I Want to Help Saipan

Hafa Adai.

My name is David Pan. I’m 45 years old, Chinese-American, and have worked in varied industries from professional sports to fashion design to event production to photography to business incubation to entrepreneurialism to social justice advocacy, policy, and nonprofits. I am looking to define the next portion of my life. I want to help change the world, make it better. I want to help make a difference. I want to help develop economic revitalization. I would like to become a valued member of a new community. I want to fight for social justice for all. I am prepared to move anywhere, do anything, help in whatever way I fit in.

I would like an opportunity to help YOU, Saipan, and the CNMI.

I believe I hold a very unique blend of skills. I’d like any chance to prove it, to use them. I hope you will please contact me.

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My entire life has formed me into who I am. I like to solve problems. I challenge myself towards divergent thinking, creative problem-solving techniques. I enjoy reading and research. I work hard, with integrity. I like to face the most difficult issues with innovative solutions. I like working with others. I do not need to be in charge. I appreciate being part of a team. I enjoy having a sense of community and making a difference.

I wish to move to Saipan and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. I’d like to call your home my home.

I understand you may face incredible social, economic, and infrastructure challenges. How can I help?

I’ve worked with top policy makers, politicians, nonprofits, NGOs, advocacy groups, community groups, educators, media, artists, and industry leaders. I’ve worked with business incubator and vocational rehabilitation programs. Food justice. Tenant advocacy. Housing rights. Subsidized housing councils. Legal advocacy groups. Code enforcement. Department of Health. Department of Building Inspection. Superintendents of Education. Chambers of Commerce. Mayors of San Francisco and Councilpersons. City and County Supervisors. Chiefs of Police. Economic revitalization programs. Economic and Community Development officers from big companies like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook, the Golden State Warriors, and Flickr. Chefs and restaurateurs. Tech labs, maker labs, and think tanks. Student groups. Celebrities. Famous artists and photographers.

I helped launch Tommy Girl and other ventures (like Blue Label) for Tommy Hilfiger; Old Navy for Gap; chictopia.com; and SpiĆ«le (an activewear company). I developed a social business venture project — and nearly landed Al Gore onto my Board of Directors– to focus on social and environmental justice within the apparel manufacturing industry. I helped produce a major fundraising event for the original Mario Botta designed SF MOMA. I helped produce the largest fashion show on the west coast (Macy’s Passport) two consecutive years. I helped run the Fashion Office of the former San Francisco Fashion Center. I’ve worked beside Olympic-level coaches. My ambitions and work ethic have enabled me to accomplish some of my wildest dreams.

I’ve been influenced by some of the foremost artists, trend setters, and creative minds of our time. Ad agencies like Foote, Cone & Belding, Peter Arnell Group, and Goodby-Silverstein; talent management like IMG, Croft PR, and Ford Models; artists for everybody from Disney, Bechtel, Chevron, Oracle, Microsoft, Porsche, General Motors, EA Games; creative design firms like IDEO and RoBrady; and a founder of CMYK Maagazine. I’ve held personal relationships to leading artists, architects, and photographers like John Mattos, Richard Leech, Buckminster Fuller, Isamu Noguchi, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Fred Pardini, Nike photographer Marcus Eriksson, Beatnik photographer Larry Keenan, National Geographic photographer Nate Johnson, Marius Muresanu, Gerald Bybee, and Ben Von Wong.

I’ve worked alongside dozens of top fashion designers, Vera Wang, Bill Blass, Carolina Herrera, Betsey Johnson, Anna Sui, John Bartlett, Thierry Mugler, Tommy Hilfiger. My working knowledge extends to design companies like New Balance, Calvin Klein, Nike, Club Monaco, FUBU, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Sharper Image, and others. I’ve worked with and/or personally known singers, actors, and celebrities like Usher, Aaliyah, Roberta Flack, Shemar Moore, Robin Williams, Savion Glover, the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, the Fugees, KRS One, and more. Behind-the-scenes talent for some of the most successful Hollywood blockbusters, San Francisco and New York City restaurants, and multi-platinum recording artists. I’ve learned from personal conversations with renowned chefs Jacques Pepin, Mario Botoli, Patrick Woodside, and Nigella Lawson. I’ve had the fortune to meet gifted authors like Brian Greene, Dave Eggers, and Tom Robbins. I’ve learned, from the inside, what helps allow companies like Odwalla Juice and Rollerblade become hugely successful trends.

