assistance / food stamp credit cards) which 45% to 65% of the population relies on to make food purchases on the island depending on the location. Thus, while food and water were present, the most impacted populations had no access to it by not being able to withdraw cash, or use their cards. This resulted in a continued dependence on foreign aid drops that were plagued by logistical challenges and negative impact to the local economy.
The Tactivate team identified this as a problem very early on and socialized it to the government, federal agencies and military. When action was not taken quickly enough, a self-funded and organized multidisciplinary team was put together and deployed to provide connectivity solutions to critical stores across the island.
As a result of knowing how to operate within the disaster response system, and an understanding for the importance of strategic partnerships, Tactivate worked with Focused Mission, The Foundation For Puerto Rico, The Office of Family Services and the CIO of the Puerto Rican government as well as with FEMA and DOD assets to secure air transport for installation missions. This approach has resulted in the direct facilitation of over $3M in EBT transactions to date.
There were no conventional initiatives or resources tasked to solving this challenge within the Federal response despite a blanket acknowledgement across resource communities of its importance. The approach, from how the issue was initially recognized by Tactivate, to how the team was built and the solution was implemented was expeditionary entrepreneurship in action.
Based on an initial out of pocket investment of $33,000, in addition to the contribution in time and logistical support form the various parties, incalculable benefit has been brought to local communities the team was able to get online. The cascading affect of stimulating local commerce, even on a small scale accomplishes:
Enabling merchants to provide food and water vs. reliance on unhealthy, sporadic aid drops
Employees are able to keep their jobs, suppliers can begin selling their inventory and banks can resume collecting their fees
Sparking normal economic activity, especially in the case of Puerto Rico where by some estimates, over 300,000 people have already left the island due to the stagnated economic state, is crucial to normalizing the situation. Over $3M in local food and water purchase transactions have run through the systems put in place across the island.
As for how the team is going to recoup out of pocket costs — that’s another part of the entrepreneurial mindset and equation that now needs to be addressed after the immediate needs have been handled. The Foundation for Puerto Rico, as well as the local government have offered verbal commitments of support to offset some of the costs. This is another reason why its important to build multidisciplinary teams. It takes capacities ranging from creative funding to logistical resources to sustainably tackle any challenge. Through expeditionary entrepreneurial activities, action can be taken quickly without bureaucratic or funding impedances to address true last mile needs. The efforts are conducted, orchestrated and executed in a manner that builds indigenous capacity from the earliest stages of a response. While still a form of “aid,” this entrepreneurial approach to operating is not predicated on large influxes of external supplies but instead focuses on courses of action that stimulate relief through organic economic capacity.
Tactivate’s intention, first and foremost in Puerto Rico, and in every other disaster it has responded to is to address the immediate needs of the impacted population. While there is a place for philanthropy, there is also a pragmatic element involving the need for funding to accomplish the range of objectives discussed, which fairly, can and should also reward entrepreneurs for their effort of time, material and insight, consistent with a fair minded non-exploitive approach. The Tactivate team is excited about championing this entrepreneurial response paradigm as a major component to the long-term sustainable recovery of Puerto Rico.