Kimberly King Burns – Playing With the Stars

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What do remote island living, digital media, and cryptocurrency have in common? Kimberly King Burns.

Imagine an upbringing where the very rich rub shoulders with the very poor and where manners maketh the (wo)man. Then think Harbour Island in the Bahamas where the lessons learnt from childhood equip serial entrepreneur, journalist, broadcaster and philanthropist Kimberly King Burns to work successfully and cherish the vulnerable in society. And to dream of a pan-Caribbean coin.

Kimberly was raised on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, the daughter of pioneers in the Out Island hospitality arena. Her mother had grown up in Hollywood and her father had been a fighter pilot in the second world war before working steadily as an actor in Hollywood for close to 30 years. She grew up on first-name terms with many of the children of the stars of the silver screen from Mitchums to Eastwoods to Garners with whom she is still on a first-name basis and currently working with their descendants on several projects.

Her parents moved permanently to Harbour Island when Kimberly was six and, despite her up-bringing far away from the madding crowds of cities, supermarkets, air-conditioning and television sets, there was nothing precious in her worldview then or now. In fact, growing up on Harbour Island is reminiscent of the summer’s running of a 20th century feel-good film.

“We certainly didn’t think that were privileged because we were not treated as such. Harbour Island wasn’t that segregated and all the kids played together regardless of who they were related to. We were taught to be polite and kind to everyone no matter their background, on a rather informal island and in a rather democratic fashion. We had second-hand bikes and hand-me-downs just like everyone else. 

“When my parents went away on Bahamas Hotel Association junkets around the world, we stayed with our babysitter who had little in the way of indoor plumbing save a sink in the kitchen, so we used the immaculate outhouse and bathed in a tin tub over hot rocks along with the rest of the family.

“It was just how things were back then and nothing terribly out of the ordinary. When I wasn’t hanging out with the other kids, my nose was buried in whatever book I could scavenge, or you could find me painting or fishing or writing bad calypso tunes: having no decent television reception was great for general creativity.”

Kimberly came to Harbour Island via her grandparents. Back during the U.S. Prohibition, her American great-aunt married a local Bahamian songwriter and opened a speakeasy in Nassau. Her sister and Kimberly’s grandfather, a marine surveyor in Manhattan, started visiting Nassau in the 1920s and then discovered the tiny unpaved but bustling Harbour Island in the 1930s. Harbour Island had been the original capital of the Bahamas, founded in 1640, and despite its compact three-mile by half-mile footprint, managed to build the biggest ships in the continent. 

“My grandfather was an unusual man, competitive and inventive. He filed any number of patents, some of which are still in use by the U.S. Navy, and family lore has it that he built the earliest iteration of the jukebox which he sold to Wurlitzer. When he arrived on Harbour Island, he started piecing together parcels of property and eventually built what became known as the Coral Sands Hotel, smack in the middle of Harbour Island’s famous pink sand beach. 

“Our houses and the hotel were no architectural masterpieces, but he built them to last: 12-inch cement walls with steel beam reinforcement meant that we mostly lost only shingles to hurricanes. My mom and dad were first-time hoteliers but built one of the most popular resorts in the country thanks to sheer will and a sense of humour: Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop The Carnival” pretty much describes their experience in building Coral Sands to world-class status.”

Coral Sands and Harbour Island has never been trendy in the way the St Bart’s is and that in part may be due to the difficulty of reaching the tiny island. One must fly into North Eleuthera, take a cab to the dock and then a small ferryboat across to the island. It has resulted in the tiny beautiful island, with its famous pink sand beach, remaining both relatively unspoilt and yet as exclusive as any luxury destination. To this day, the wealthy rub shoulders with the poor and nobody is bothered.

Kimberly attended the Jesuit missionary school on Harbour Island until winning a common entrance exam scholarship to attend St. Augustine’s College in Nassau, where she boarded with 35 other girls from various Out Islands. She later attended Pine Crest School in Florida and Salem College in North Carolina, where she naturally focused on more writing and painting.

Upon graduation, she learned of a production gig with one of the Public Broadcasting Service (PDS) affiliates in Tampa affiliate, and during the course of the interview was asked to also go on camera, earning both jobs.  She worked for the PBS there for several years and many years later served on the community advisory board of KCET Los Angeles.

During her early years in Tampa, Kimberly was also moonlighting as a content developer around nascent cable stations in the state that were later folded into John Malone’s TCI cable network, working with Rick Michaels of Communications Equity Associates. About that time, in the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan brought in the Caribbean Basin Initiative, an economic development initiative meant to strengthen relations between the USA and the broader region by removing tariffs and jumpstarting exports.