I’d like to believe that at least a tiny bit of the knowledge they’ve generously imparted to me has sunk in.

How can I help you? Can we talk?

I understand Saipan previously had apparel manufacturing as a major economic engine. I also understand you may hold strong misgivings and judgments against me for having been a part of this exploitative business. If only you would allow me an opportunity to explain my stance and my perspectives. I quit my career because of their unconscionable practices. Have all these garment workers left? What became of all those industrial sewing machines and equipment? What can be done with this equipment, if it is still on Saipan in disrepair and neglect? Can we discuss this?

Is internet access difficult, or restricted to fairly slow speeds? Sure, I’ve read your previous $1.2M NTIA Broadband grant and 2016 $8M IT&E broadband grant for the CNMI (and the related 2014 CNMI Broadband Survey/Report). What other major infrastructure challenges do you face? Was the water system built around WWII and now deteriorated? Are your water mains massively corroded galvanized steel? I understand most NMI residents drink bottled water due to the poor taste of the available tap water? Does your electrical grid become overloaded during typhoons or on hot days?

I understand utilities bills are supremely expensive- even though as high as 30%+ of the CNMI residents live in poverty. Can you look to newer solutions? Wind, geothermal and/or solar? For instance, Iceland and Costa Rica generate 100% of their power needs through renewable energy. Elon Musk’s, Tesla, has fast-tracked an 80 megawatt battery backup substation for the Los Angeles grid. What kind of value proposition would it take to incentivize such implementation for the CNMI?

When was the last time a major benefactor like Ford Foundation (or other philanthropies) helped support the CNMI in any manner? I ask because I don’t know if they ever have. How “forgotten” and “overlooked” and “neglected” is the CNMI in “America?” Can I help you change this? There are others, many others. There are social venture funds. Many avenues which just might be available. With diligence and effort. What can I help with to propel this cause? Tell me. Do you need a projected PnL? Five-year, ten-year, 25-year? Is job creation your foremost priority? Fighting poverty? Environmental preservation and stewardship? Affordable housing? Infrastructure and technology? Manufacturing? Advanced education? It is my understanding that your only college, NMC, received its reaffirmed WASC accreditation through 2020, but currently offers only two bachelor degree programs? It’s quite a conundrum, reflected by the overall lack of advanced educational attainment on the CNMI.

How do you commonly lure top talent to Saipan? Teachers who come and go every couple years? Corporate suits whose only wish is to exploit your lower minimum wage compared to mainland USA? Sure, I know many American and foreign companies have come and gone. Saipan has a new resort and casino, right? But has tourism still dropped, especially from South Korea and/or Japan? How do you compete to retain your best talent, instead of losing it from Saipan and the CNMI for the greater opportunities and more lucrative salaries available elsewhere?

I recognize that the Northern Mariana Islands are quite insular. In community, economy, culture, even in spoken languages at home. You’d be right to be wary of outsiders. Of people like me.

I want to ask what I can help offer. What can I do?
How can I help Saipan and the CNMI?

With any major issue(s) Saipan and the NMI face. How much harder is it to have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy products that are not grown locally? How can we work to fix this? How about rooftop gardens, like in Tel Aviv and Brooklyn? Or vertical gardens? I know that NMI residents do not share the same convenience as I currently do; for example, $50+ purchases from Amazon.com includes free shipping to me in California. But not so for you. So, what parts of your essential needs can be identified as easily manufactured on Saipan? Thus reducing your applied shipping costs.

