Conference explores initiatives to curb youth violence in Latin America and US

In April, the Program on Poverty and Governance (PovGov) at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law welcomed academics, policymakers, practitioners and youth leaders from Latin America, the U.K. and the U.S. to explore educational and entrepreneurial initiatives to support youth in places of violence.

Building on last year’s theme on violence and policing, the conference examined the rise in criminality among youth in both Latin America and the U.S., calling on attendees to share best practices aimed at curbing this trend. The conference served as a platform for attendees to highlight innovative government and community-based programs that have been successful in steering youth away from violence and towards more promising pathways.

"This conference is the result of a long reflection on the connection of poverty, violence, inequality and corruption," said Associate Professor of Political Science and PovGov Director Beatriz Magaloni who organized the conference. "However, our goal is not to reflect on the costs of violence, but to highlight alternatives that organizations, public officials and individuals are helping create. We want to reflect on the work that has been happening on the ground and on the revolution that these players are making."

The two-day conference featured two keynote addresses. The first was delivered by Brazil’s Sub-Secretary of Youth and President of the National Council on Youth (CONJUVE) Angela Guimarães who remarked on violence and its negative impact on educational and employment opportunities for Brazilian youth.

“The current youth experience is marked by violence,” Guimarães said. “There has been an expansion in access to education, work, formalization and quality of life, but violence continues to mark this generation.”

The other keynote speaker Héctor Castillo Berthier highlighted his 28 year-old NGO, Circo Volador, one of the longest-running social interventions in Mexico. The organization supports excluded sectors of society, promoting culturally appropriate arts and culture programming to youth in collaboration with community partners.

“We created a new common language that we could all understand,” said Castillo Berthier. “We planned things with them. We drew with them. We produced things on the ground with them. We gave them respect, self-sustainability and the space. This example must be taken into account when forming public policies."

Both days of the conference featured research presentations, uncovering some of the innovative evaluation work underway by the PovGov team. PovGov Postdoctoral Fellow Brenda Jarillo Rabling spoke about the effect of drug-related violence on educational outcomes for children in areas of high crime, such as Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Rabling’s study pointed to the strong connection between violence and loss of instructional time in schools where the quality and quantity of school days are lower than the national average, creating inequality within the education system.

Gustavo Robles Peiro, a PhD student at Stanford’s political science department and PovGov pre-doctoral fellow, shared the results of a comprehensive impact study, which evaluated the overall effectiveness of Jóvenes con Porvenir, a government program operating in Zapopan, Mexico, that offers work and educational opportunities for youth living in neighborhoods with high levels of crime. Robles Peiro’s research found that over a six-month period, youth exposed to the program exhibited greater interest in pursuing educational and career endeavors.

Academic research was complemented by the individual experiences of youth and youth advocates. Among them was Christa Gannon, founder and executive director of Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), a Bay Area-based organization, which works with local at-risk and incarcerated youth to build their skills and reduce delinquent behavior through leadership training, legal education and active mentorship.

“Our youth have incredible strengths, but often society does not see them,” said Gannon. “At FLY, we always ask ourselves how do we look for strengths and potential in everyone that we work with - how do we see our young people as resources and co-creators that have so much to offer us?”

Gannon’s remarks were echoed by a number of other speakers, highlighting the need to provide more platforms for youth to become active community citizens, whether through education, volunteering, leadership, or artistic and cultural production.

Former inmate Felix Lucero spoke about his 18-year incarceration experience as a student of the Prison University Project, an initiative that provides higher education to inmates of San Quentin State Prison in California. “[The program] affects people not only when they get out of prison, but also while they are in there… it gives us something to look up to,” Lucero said. “Education allows people to think critically about their surroundings and empower people to do things differently.”

Marcus Faustini, founder of Agência de Redes Para Juventude (Network for Youth Agency) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, expanded on the topic of youth opportunity, touching on his organization’s mission. “We knock from door to door in the favela. We don’t want to educate the youth, we want to walk alongside them. Social projects don’t have to give people fish, they need to teach people how to fish. At Agência, we go to the supermarket, buy the fish and cook it with the youth. We do things with them,” said Faustini.

Another theme emphasized by many of the conference speakers was the influence of arts and culture as an outlet for self-expression for many youth growing up in violent societies. To help illustrate the hopefulness of many of these youth projects, the PovGov Program hosted a photography exhibit inside the conference hall that contained a collection of twelve iconic photographs highlighting life in the slum neighborhoods – favelas – of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The collection was presented by Imagens do Povo, an arts initiative under Observatorio de Favelas (Favela’s Observatory), an NGO, which educates youth on critical urban issues affecting the under-resourced favela communities of Rio.

The conference concluded with a dynamic panel of youth activists and leaders who shared their inspirational accounts of experiencing and overcoming the challenge of criminality and violence in their hometowns. Drawing unconnected, but similar life stories of struggles and hardships, the panel provided examples of how individuals leveraged a variety of tools, resources, and community-based organizations to transform themselves – and others – to help bring about positive social change to their communities.

Mariluce de Souza, a social entrepreneur and artist from the Alemão favela in Rio, emphasized the significance of youth-to-youth assistance: “It is like a language from the community to the community,” she said. “We come together to demand respect and rights.”

Seeking to broaden its network and impact globally, PovGov also used the conference to serve as a launching point for its new International Crime and Violence Lab – Crime Lab – a new platform for academics and practitioners to share their work and research on crime and violence throughout the U.S., Latin America, and beyond. The Lab seeks to develop scientific and action-oriented research by assisting community organizations, government agencies, policy-makers, police departments, and other relevant players in Latin America - and eventually elsewhere in the developing world - to reduce violent crime and its devastating consequences.


Two of Crime Lab’s newest partners – Jailson de Sousa e Silva, co-founder and director of Observatorio de Favelas, and Marcus Faustini of Agência – signed a partnership agreement during the conference, opening the door to future research collaborations with PovGov focused on improving the youth experience in Rio.

This year’s PovGov conference was held in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West; the Center for Latin American Studies; the Freeman Spogli Institute’s Mexican Initiative; and the Center on International Security and Cooperation.

All speaker presentations were video recorded and can be found on the CDDRL YouTube page and below. To view other conference materials, including an executive summary and full conference report; agenda; speaker bios; and presentation slides, please see below or refer to the original conference event page.

Conference Video Playlist

Conference Materials

PovGov Conference 2015 - Full Conference Report

PovGov Conference 2015 - Executive Summary

Multimedia (Videos and Presentations)

Conference Agenda

Descriptions of Panels and Talks

Speaker Bios


Conference Report
PovGov Conference 2015 - Executive Summary