By: Juan Camilo Cock M. Executive Director Alvaralice Foundation
Three years ago, Fundación Alvaralice embarked on a project that aimed to evaluate the Cure Violence approach to reducing lethal violence in Cali, especially amongst young people. For this project we received a substantial grant from the Inter-American Development Bank through the Japan Special Fund, and worked in partnership with Cure Violence Global and the Mayor’s Office of the city of Cali.
Cure Violence is based on the idea that violence behaves in a way that is analogous to an epidemic disease and can be controlled using the same general approach. “Exposure to violence has been scientifically shown to increase a person’s risk of adopting violent behavior themselves, meaning that violent behavior transmits and spreads based on exposure – just like an epidemic disease”. In a similar way to a contagious disease, violence can be transmitted when a violent incident sparks further violence, and that transmission can be interrupted in the same manner as the propagation of a virus can be stopped. In the same way that we can develop preventive measures to protect and treat people who are at the highest risk from a disease, we can work with those at highest risk to make it less likely that they will react with violence when faced with provocation. Just as we try to change behavioral patterns in the community to prevent contagion (think about using facemasks), we can shift accepted behavior towards violence so that it becomes more difficult for violence to take hold in a community.
Does the Cure Violence approach have the potential to reduce levels of violence in a place like Cali? The answer is yes, it does. The areas where the project was implemented in the neighborhoods of Charco Azul and Comuneros showed a reduction in the number of homicides (47% reduction in Charco Azul and 30% reduction in Comuneros when compared with the average number of annual homicides for the five previous years).
The independent impact evaluation of the project, carried out by a team of academics from the ICESI University, found a statistically significant reduction in retaliation homicides when comparing the neighborhoods that implemented the project when compared with the control areas. When one or several homicides occurred, the probability of another homicide happening in the next week is significantly lower in the neighborhoods with Cure Violence when compared to similar neighborhoods or neighborhoods in the same district. The same effect was found for non–lethal violent harm and threats. The study concluded that “the mechanism that Cure Violence proposes is working. Cycles of lethal and non-lethal violence have been interrupted since the project arrived in the neighborhoods of Charco Azul and Comuneros.”
The project also led to an improvement in the perception of safety, trust in institutions and improved social cohesion within the community. The changes in the young people who took part in the project were even more impressive. Participants stopped being involved in criminal activities, improved their anger management, learned about conflict resolution, improved family and personal relations, increased self-confidence, reduced drug use and made better use of public spaces and facilities.
The project identified some key factors that made these good results possible. The project was implemented by local teams made up of individuals with leadership skills who knew the local area well. Importantly, they had credibility and the ability to communicate with at-risk youth. Another key factor was the partnership with local government that made it possible to include several social initiatives that were complementary to the project, such as public space improvement, poverty reduction projects and training programs.
Some of the key lessons and elements of the approach have now become incorporated in the violence prevention and reduction strategies of the Cali municipality and by other local governments who attended the recent event where we shared the results of the project.
Abriendo Caminos, as the project has been named in Cali, has continued with a second phase with support from the Resilience Fund of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, and aims to maintain the positive results and to develop a community-based model based on this approach that can be replicated in other areas.
Abriendo Caminos has showed that organized communities using strong, evidence-based methodologies can contribute significantly to reducing levels of violence in their local areas and that this change can be a catalyst for other transformations that improve the welfare of those living in vulnerable areas.
The impact evaluation and a report on the project can be downloaded using the following links: