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AQ Feature

Civic Innovator: Antonio Sosa-Pascual, Puerto Rico

Meet and greet: Parranda cofounders Antonio Sosa-Pascual and Giovanni Rodriguez speak with diaspora leaders at the first Parranda summit in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. Photo: Alberto Matos

Puerto Ricans often feel that they are part of an invisible nation. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, there are now 4.7 million Puerto Ricans living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia—more than on their ancestral Caribbean archipelago of 3.7 million. But because Puerto Ricans living abroad are not distinguished from other U.S. citizens, the true size of the Puerto Rican diaspora has long been impossible to determine.

Antonio Sosa-Pascual, 39, believes he can change that with an innovative social media site called Parranda, which uses Google Maps technology  to pinpoint where Puerto Ricans live all over the world. Launched last year, the site borrows from the Puerto Rican Christmas tradition of parrandas, in which revelers go from house to house singing Christmas carols until the host opens the door. By asking users to enter their location as they register—whether they live in Chicago or Beijing—the site effectively opens the door to the “Greater Puerto Rico,” Sosa-Pascual explains.

The Puerto Rican entrepreneur, who was born on the island and currently lives in San Juan, says Parranda “is an opportunity to realize that our community is bigger and stronger than what we think, that we have more resources than what we think, and that we have our own unique place in the world.”

Sosa-Pascual is himself an example of how far the Puerto Rican diaspora has reached. He earned his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has held posts in the public and private sectors around the world, including serving as deputy clerk of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce of Puerto Rico. In 2010, he became managing director of REOF Capital, a venture capital company in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sosa-Pascual’s networking skills were honed as a graduate student nearly a decade ago, when he founded the Harvard-MIT Puerto Rican Caucus, which enabled professors, businesspeople, government officials, and students to exchange proposals for economic reform on the island. The experience provided an opportunity to connect students in the Boston area with business and intellectual communities in Puerto Rico.

But he quickly discovered that while an increasing number of Puerto Rican professionals were anxious to funnel resources to the island, there was no easy way for different groups to partner or communicate with one another. Along with nine other founders—many from the boards of Puerto Rican social organizations on the U.S. mainland and in Puerto Rico—Sosa- Pascual launched Parranda on New Year’s Eve 2012. The service, which is free for users, is financed entirely by the founding members. Today, they have over 2,000 users on six continents.

“[We] focus on being able to channel resources, mentoring, capital, donations, and trying to make a difference in the communities,” Sosa-Pascual says.

On May 30, Parranda held its first Global Summit at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus. The event enabled Puerto Rican diaspora leaders to identify, discuss and develop solutions to Puerto Rico’s most pressing challenges and opportunities, including economic development, community building and education. At the summit, leaders from Puerto Rico and the U.S. pledged to create partnerships to provide mentorship opportunities for young Puerto Rican entrepreneurs, provide them with job opportunities and connect them with potential investors.

While Parranda is still growing, Sosa-Pascual believes the social networking platform’s greatest achievement so far has been to unite the global Puerto Rican community. As he puts it, Parranda has helped “an invisible nation become visible.”

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Antonio Sosa-Pascual, Puerto Rico, Parranda

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