I’d love to discuss this in detail. Furniture? Clothing? Household goods? Agriculture? I know that millions of California residents (and those in 20 other participating states) can apply for AT&T Access, a subsidized broadband internet service for the low-income and those on welfare. The standard speed is 12 Gbps (minimum) for $10 per month. Usually speed tests prove 14 Gbps. Are NMI residents able to get 12+ Mbps broadband? At what price? Do you require cheap computers?

I am trying to express that I understand how far away the CNMI is. In time zones, distance, mindset, in terms of federal/government subsidies and related economic aid. I’d look forward to moving to Saipan and working to address any of these pressing issues. With you.

I appreciate challenges.
I believe in social justice.
I do not seek personal wealth.

You also have a beautiful, idyllic island setting. Even though island life, surely, is not perfect for everyone. Perhaps far from it. I am certain you are already working in many ways to preserve the incredible local environment and surrounding beauty. How many new ways can environmental policy be addressed without sacrificing everybody’s necessary quality-of-life? And in a cost effective manner, since the CNMI economy is reliant on more outside products (import) than you ship out as suppliers/manufacturers (export). A tough half-billion dollar swing in net exports from 2003-14? From a net-positive $344M in 2003 to net-negative $155M in 2012?

Is there any conversation I can have about helping you re-balance this import/export equation?

What would it cost? How much would it be worth? How many jobs would be created? What kind of projections for growth and expansion? What funding sources might be available? What market sectors or industries are most viable? What can I do as one part of that much larger conversation? What about less-standardized methods, like considering a parallel to Curitiba in Brazil?

What I’d like to work on is solving something difficult.
I wish to believe I can help.

Utilizing my expansive background and creativity. Combined with you and your entire Saipan community. Imagine a massive, combined knowledge base. How effective that could be. Yes, I understand that in late-2015 the CNMI created a “special commission on economic opportunity” to address the widespread issue of poverty in the CNMI. How’s that commission and program going? I’ve extensive background working with such matters. Can I help? Can we discuss methods that have been tried elsewhere? What types of pitfalls do many economic development programs ultimately become victim to? What works? How and why? I’d like to help Saipan and the CNMI.

Anything. Economic revitalization. How much do restaurants plan for food costs in proportion to menu pricing? What ways can old, neglected, blighted buildings be re-purposed? How can renovation and (typhoon) repair costs be reduced, while still aspiring to do more, with less? How can unemployed community members be put to back to work? Let’s review what ways urban planning and building codes in Santa Barbara, CA and Riverside, CA are successful compared to the miserable ways of other metropolitan regions, like Fresno, CA.

What processes have made FEMA disaster relief funds so challenging for the most impoverished of New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina) compared to those more affluent? How has the landlocked city of Atlanta successfully developed its economic revitalization in ways that Detroit and New Orleans have otherwise failed? What can be learned (both good and bad) from the poorest U.S. cities; like Fresno, CA and East Palo Alto, CA and East St. Louis, IL and Camden, NJ?

How does the City of San Francisco spend one-quarter of a BILLION dollars to address homelessness and yet have no idea where their money is even going, and still have no idea how to solve this constant issue? I’ve met with two SF Mayors and many SF City Council members, as well as their previous Chief of Police and dozens of agency heads. I’ve met with the business owners and landlords. I’ve met with subsidized housing tenants in their SRO hotels. I’ve met the Executive Directors of big nonprofits and advocacy groups. I only see the smug arrogance in United Way’s Rise Together program proclaiming they’ll reduce poverty by 50% in the entire San Francisco Bay Area by 2020. I’d hope to convey some of what I’ve learned- both the good and the bad. Mostly, how I believe these agencies and organizations perpetually set themselves up to fail.

