Last year Empire Fighting Chance was invited to take part in a global United Nations & Brookings Institute initiative around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 17 Rooms. My group was working on SDG 16, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.
The working group consisted of leading academics on violence prevention, policy makers (including people who worked with Presidents Obama and Mandela) and a small number of practitioners. We were the only UK organisation present.
We were given an opportunity to speak, but rather than it be from a leadership perspective, we asked a young person to give their thoughts openly. Serena spoke brilliantly about feeling excluded in her city and how violence can manifest itself in different ways. She was brilliant and was asked to input further to an academic volume around Identity Based Violence, challenging the world to change!
One of the practitioners was Santiago Uribe Rocha, the CEO of Medellín Resiliente from Colombia. Coincidentally Santiago and I and messaged each other at the same time as we both wanted some more information about what each other did.
I wanted to learn how they moved institutions to tackle things differently in a city that was once the world’s most dangerous place. Santiago was fascinated by our model and approach and was interested in whether we could operate in Latin America.
I didn’t know much about Medellín, to be honest I hadn’t even seen Narcos, but I knew of Pablo Escobar and the violence the city had suffered.
We then met fortnightly, exchanging ideas and context and, after six months, Santiago invited a team of seven to Medellín to create a formalised knowledge exchange. The trip also lead us to be invited to join the international network of Peace in our Cities, who seek to galvanize mayors, city governments, and civil society organizations to halve urban violence by 2030.
We have since returned to both Medellín and Palmira as a guest of Peace in our Cities, where we presented our partnership to an audience of global city leaders.
The initial drive for learning was simple – a young man we worked with and cared for was killed. This made us realise we needed to do more, to learn from world leaders in violence prevention and reduction, to be better.
A knowledge exchange on tackling youth violence with Medellín was an unmissable opportunity to grow our impact. We saw that the city is a living model for how people can come together to create profound changes to the places they live, how we can make the difference.
Medellín moved institutions, transformed attitudes and communities so I wanted to know if we could.
What we did
We toured the city with Santiago and his co-founder Jean incorporating discussions with policymakers, academics, visiting infrastructure projects and meeting people from the local community.
These weren’t sterile visits but ones that meant we started to understand the city, its thinking, and its people. We listened to their stories, their perceptions of violence and the challenges they are still facing. The visit was full of opportunities for reflection. The big question for every visit, every conversation was what could we learn and what could we apply to Bristol?
We reciprocated Santiago’s hospitality recently where Santiago met different communities here and understood how not everyone has equal access to, or experience of, the city. Working together we focused on our programmes and model plus understanding how the wider context in Bristol affects what we can do.
What it means
Santiago is a world leading expert in violence reduction and prevention. He has worked in 52 countries and over 300 cities and believes that our programme is in the top two or three he has ever seen. Santiago will be working with us to help us do more.
In exchange Medellín want us to work there and across Colombia. Their political leaders are interested in our model and how we can make their cities safer. They also see ways in which, by combining our knowledge, we can make both places safer.
Bristol will benefit, at no cost to itself, from worldwide experts looking to work here to help the city. These are being funded externally thanks to this relationship, help us form alliances and take a global approach to make this city safer. In an environment where three young people we worked with have died through knife crime, we have to find ways to learn, innovate and work together.