Violence reduction expert to address education at Central America Donors Forum


November 16, 2015

Washington, D.C. — A leading expert on gang violence reduction will present strategies to improve education and increase opportunities for at-risk youth during the Central America Donors Forum in San Salvador on Nov. 18-19.

Guillermo Cespedes, Creative Associates International’s Senior Citizen Security Advisor, will urge attendees to consider integrated, multi-sectoral approaches that blend violence reduction strategies with educational achievement initiatives.

“Violence in Central America is permeating families, schools, economic growth and development efforts,” he says in anticipation of his speech in San Salvador. “This is an opportunity to discuss with our donor partners how we can foster a more integrated approach to this crisis.”

Cespedes—the former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles who successfully led the city’s gang violence reduction strategy—will be the keynote speaker at forum’s “Education and Opportunities for Youth” session.

The forum, which is hosted by the Seattle International Foundation, will bring together leaders in government, the media, the private sector and philanthropy to tackle some of the toughest challenges facing the region—from migration to education to an epidemic of violence, in which youth are both the main victims and perpetrators.

“Effective education is about mastery of content and context,” says Cespedes, urging donors to consider integrated, multi-sectoral approaches that blend violence reduction strategies with educational achievement initiatives.

Proven strategies to reduce violence

Cespedes and the Citizen Security team at Creative have supported high-risk communities across in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama in developing and implementing local violence prevention strategies—including evidence-based secondary prevention pilot programs in Honduras and El Salvador to reduce the risk factors of joining gangs among high-risk youth ages of 10 to 15.

The approach uses the Youth Service Eligibility Tool, which is a method developed in Los Angeles during Cespedes’ tenure to evaluate youth on a series of nine risk factors that account for individual, family and peer dimensions.

In Creative’s Honduras pilot of USAID’s secondary prevention program, called Proponte, this approach reduced youth risk factors significantly at the end of the one year period—including a 77 percent drop in the crime and substance abuse risk factor and a 78 percent drop in antisocial tendencies.

Integrating these targeted secondary prevention interventions, Cespedes led LA’s transformative gang violence reduction strategy, which reoriented law enforcement toward community-based policing and constitutional arrests and blended it with a tapestry of social programs. With this approach, LA reduced nine different categories of gang-related crime by nearly 50 percent.

The education-violence reduction connection

In high violence communities—where violence permeates daily life—school, educator and student security is tenuous. Against a backdrop of threat and risk, educational attainment suffers.

“Effective education is about mastery of content and context,” says Cespedes. “The context of schools in many areas we work is one in which teachers and students are threatened, extorted, and even getting to and from school requires that families negotiate a variety of gang turfs.”

In this context, says Cespedes, threats and fear impede teaching, learning and effective cooperation among families, students and teachers. Integrating proven evidence-based violence reduction strategies with educational initiatives is essential.

Donors must also address school dropout and its connection to the violence, says Cespedes, who will raise the issue at the forum.

“Dropout needs to be examined through the lens of content and context, and dropouts may be both a contributor and a consequence of violence,” he says.

While the inability to master academic subjects and skills often contributes to dropout, Cespedes says security in this region is also a major concern.

“I think in many cases, schools are not a safe environment and families are making a conscious decision to stay away from school and keep their kids at home. In many other cases it is a relief for teachers and school administrators to have students who have gang affiliations leave school,” he says.

Additionally, at an age when youth are empirically most at risk of joining a gang (from 10 to 15 years old) and would benefit from quality education integrated with targeted violence reduction strategies, there may be no school to attend. In many high violence areas across Central America, the number of schools declines sharply between middle and high school.

Cespedes will bring these challenges to the fore in his discussion at the forum, with the aim of aligning donor efforts around integrated approaches that reach some of the most vulnerable youth and communities, reduce violence and make schools safer and more effective.

About Creative Associates International

Creative Associates International works with underserved communities by sharing expertise and experience in education, economic growth, governance and transitions from conflict to peace.

Based in Washington, D.C., Creative has active projects in more than 15 countries. Since 1977, it has worked in nearly 90 countries and on almost every continent. Recognized for its ability to work rapidly, flexibly and effectively in conflict-affected environments, Creative is committed to generating long-term sustainable solutions to complex development problems.

Started by four enterprising women with diverse backgrounds, Creative has grown to become one of the leaders among the U.S. private sector implementers of global development projects. Creative is minority owned and operated.

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