Erick Brimen is the CEO at NeWay, where they work with governments around the world to develop centers of prosperity within their borders.
Q. Let’s start with your project in Honduras. What is Honduras Próspera?
It’s a partnership with the government of Honduras, in which our group has managed to bring together an incredible team of experts in various fields, such as city-scale development, municipal government, management, privatization, social services, environmental management — and the list goes on. There’s an expert we’ve managed to bring into this partnership with Honduras, to help realize the vision of unleashing the incredible potential their people have; a possibility that has been artificially held back by man-made realities and therefore can be solved by man.
Honduras Próspera is a comprehensive solution that targets specific parts of the country where the issues are felt the most, and proposes a way forward to creating — as the name in Spanish suggests — a prosperous reality, in those regions. And then, as those populations benefit, to then project the prosperity to the rest of the country.
Q. It almost sounds too good to be true. How do you make it happen?
It has been a lot of work. We’ve been actively working with the government of Honduras for almost three years now, but it’s going to be three decades of reform, political capital, and social education coming together.
Honduras Próspera is about addressing these artificial barriers, among which there can be a lack of perceived good governance, the rule of law, security, and a dispute resolution system that’s fast and transparent. Civil society relies tremendously, in the day to day, on the water we swim in that is governance. For people to work peacefully, prosper focus on what they do best and trade, they need good governance, rules — and the enforcement of those rules — and security.
Honduras has improved somewhat, but they’re coming from a shallow base of multiple decade-long issues. Honduras Próspera builds on top of a great level of legal and regulatory reforms the country has put forth, including the permanent constitution, to enable specific legal jurisdictions such as the Special Economic Zones, inside of which the best international practices can be implemented. In those physical spaces how people operate, the rules that apply, the way disputes get resolved and the level of security that gets provided are world-class. The idea is to combine the best Honduras has to offer – its people, it’s placement in the world – with the best the world has to offer to Honduras.
Over thousands of years, and especially the last three hundred, humanity has developed several rules and ways to organize society in order to create the maximum level of generalized prosperity, and those are the ones we apply in Honduras Próspera.
Q. How is it different from what was done in the past?
The physical manifestation of bringing this vision to reality will result, over time, in the center of prosperity, like a city-scale center of human activity. Cities are nothing new, but they’re generally a symptom of prosperity. When we see a city we know, there’s already economic activity. This program is about jolting investments and catapulting outcomes, in a non-linear fashion, without waiting for it just to happen, making a proactive effort to be inclusive with the local population — combining the best of what they have to offer with the world. It’s the aggregation of a critical mass of elements that have all been implemented before throughout the world, but never at this level and never all together at the same time.
In a democratic government, with the overwhelming support of their legislators, these laws passed with an almost four-fifths majority of Congress. It required constitutional reforms, which the Supreme Court approved unanimously. Dubai, for instance, is a created city. But they don’t have a democracy; they have a sovereign who decides everything that happens. Doing it in Central America, in a democratic country, with overwhelming support and as a way to catalyze socio-economic development at a scale in which it deals with the fundamental issues of the population, has never been done before.
Q. When starting something so ambitious, how do you orchestrate all the moving pieces? Most importantly, how do you make sure it’s going to be inclusive for the population already established in the site where a prosperity center is going to be grown?
The vision is grand, it’s long term, and it’s inclusive but it’s not executed at that level from day one. All the elements aren’t brought together at the same time. We’ve followed proven and tested entrepreneurial approaches to building businesses. If a company wants to get to where Amazon is, for example, they have to do it in phases. Some phases make sense now, at a small scale, initially, but with a vision of how to grow and how to have the type of impact we’re looking for.
The parts of the country that are already best positioned to unleash the massive potential of the Honduran people — provided the conditions are right — are related to industries that are either in a very early stage or are held back. Agroprocessing would be an example of the latter, whereas drones and advanced aerospace technology are an example of the former — emerging industries that could take off if the conditions are right. We try to make sure the project is inclusive and benefits the Honduran people by following the path of least resistance — that means it’s formed by opportunities that have the highest number of already existing elements to be successful, and a massive component is giving access to the people who are already there.
Unfortunately, right now Honduras is not a place the rest of the world is looking to move to actively, so trying to build an economic development program that is based on importing talent is very expensive. However, instead of focusing on bringing people from the outside as the major source of labor, we focus on national talent. And where skills and training are insufficient, we’re partnering with world-class institutions to provide that in some cases. We started with K-12 schools, which is a long term investment, all the way to universities which are a short-term expenditure, and vocational and executive training, which is even shorter-term. It is possible, for example, to turn somebody who doesn’t have management experience into a manager of hotels, within six months, more or less.
Then there’s technical training — this allows individuals who have a basic level of skills to be coders or designers, and do work remotely. That way, the world opens up to them. Once they have Internet and have some basic skills, and we can provide both, a world of opportunities can open to them while being at home, and in a center of prosperity.
Q. You’ve said NeWay has a water-like approach to pursuing that vision. Can you expand on that?
The “Be like water” mantra is important for us because the water flows from the top of a mountain down to the ocean; that’s its destination, and it’s going to get there no matter what. In our path, there will be rocks, boulders and different slopes, but we resolved to achieve this vision, which is worthy of a lifetime’s effort, and we’re getting there. There are obstacles, but we will go over, under and around them. We’ll build enough pressure if we’re stopped so that it’s eventually broken through. So, we have to be flexible.
