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The savvy plan two Puerto Ricans came up with to revitalize the island's economy.

A think tank looks to revive Puerto Rico's stagnant economy.

The savvy plan two Puerto Ricans came up with to revitalize the island's economy.

When Miguel Columna graduated high school in 2006, he followed a pathway that had become common for many of his peers in Puerto Rico: He packed up his bags and left the island.


Columna visiting Culebra, a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, in Dec. 2013. Photo used with permission.

The now-26-year-old Columna jetted off to Washington, D.C., to study economics and political science at American University. After that, he took a job with the Obama administration, working as a special assistant to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

His story isn't that uncommon.

From 2010 to 2013, more Puerto Ricans left the island than during the entirety of the 1980s and 1990s, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

The ongoing economic crisis in Puerto Rico is a big reason why so many people are heading out.

Puerto Rico, one of five remaining U.S. territories, is bogged down by a whopping $72 billion in debt and hasn't been able to pay its bills. At this point, some experts say declaring bankruptcy is its best bet because that would allow the government to renegotiate the terms of its debts. But since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory (sort of like a state, but not really), it can't declare bankruptcy without approval from Congress.

With the Puerto Rican economy in shambles and no promise of relief on the horizon, a net average of roughly 48,000 people per year left the island for the mainland between 2010 and 2013 — and the trend continues today.

Movers pack up a woman's apartment in July as she prepared to move from San Juan to Orlando, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

But folks like Columna are finding a silver lining to the huge numbers of people leaving Puerto Rico behind.

While some see the mass exodus as brain drain — losing ambitious young people to places like New York and Miami — Columna, a transplant himself, envisions his scattered compatriots as a global network, capable of performing “brain circulation" that could bring knowledge, connections, and capital back to Puerto Rico.

His idea: Why not reach out to the millions of Puerto Ricans living outside the island to help promote economic growth back home?

Back in 2012, Columna joined forces with Isabel Rullán, another Puerto Rican working in the Obama administration, to form ConPRmetidos, a think tank that uses public-private partnerships to spark economic development on the island. This July, they launched a new project, the Puerto Rico Global Initiative, focused on connecting Puerto Ricans at home and on the U.S. mainland.

They see the millions of Puerto Rican transplants and their children as potential ambassadors to attract investment in the island.

“We're leveraging the fact that we have this sales force that is untapped," Columna told Upworthy. “It's all these Puerto Ricans who are abroad, who are in decision-making positions."

Of course, even if investments like these succeed, they alone won't solve the island's deep financial woes. For that reason, Columna also wants Congress to allow Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy.

In the meantime, the group is continuing its more practical work: building connections with Puerto Ricans living abroad who can help bring investments back to their home, in areas such as real estate, energy, and tourism.

Bianca Cabán, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist based in Manhattan, is one of the people who received a boost from Puerto Rico Global.

Cabán (right) with Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the New York City Council, at a July 2014 event in the Bronx. Photo used with permission.

Both Cabán and her parents were born and raised in New York City, but she still has relatives living in Puerto Rico and would like to see the economy rebound. With a degree in economics and political science from Harvard and experience working for Credit Suisse and Atlas Merchant Capital — an investment firm focusing on emerging global markets — she has the perfect background for a project like this.

In late 2014, she learned about a pilot version of Puerto Rico Global and its mission to connect professionals on the island and around the world. She became an ambassador for the organization but also says they've been “incredibly supportive" when it comes to executing her ideas.

In December, Cabán left her job to pursue investment opportunities in Puerto Rico full time.

At her uncle's house in Rincón, Puerto Rico, during a December 2013 visit. Photo used with permission.

Cabán says she was spurred on by the advice of former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who also served as a senior adviser for Atlas. She remembers hearing him say to “never waste a crisis," a message that she took to heart. “I saw the opportunity to do well and do good," she says.

So far, she's pitched investors on several business deals in Puerto Rico around real estate and the energy sector, as well as entertainment and medical cannabis. She heads to the island every five to six weeks — staying with friends or in hotels — but would like to establish a business office, if not a home, in San Juan.

Cabán says working with Puerto Rico Global has been "invaluable." Although she grew up visiting the island once or twice a year, she didn't have deep contacts in government or business before now.

“They really helped me get plugged in to that whole system and helped introduce me to the most important people that I needed to know," she says.

Interested in joining the Puerto Rico Global Initiative? Visit them here.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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