As Prontopia evolves to serve the needs of our communities during these rapidly changing times, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on our values and what drives us as a company. We started with a focus on helping weary travelers navigate the challenges of getting around in Italy and Spain, and when the COVID crisis hit, we quickly evolved to serve residents stuck in their homes during quarantine. In both cases, our goals are the same- creating community, helping people truly connect, and supporting sustainable ways of living for generations to come. We are continually expanding our offerings to ensure city dwellers in all of our locations can get their basic needs met safely, efficiently, but most importantly- in a way that drives real human connection.
Our founder, Shannon Kenny, recently wrote an inspirational post about her leadership style, what drives her and how she sees technology evolving to become more human. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we might be able to help you, nominate a city that needs help, or even join us as a Prontopian! Read on and email firstname.lastname@example.org to give us suggestions.
Feminine Native Traditions and the Story of Prontopia - by Shannon Kenny, Founder of Prontopia
My grandmother, Ruth, made me feel like I was the center of the universe. When she smiled at me with her sparkling eyes, filled with adoration, I felt whole.
When I was about 9 years old, I told my grandmother that she didn’t need to hold my hand anymore when we crossed busy streets, and said she held my hand too tightly. She replied that because she had endured loss as a child herself, she liked to “hold her loved ones tight.” And so she continued to clutch my hand firmly when we crossed the street together.
I later asked my mom about this and she explained that my grandmother’s Choctaw heritage included painful events and cultural rifts. My great grandmother had abandoned my grandmother and her siblings to return to live on the reservation, leaving them to live in poverty with their dad, and two of her siblings had died tragically under these circumstances. She was a survivor, and she walked forward in life in beauty.
In feminine Native traditions, stories are catalysts for collaboration and community action. The idea to create Prontopia as a community that puts people first, and empowers people to utilize technology rather than the other way around, was inspired by my mom’s example of Native leadership. In her book Living Indigenous Leadership, many voices come together to speak of how the Medicine Wheel shows us the interconnectedness of all things, and the principle of seven generations ensures we honor our ancestors by reflecting on how our actions today will affect the next seven generations.
Technology has been fundamental to all human “progress.” But in developing Prontopia, I reflected on the role technology has played in disconnecting us from the land, and from connecting face-to-face through oral traditions as people. Native worldviews accept that “None of us lives apart from the land entirely; such an isolation is unimaginable. If we are to realize and maintain our humanity, we must come to a moral comprehension of earth and air as it is perceived in the long turn of seasons and of years” (N. Scott Momaday). Technology today may have gone too far in separating us from this elemental fact of our human condition.
In this same book, my mom wrote of a poem by my daughter, “Thank you, Earth,” in which she observes with the purity of a child’s viewpoint, “Without you, we would never be here.” My mom used this evocation to warn that “As we create more virtual spaces, this intimate relationship with the land becomes even more important because we have to work harder to accomplish it” (Carolyn Kenny).
Stories teach us how to listen, and listening makes us aware of the interdependencies in the world around us. Listening, recognizing interdependency, and responding with empathy are the driving forces of the Prontopia business model. It is dangerous to simply concede that technology has alienated us from oral traditions that are fundamental to sustainable human existence.
Prontopia is putting the people back in the equation because human services are tragically hard to come by in the digital age. As a startup founder, I am often told that business models that “deal with people” are a risk. Do we have any other choice? If we choose to reframe this type of analysis and humanize our technology, there is a vast opportunity to effectively help seniors isolated in their homes with no family nearby, help working mothers, and all caregivers, with access to the human services support they need, help the disabled to live with equal access in our cities, welcome visitors to our cities so they feel a part of our communities, and …? We cannot dismiss the complexities and interdependencies of people, and the earth, as too difficult for technology solutions.
On the morning when my grandmother died, I had a dream. It was sunny and brilliant. A bear was standing next to some blackberry bushes. A hummingbird hovered near the bear's face and whispered, "Everything will be fine." The dream was so vivid, it woke me up in the pre-dawn hours. A few hours later, my mom called to say that my grandmother had passed away.
One generation later, I consoled my daughter with this story in her grief over her grandmother’s death. Working through its meaning, she created this impassioned wood print. I wasn't sure when I first saw it who the woman crying was. I wondered, is it my mom, or my daughter? And then I realized, it doesn't matter. It's art. It binds us. And through our intergenerational stories, we are whole.
It is the human stories, and real human interactions, that create resilience in our communities. It’s time to build companies on this premise.
Photo by Prontopia
Prontopia is an online service that provides friendly, in-person help from pre-vetted local assistants in city centers in Italy, Spain and the U.S.