There’s a clear vision of where this is headed. We don’t know exactly what problems will appear, but we’re going to deal with them by amending, adjusting and not losing track of where we’re headed, but also making sure we don’t get slowed or stopped.
Q. Good governance seems to be a significant factor in this vision. What’s the role of good governance in creating human prosperity?
Good governance is the water we swim in. Fish don’t know they’re in water because they don’t know any different. What good governance provides would be the equivalent of an operating system for a computer — it sets the rules in which we’re going to operate. Good governance implies good rules. Basic rules of human interaction such as respecting private property, voluntary exchanges, sometimes language and currency. The essential rules of voluntary exchange, with a method to resolve those potential issues that can arise even in good faith, but also when you have a bad actor. The follow-through will not necessarily be voluntary. There need to be rules of voluntary exchange, but there might be bad actors and legitimate disagreements.
Then there’s the fact that humans sometimes become destructive and take shortcuts. They want to steal; they want to kill. That’s why it’s essential to ensure security. To prevent this, primarily, but to take corrective action if necessary.
These things coming together are the fabric, the foundation of civilized society. A lot of places around the world don’t have these essential foundations that result in investors coming in, and entrepreneurs developing new things, and all this means no employment. When there’s no employment there’s no prosperity; with no prosperity there’s crime, and when there’s crime there’s no investment, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
The way to deal with that cycle at a foundational level is creating institutions of good governance so that everybody can benefit by working hard, and in the end, benefit others. It’s a beautiful system. The rules are right if they’re honored and respected, and everybody is held to the same standard. No special treatment to those who have more money or are well-connected, but also no discrimination against those who don’t have much to start with or look different. Even the playing field, so merit is what drives results — not unique relationships, connections and certainly not force.
Q. I can’t help but think about the unprecedented refugee crisis we have now in Latin America — in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and we’re familiar with the Venezuelan case — and how there are solutions that don’t imply building walls and barriers, but instead building places that attract people and allow them to live and thrive.
To clarify, what is unprecedented right now is the level of coverage these migration issues are getting — that’s a good thing. However, the reality is that the tragedy of people having to move from where they grew up to a different place in pursuit of a better future is nothing new, and it’s a part of the history of humanity.
There are always crises and disasters, but right now it’s unprecedented because of media coverage. That leads to these situations being used as a political football, but the important thing is understanding the source of this crises, not just dealing with it by building a wall so the problems don’t migrate with people. Regardless of whether or not people think that will work, as a standalone solution, it’s not viable.
What’s the source of this migration crisis? People are leaving their home countries because internal conditions are unbearable, so why not better those conditions instead of rejecting people — who have already left and risked their lives — on a border?
Part of what inspires us as a team, and me personally, is the unimaginable potential we see in Honduras. But unless that potential is purposely developed in an inclusive manner, it will never be anything more. Our work model is a real solution because it’s addressing the foundations of problems in a manner that not only works, but it’s actually of mutual interest to all the parties involved. It’s in the interest of Honduras, but it’s also in the interest of the United States — not just because now they won’t have so many of illegal immigrants, but because now they’ll have a stronger trading partner.
It is a comprehensive solution to a systemic problem, that addresses the issues at the root and lifts people out of poverty and into prosperity in a sustainable way. We hope this becomes a model to be replicated throughout the world, but even if all we manage to achieve is this project it still has the opportunity to transform the region for the better.
Q. Do you see anything out there in terms of the development of prosperity, new city projects or inclusion that you’re excited about?
There are two general areas. The first and perhaps most important one is in the world of ideas. Most of the projects we’re working on come from ideas that have matured at an accelerated rate, especially over the last five to 10 years, as a result of proven success cases like Dubai and Singapore. The idea of doing large scale development projects that positively impact hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, doesn’t feel so far-fetched anymore. The space for possibility is bigger now than it’s ever been before, and it’s continuing to grow.
Also, technological development is creating the perfect conditions to support these types of projects. Renewable energy is not only becoming cost competitive, but cheaper than the old ways of producing electricity. It doesn’t require a massive grid, so using solar energy we can start, with relatively low cost, anywhere in the world. Providing power without having to make massive infrastructure investments just to get started, creates much more options for physical locations, and that includes a lot of remote places where development is needed the most.
An exciting trend is the use of small modular nuclear reactors that are very safe because they work with the waste of old reactors. It’s impossible to turn them into weapons, and they’re cheaper, cleaner.
Also, there’s another critical infrastructure innovation in the world of water which I’m personally very excited about. In the following decades, water will become an increasing problem — it will be costlier to get to because of climate change, among other factors. Some populations like South Africa will no longer have access to water. However, more and more companies are trying to solve that every day, with atmospheric water being one option and desalination plants is another.
For Honduras, a country where humidity is quite high, atmospheric water is a really exciting prospect which also doesn’t require massive infrastructure investment. Because of the humidity in the air, people can have access to pure water almost anywhere. This, combined with low-priced renewable sources of energy, is not only cost competitive but cheaper than the current best alternatives which generally require a lot physical movement for the purification process and water transportation — by pipes, trucks, etc. — to where it’s going to be consumed. Atmospheric water, on the other hand, does it all in one place. Either in individual homes or even more efficiently, at a macro level with modular units.