What are the best, most impactful nonprofits, foundations, advocacy groups , and methodologies that can be transferred to help Saipan revitalize? Teaching people to cook healthy meals on a welfare budget? Like serving over 1 million meals annually on a budget of barely $1.5 million at the largest soup kitchen in San Francisco. I can explain food justice programs and commercial kitchens (La Cucina and 18 Reasons in San Francisco, FoodLab Detroit, and Tree of Life in Fresno, CA). I’ve only ever met one subsidized housing director that had amazingly innovative ways to successfully engage with tenants. All the others did not. Is this shocking?

What works for Noisebridge and Tech Shop SF maker labs in San Francisco that fails so terribly at Fresno Ideaworks? Why are policy makers so incapable of addressing the most challenging issues? What of all the “silent crimes” that go unnoticed or unresolved. Things like foster children “aging out” of the foster care system when they turn eighteen. What happens then? They are simply forgotten, most often neglected. Victims of human trafficking, sex trafficking, or domestic abuse. Those with mental health issues or physical disabilities. The solutions aren’t only in how we can help them, but how we can help them in ways in which they can help society as well.

What kinds of jobs can be created for disabled veterans?

Or those formerly incarcerated? I’ve met with an after-school program director that only hires those formerly incarcerated to care for at-risk kids in an underprivileged neighborhood in San Francisco. Great program. They’ve been running successfully for years and just got funding to purchase their building. A for-profit business venture hires formerly incarcerated and those rehabbed from substance abuse to bake cheesecakes. Business is booming, they sell for more than $25 at local Whole Foods grocery stores. Another example is a silk-screen printing business. They hire those most at-risk and make shirts for some of the large music festivals, nonprofits, events, and other big clients.

For those without high school diplomas? Perhaps we can discuss social justice cafes that are popping up all over. I know, I’ve met with the owners and managers and program directors. There’s one such in Berkeley, CA that drew the former manager of acclaimed, world-famous chef Alice Waters’ cafe to run their operation. Legit talent being drawn to helping a great cause AND still getting paid. A restaurant here in Fresno opened last spring that only employs those mentally or physically disabled. They have all kinds of support from the local community, the most powerful politicians lunch there, they are also strongly connected with the local chapter of SCORE (and the Fresno chapter of the Small Business Administration, SBA). Again, business is booming. They’re also getting more catering jobs than they can even keep up with!

What can I share with you, specifically, about their operations? Plenty. I’m not just running off names I researched on Google. I can furnish a contact and you can speak to them directly, verify my assertions… How they hold “group” sessions each Tuesday, to help ensure their employees acclimate and can enjoy their work productively. I know about their menu planning process, their target numbers, their business plan. How they source their fruits– because I suggested my method to them! I’ve literally spent time meeting with hundreds like these.

Are the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota still in recovery efforts from Typhoon Soudelor on August 2, 2015? Are buildings blighted, left abandoned, unrepaired? Are families still displaced? Did workers lose their jobs and businesses shut down? How can we reduce the risk of this recurring? How can we identify unmet needs and match those to underutilized resources?

I believe I can help tackle ANY of these difficult questions. I know, this might seem exceptionally arrogant. Please forgive me, that isn’t my intention, not at all. Challenge me. Set a problem in front of me, help allow me to move to Saipan, and let’s figure out how I can help you solve these issues, together. Build a team, an innovative strategy, a plan, a budget; whatever it takes. I am ready.

I know that your inclination may be to simply dismiss me. I know because I’ve contacted and spoken with many other leaders. I know that most will pre-determine and assess that they don’t need help. Most don’t wish to acknowledge any faults or flaws. It’s easier to ignore me than to begin a dialogue. Life will go on… All I am asking is, can I help you and Saipan and the CNMI?

This is an entirely one-way conversation– my contacting you. Please forgive that I feel a necessary defense to the most common prejudices held against me. My claims may seem wildly delusional. Why would I assert all of these things and say that I’m not concerned about my income?

