We have been working to prepare AtmaGo and our partnerships to bring AtmaGo to Puerto Rico this year. Our Partnerships Coordinator, Natasha, originally from Puerto Rico, has moved back to the island and has been introducing AtmaGo to community based organizations working on resilience and recovery.
Puerto Ricans are still trying to recover and rebuild from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma and María and the impact of a 12 year economic recession. The island has been hit hard by the exodus of its professional working class and the young population, looking for stability and work opportunities in the continental United States. The federally appointed fiscal control board is moving forward with austerity measures, cutting government pensions, severely cutting the University of Puerto Rico’s funding by $541 million in the next 5 years, closing 307 public schools across the island, and approving an increase in the cost of electricity.
AtmaGo has the potential to alleviate these hardships by providing a platform where residents can share solutions and resources, and organize, implement, and amplify community-led efforts. Our approach builds local social networks in the most vulnerable communities, and strengthens their resilience to acute shocks and chronic challenges. Our focus in Puerto Rico, like in Indonesia, will be to provide a platform that allows for the sharing of critical information and solutions to chronic local problems. AtmaGo will focus on building local economic empowerment, amplifying the voices of women, and providing a digital platform where vulnerable communities can be seen by governments and institutions.
Deepening local connections via Human Centered Design Interviews
Natasha checked in with Jesús, a public school teacher whom we interviewed back in 2018 when we partnered with Mercy Corps to conduct Human Centered Design interviews to identify the needs and opportunities of local residents. Jesús shared that not a lot had changed since we last spoke. In April, The New York Times published a piece covering the failed recovery effort and the lack of funding for disaster relief legislation, echoing what Jesus was witnessing in his municipality of Naguabo on the eastern side of the island. He also shared that he will be greatly impacted by the cutting of government pensions, increasing his already precarious living situation despite having worked for the public school system for 24 years. “One month you pay the car and utilities, the next month you have enough to cover the mortgage.”
He concluded that the community itself needs to play an important role in social services’ programs. He thinks AtmaGo could serve the role of reinvigorating communities and supporting the organizing efforts already taking place around the island. In this same spirit, Jesús will be running for mayor of Naguabo in the upcoming elections — we find his commitment to his community inspiring! Meanwhile, we will be building connections with local governments all over the island, including Mayors’ offices, to increase the adoption and use of AtmaGo to improve communication between governments and local residents.
Partnering with Community Organizations to Amplify Solutions
Natasha also met with several organizations working on community resilience, disaster recovery, psychosocial support, women’s health, and gender violence prevention. AtmaGo will help to amplify the voices of these organizations and create an avenue for them to communicate with their neighbors and build community. Universally, these local organizations reported that they have trouble communicating their work and the services they offer to community members. AtmaGo has offered to bridge this gap with our hyperlocal platform that crowd-sources user generated content, that will connect people to resources in their immediate area.
We traveled to Adjuntas, a small, mountainous town in the center of PR to meet with Casa Pueblo. They have been serving and organizing the community of Adjuntas and Puerto Rico for almost 40 years. Their work centers around environmental education, conservation, and now accessibility to renewable energy technology. Immediately after the passing of Hurricane María, Casa Pueblo distributed solar powered lights and refrigerators to households in Adjuntas. The organization is now running an island wide campaign to reinvest in solar micro grid networks to create access to clean and reliable energy sources for communities around the island.
We also met with Taller Salud, a nonprofit that was awarded the 2019 Richard C. Holbrooke Award for their service immediately after the passing of Hurricanes Irma & María. Their work centers on improving women’s access to health care and reducing violence in the communities they serve through education and community economic development. Taller Salud was key to the recovery and aid distribution efforts in the municipality of Loiza, a historically marginalized community that was hard hit after both hurricanes Irma & María.
Atma Connect has been invited to co-work out of the Americares office, along with other organizations like NetHope, Internews, and All Hands and Hearts. Building these relationships with other community-based organizations has created a network of organizations that will help bring AtmaGo into various communities in Puerto Rico to solve critical communication, social connectedness, resilience, and community building needs. These meetings have also informed us of the range of challenges that AtmaGo can help address. We are looking forward to launching in Puerto Rico with a detailed understanding of what other organizations are doing so we can coordinate effectively and extend our impact.
Outlook for AtmaGo in Puerto Rico
All of the organizations we met with were excited about AtmaGo as a communication tool that serves for organizing, educating, and creating social cohesion. We are thrilled to bring AtmaGo to vulnerable regions and people in the United States, and expand the life saving impact of AtmaGo to communities in Puerto Rico!
Thank you again for your dedication to our mission of empowering people to improve their communities from the ground up!