Around the world, youth face violence daily: abuse at home or in school, peer pressure into acts of violence, neglect by parents, gangs, drugs, bad role models, killing, and terror. But Get the Point, a Swiss non-profit organization, is doing something about it.
Get the Point Initiative (GPI) works to reduce violence through youth leadership. They’re building a unique Internet community as well as an annual youth leadership forum beginning in mid-2008. Their global community launches in October 2007.
Get the Point brings together the Non-Violence Project International (NVP), the Raoul Wallenberg Academy for Young Leaders, and The Nobel Peace Laureates Foundation. NVP has already seen success in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and in U.S. cities like New York and Miami. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented NVP with the Presidential Daily Light Award for best community project in the U.S.
I spoke with Jan Hellman, the founder of the Non-Violence Project and one of the founders of Get the Point.
Q: What inspired you to found the Non-Violence project in 1994?
A: I was working with the artist who created the sculpture symbol [the now-famous knotted gun sculpture]. We were on the Berlin Wall the day it came down. The sculpture had a huge impact on people—and from there we decided to work with youth and created the Non-Violence Project … Four million kids have gone through our program—close to 1,000 kids a day in Miami [Florida] alone.
Q: How will Get the Point’s social networking community make real change? It’s one thing to have the dialog, but who takes the initiative to lead in the community?
A: Get the Point takes the responsibility to collect opinions. We work to deliver these opinions to the relevant decision makers. Youth develop questions and we give them (and adults) leadership skills …The yearly forum is an extremely important part of the concept.
Q: How do you envision inspiring youth to lead?
A: Through inspiration, motivation, words, and guidance. We think knowledge is the best weapon against violence. We want to increase kids’ competence in asking these questions.
Q: How will you bring youth to your Internet community, with so many competing “communities” out there?
A: We make it daring, relevant, and entertaining—so kids will think it’s fun. These are very serious questions, but you have to motivate and inspire everyone. The way you do it is important. There is a lot of “heavy” content out there … But we believe our programs are fun and easier to follow.
Q: How do you make it fun? Through role-playing?
A: Yes. There’s lots of role-playing. And when kids come into the program, they can adapt it to fit their school’s needs.
Q: The GPI Internet Community and Youth forum will cover issues like conflict resolution, self esteem, media violence, sexual abuse, bullying, racial perspectives, religious violence, and intercultural violence, etc. But what about issues like poverty, access to guns, and limited educational opportunity—which can sometimes trigger violence?
A: In the United States and South Africa, guns are definitely an issue, but not so much in Europe. The approach is different [depending on the country]. In terms of poverty, in South Africa we have gone into schools and repainted classrooms; we got students chairs (they were often standing up) and new materials, etc., before we began. We had to make the atmosphere more appealing first ...
Q: What do you think is the biggest influence on youth: family or peers?
A: Peers definitely have the biggest influence!
Q: Your hope is that kids will not only gain leadership skills and establish networks but also open a dialog between youth and the school, the corporate world, the sports community, politicians, and city authorities. How do you get the various stakeholders to make this a priority?
A: We don’t. The youth are doing it themselves! They make it a priority themselves—we’re just creating a platform for them …
Q: What’s the role of corporate sponsors and partner’s employees on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and conflict resolution?
A: We’ve adapted one of our school-based programs to the business environment. Sponsorship with the corporate community includes a dynamic CSR strategy. The corporate world knows that it is youth that are the customers of tomorrow …
Q: Do you have any stories to share?
A: We receive tens of thousands of letters each year from parents, teachers, doctors, policemen, and many others who say we’ve saved their son or daughter from violence or gangs … the Mayor of Miami has spoken on CNN about how crime was reduced in Miami because of this program …
I’ll tell you an interesting story: The Chief of Police in Miami was on our board. He knew a gang member, named JC, quite well. JC was serving eight years in prison. When his fourth child was born, he saw the child outside the prison fence and [it really affected him]. The Chief of Police felt JC had lots to give and was very intelligent. They decided to release him early, under their own responsibility (not the Non-Violence Project’s) in two years. We employed him—and within six years, he was in Washington DC working there! [He worked for the government developing youth educational programs.]
He’s a fantastic guy—and he influenced entire communities because he spoke directly to gang members [about non-violence]. It’s something we couldn’t have been able to do ourselves …
Our program is done by and for youth. We open their minds so they can take the responsibility … [Jan explains about how the Non-Violence Project asked students from around the world to write proposals to eliminate youth violence. They expected several thousand responses. They got a million proposals!]
We selected two kids each from seventeen countries. Yolanda King [Martin Luther King’s daughter] was the moderator. The nine-point program, created by a group of sixteen to twenty-five year olds, was delivered to the UN.
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Violence: Up Close and Personal