“He must want something”. Those four words make everybody skeptical and defensive. I want to help. It’s really that simple. “There must be something wrong with him… If others didn’t give him a chance, that justifies why I shouldn’t either… My time is valuable and I won’t spend 15 minutes reading this rant and garbage and his self-proclamations…” But what if these few minutes lead to me being able to help you with hundreds or thousands of my labor hours towards your cause? What if I hold any ability to help contribute to the solutions to problems you presently face and are already working resolutely to solve?

Please offer me a chance, please consider my help.

No, I do not surmise to know Saipan and the CNMI better than you.

Yes, I’ve done “some” research. No, it isn’t simply my ability to Google. I want to help apply systems, processes, strategies. Be it as broad as you wish, or give me one singular goal. Do you seek help solving food justice? Or a public transit system for the poor? Might I be of better service by diversifying and working in conjunction with multiple teams to implement solutions? Open a commercial kitchen. Launch a startup to manufacture electric bicycles for eco-friendly and inexpensive transportation. I don’t claim to be an expert on everything. Not hardly. What talents do you have readily available? A grant writer? An attorney focused on import/export treatises? Skilled, but unemployed construction workers? Hospitality and service workers earning unsustainable wages? Procurement specialists?

I believe I have a unique and valuable skill set. I’ve worked and lived among the most affluent. The powerful and influential. I’ve also lived in hardship, among the most impoverished and disadvantaged. I believe I can be a “bridge” between those impoverished and those creating policy. I feel comfortable speaking with and understanding both sides equally. I’d like to help bring a voice to those who either cannot or do not speak up for themselves. I’ve also known or worked with many famous people, celebrities, actors, artists, dancers, and pro athletes. I enjoy sharing my many experiences, what I’ve learned from prominent artists. I’ve previously guest-lectured (voluntarily, without compensation) at college programs about my work experiences: City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Cal State Monterey Bay, and Fresno City College. Perhaps these are other ways in which I can help; bring further cultural enrichment, arts or athletics programming to Saipan? I know you’d have no reason to believe any of this. Try me. Ask me. Challenge me. I welcome any conversation or discussion we may have.

Can I help Saipan? Together, let’s identify a market need that can be met by creating jobs for those most economically-distressed. Maybe it is slow-cooking meats or making coconut husk mattresses. Maybe a Saber tutoring system (framework) that helps offer NMC scholarships to youth, for training the elderly in how to use technology and social media to communicate (safely and privately) with their loved ones. Maybe it is formulating a stronger relationship with Habitat for Humanity Guam to train Saipan residents on how to better protect and repair structures from typhoons. Maybe it is finding a unique way to divert landfill, to help keep the CNMI beautiful, and also re-purpose materials into needed commodities. Perhaps a portion of the Saipan FY2017 Budget ($200,000 for the Mayor of Saipan for cleanup and beautification projects?) can be purposed towards such a project? Do you need cheap computers or smart phones or tablets to enhance education? I don’t know. YOU KNOW.

I cannot know the specifics until I have the chance to learn them. From you.

From those in charge. From community and business leaders. From Saipan residents. From the entire CNMI community. I’ve read your Saipan budgets. Still, I have extremely limited knowledge of your Saipan FY2017 budget, like the “NOP” (Number of Positions) restrictions. My understanding is that you may have other means, such as the WIA (Workforce Investment Agency) being excluded from this Saipan NOP mandate. Further, I know that certain jobs (government) may require compliance to a 90-day posting for job vacancy or position available. Okay. I’m familiar with some such language and procedures. We could work this out.

I’m not trying to speak to you about how to do your job, or how to consider fund allocations– to allow me potential work on Saipan. I believe there are legitimate channels, if Saipan would wish to consider hiring me. The Commonwealth Development Authority, Workforce Investment Agency, Dept. of the Interior OIA TAP funds, Commonwealth Worker Fee Funds, CNMI Disability Network Partners, Dept. of Commerce, Chamber of Commerce, State Rehabilitation Council (SRC), Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), and other budgeted programs.

My interest isn’t in title or power or wealth. My interest is contributing, making an impact, helping to improve our world.

SOcial JUstice for all.

I am open-minded. A tireless worker. I am hopeful.

I look forward to a conversation.

Thank you.

  • Cycleops

    First thing you should know is that Saipan is tribal. The corruption and nepotism begins with the broader family an individual is part of.

    Most locals have left for Guam, Hawaii, or the mainland. That has left behind many of the less ambitious and uneducated who often don’t take leadership roles in their families or community for altruistic purposes. There are the exceptions like Tina Sablan but they are unfortunately exceptions.

    Second is that SaipanSucks is largely correct about what happened ten to fifteen years ago. The cultural issues remain the same. Sad to say.

    If you want to help CNMI then you need to do it from Washington. The federal government needs to be more serious about fighting corruption based on US tax dollars spent on the CNMI. It should also convince Guam and CNMI to merge under a revised Covenant. That should help spur necessary changes to the political system and economy.

    A lot of others have gone to Saipan without idealistic notions they could change things. They left dispirited and a but jaded. You would join them if you go to Saipan today instead of Washington.

    As for some of your questions, the sewing machines are all gone. The few buildings not repurposed are crumbling and being reclaimed by the jungle. They aren’t salvageable.

    • Hafa Adai, Cycleops, thank you for visiting and sharing your own, personal views/insights. I certainly have recognized some familiar CNMI surnames already, yeah. Not to seem dismissive, but many impoverished regions suffer the same fate– the best talent leaves. But I can imagine this to be even more true for an insular community, with basically only a 2-year college and not much opportunity for high-salaried or -skilled jobs. And one limited hospital. And fairly poor infrastructure. And rampant corruption.

      I think I understand some of your frustrations and your message about fighting from Washington. Respectfully, I’ll submit that I believe that could take 10-20+ years’ time of entrenchment in policy-fighting. Local and grass roots level solutions could help begin new trends quickly. Effective and inexpensive solutions to address urgent issues. If those projects were to succeed? Then, they could help make the CNMI more valuable, more noticeable; hence lawmakers in Washington would be compelled to take matters seriously.

      May I say I doubt they would at present, without seeming too judgemental or smug to you? It’s some distant out-of-sight out-of-mind commonwealth that is 6,000 to 9,000+ miles away. With little industry or productive economy. In my experience, the best way to get the attention of leaders is by doing something supremely successful. Have something valuable. They’re sure to want a piece of it. Not just paying little attention to where some federal funds are currently being diverted to. Understand that, sadly, corruption is everywhere. Thanks for the info. Too bad, those sewing machines could help. Those damaged buildings could help. Still, I am happy to learn a name (Tina Sablan) that you feel is doing good work, that’s important. I’ll try to reach out to her. Cheers.

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  • CNMI Lawyer

    Tricksters, scammers, and fraudsters have been descending on the CNMI from around the nation and world for decades. So please do not take any skepticism personally.

    As for Ms. Tina Sablan, this article indicates that she is the Deputy Communications Director, in Washington, DC, of Congressman Kilili Sablan. She is fairly accessible.

    • Thank you for your kindness and words of support. Honorable Ms. Sablan has already responded to my inquiries, and I am hopeful my dialogue with her continues. She seems like such a great leader for the CNMI, reading her Congressional reports/documents/minutes, blog/forum, animal rights, environmental policy, advocacy projects, community engagement, transparency, accountability, Open Government, media reporter, etc. Per your suggestion, I have contacted Mr. Vergara directly and hope that conversation begins…

      You seem full of both wisdom and knowledge. I hope I am able to move to the CNMI, and perhaps have an opportunity to help you with your personal endeavors. Good legal counsel is always important- for all kinds of people, residents, communities. Social justice, human rights, civil rights. Fighting against corruption. Cheers.

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