One protective stipulation of the CBI, however, failed to distinguish between the various languages spoken around the Caribbean, from English to Spanish, French, Dutch and their various kryol (creole) dialects, much less their informal network of unbanked or underbanked markets. ESPN regionwide was broadcast entirely in Spanish.

“Mind you, no one at the time had any idea what I was talking about and there were limited public library resources available. Rick Michaels took me under his wing and allowed me access to the CEA archives, which helped me tremendously whether working with or writing about the CBI.

“The CBI managed to miss the diversity of the region and its various economies of scale,” noted Kimberly. “From cable and television programming to sending salary remittances home to different countries around the region, our local economic development opportunities were vastly underestimated.”

It was at this stage that the concept and possibilities of blockchain entered Kimberly’s world.

“I moved from TV production in Tampa to music research at PolyGram Records in Los Angeles and Manhattan (1988-1992), writing about digital media trends for Billboard Magazine and The Fairchild Group (1992-1993) to business development and marketing at Time Warner Interactive in Burbank (1992-1994), and started to focus on building startups in the digital media and clean tech world with my own consultancy in Los Angeles, convergenz/solutions, in 1995. 

“When Mohammed Younis and the Grameen Foundation began focusing their microloans program within the Dominican Republic, I immediately grokked how such financial transparency and community blockchain could financially empower the entire region. (And yes I had to google grok too – it means to understand intuitively or emphatically).

“Growing up on an island where we were pretty much off the grid energy and communications-wise, whether we wanted to be or not, meant we had to be self-sufficient and creative, and eyeing creative solutions for second and third world economies came naturally.”

The corporate world has not really been Kimberly’s bag, despite working for some of the top names in the industry. In 1994 she was recruited by Golin Harris Communications, a major international PR firm, to jumpstart their digital media agency businesses.

“I really wondered from the start if it was a good decision. I arrived and had to immediately share my email account with 20 other people in the office. Given that at home I already had my own modem and private email account, such a shared approach just seemed weird, especially since I had already been working with technology clients.”

Kimberly has picked up some unusual clients along the way: the American Film Institute, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, VR guru Brett Leonard, CarisNet in the Dominican Republic, SoftBank, Ziff-Davis in San Francisco, technology clients around Europe, and Dov Charney, the disgraced ex CEO of American Apparel now looking to revive his reputation as a retail design and distribution genius with the brand new Los Angeles Apparel.

When asked what her favourite project is, though, there is no hesitation in her answer.

“My team is eager to create a functional sovereign cryptocoin for the Caribbean and build regional cybercafe co-working spaces with community banking and online educational resources throughout the immediate archipelago and greater region that will support both digital nomads and local entrepreneurs.”

She presented the idea of the nascent conchCOIN at the Grand Bahamas Tech Summit a year ago in tandem with Ken Bodnar of Blockchain Associates in Toronto. Originally the idea was just aimed at the Bahamian market but such was the immediate regional reception, the concept now covers the entire Caribbean. 

“There is a lot of diversity in the Caribbean: contrary to popular opinion, we are not only about sipping Pina Coladas. The islands are not all the same and include many cultural ancestors from England, Spain, Germany, France, The Netherlands and Brazil. There are 41 countries in total with more than 39 million people. This is a big audience with tons of workplace and R&D potential, and we speak every patois on planet earth.

“Currently, the Caribbean does not yet have completely open borders across the region but we do have a larger per capita income than our wildly popular South American counterparts. Other countries and territories are carving out a Pirates of the Caribbean-style name for themselves in crypto, Malta and Puerto Rico for example. But here in the Bahamas, with a focus on Grand Bahama, we’re helping build a regulatory-compliant tech hub that the entire world can appreciate. Here on Harbour Island, I’d love to get a sustainable economy other than tourism underway, so that Brilanders can afford to live where we grow up.”

Kimberly currently splits her time between Harbour Island, Nassau, Grand Bahama and Los Angeles and quietly works with homeless charities around Los Angeles, amongst other programmes. She doesn’t expect government to always be relied on to solve the problem, and instead looks to private business to innovate and assist wherever possible.

“Private companies move faster and are generally more efficient. The secret to our ongoing work with The Briland Modem Fund, a community foundation that I started with my husband Elkanah that benefits the out islands of the Bahamas, is in letting the public sector take the credit for private innovation wherever possible, which results in a win-win all around.”

Listen out for the conchCOIN to be blown very soon.

For more information on Kimberly, reach out to her on Linkedin