From Street Gang to Service Industry in Panama

 
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Fortaleza Tours Invitation
Fortaleza Tours Invitation

Because You're Invited...

As Fortaleza Tours, the third business to emerge from the Esperanza Social Venture Club, celebrates 365 days of transformation with a toast to all its supporters this Saturday in the Callejon at 7pm.

It’s relevant to point out that most gang reintegration programs of the world operate in one of two ways:

Either they open their door and say, “Come to us as an individual and we’ll help you get out of a gang.”

Or they say, “Come to us as a group and we’ll help deconstruct your gang so that each can go on his own path.”

But as you may have gleaned, Esperanza is a little different.

We attempt to harness the very characteristics that made that gang “functional” in it’s own unique way…and divert those dynamics in a pro-social direction.

That’s why younger graduates choose to be placed in a formal job setting.

While the higher leaders of the gang who have charisma, leadership skills, and hustle can actually launch their own business...

The process of training the young men that now operate Fortaleza Tours went something like this:

Step 1: Graduate meets with small business specialist to design dream business plan (in the case of Fortaleza, walking tours of a former red zone)

Step 2: Graduate learns Powerpoint and Excel

Step 3: Graduate presents business proposal to panel of Casco Viejo business leaders

Step 4: If approved, Esperanza provides seed capital to graduate’s start-up business

Step 5: If proven motivated, Esperanza provides graduate with ongoing legal, marketing, and moral support via our content mentors and volunteer network

It should be noted that we didn’t come up with this process entirely on our own…

We had help from a team from MIT’s Sloan School of Business Management, who expressed interest in helping simply because they had never seen a program like this executed before. And neither had we!

But suffice it to say, today three months into operation, Fortaleza Tours is bringing in approximately $3,000/month in revenue and social metrics are all pointing in the right direction.

If you are wondering what Fortaleza's impact on the neighborhood looks like...check out the attached map:

It shows that in the past 15 months, there have been ZERO REPORTED CRIMES in the Fortaleza territory. This is something the police, our neighbors, and the members of Fortaleza itself are very grateful for. 

Apart from being featured in all kinds of positive press outlets, we all think this is really the cause for celebration, and we hope to share the moment together!

Where: Fortaleza Callejon
When: 7pm-9pm Saturday, March 28th
RSVP: Jaffet Glissant 6031-8961

Sincerely,

- Matt, KC, & The Entire Esperanza Team

Map Of Crime In Casco Viejo
Map Of Crime In Casco Viejo

Links:

Graduation Invitation
Graduation Invitation

This Friday, January 16th is a huge day for us here at Esperanza San Felipe: 

First and foremost, our newest group of young men will graduate from the Esperanza reintegration phase of the program at 10AM at the American Trade Hotel!

Some of these young men will be placed into jobs here in Casco Viejo and the surrounding areas.

Others will start their own businesses.

As a loyal supporter, we wanted to make sure you received an invitation to this event (attached).

As this is our third graduation, we know there's a very special energy in the room during these sorts of graduations and we'd be honored to have you share in the moment.

Second, in the same evening (if you're not able to make the graduation) we will be hosting a photo exhibition LAUNCH PARTY at Diablo Rosso cafe here in Casco.

This exhibit is a product of an art therapy project in which the boys used cameras and some basic photography training to tell their stories.

Apart from the wonderful art work and imagery...

It will be great to have you there for a drink and to celebrate this next phase in their lives.

Both invitations can be found attached (and feel free to forward this to friends and colleagues): 

Photo Exhibition Invitation
Photo Exhibition Invitation
Group three, day 1: At the retreat in Penonome
Group three, day 1: At the retreat in Penonome

When you last heard from us we had just wrapped our second intervention (with the Forteleza group), reporting 85% employment/entrepreneurship, along with other extremely promising statistics. We'll we are proud to let you know that Forteleza's employment and entrepreneurship statistics haven't changed, and we've now started our third intervention.

The latest group started three weeks ago and is still 19 strong (from 21 orignially), which is by far the best retention rate we have ever seen. They have passed through the full personal develpment cycle, working on self-esteem, communication, conflict resolution and other topics, both in groups and individually with the staff psychologists.  

This week they began the skills development phase, which will last unitl mid-January, when they will start jobs or start businesses.  There is a lot to do between now and then, but we're really excited about this group. 

If things go as well as they have with the previous two, this will the the third of four gangs in our community that have committed and changed thanks to your support and the hard work of the Esperanza technical team. 

If you're thinking of a gift for the person who has everything this year, why not make them a member of the Esperanza Social Venture Club. It's kind of amazing what a lot of people giving $25 per month can do!

Links:

Jafet, Forteleza Tour
Jafet, Forteleza Tour's Marketing Manager

In January 2014, we began working with the Ciudad de Dios gang in San Felipe. Following graduation in April, we reported that the group voluntarily removed their graffiti, adopted the name “Forteleza." Some had begun working and some had started businesses.

At the six month mark we asked an indpendent firm, Vitalitas, to help us survey the participants, police and community to understand what changes had taken place. Here is some of what they found:

  • 85% of the graduates are still working A majority of police and community members surveyed reported a positive change in the participants' behavior
  • Only about 20% of the residents surveyed believe there is an active gang on their street, versus over 60% prior to the start of the program.
  • The participant's risk factors (arrests, negative conduct, victimization and involvement with drugs) have dropped sharply, while their protection factors (social capital and participation in society) have increased.

We were thrilled by those statistics. And thankful for everyone who supported this intervention. But maybe most powerful were the words that the participants spoke to the interviewers about the changes they felt:

  • “My mentality has changed, my way of making a living has changed. Now I have a vision for the future. I don’t think about killing nor in being killed.”
  • “I don’t live trapped, running from the law, thinking about food.”
  • “Before people looked at me with fear. Now they respect me.”
  • “Now I can heal wounds I caused to my community.”
  • "I can walk with tourists and be part of society."

Employer reviews of the graduates working in Casco hotels are positive and Forteleza Tours is going strong. The boys are making a living and creating a vibrant cultural attraction in an area that tourists feared just a few months ago. (The full report is attached as a .pdf, which includes the a project finance summary).

So while there is a lot of work left, we are comfortable saying at this point that the intervention was a sucess. Casco Viejo has one fewer gang and eleven new leaders thanks to your help!

We learned a lot from this intervention and are looking forward to doing it again with one of the two remaining Casco Viejo gangs starting in October. If you know anyone who would be interested in knowing about Esperanza, please encourage them to become a member of the Esperanza Social Venture Club. We depend on members' monthly membership dues to keep this good work going!

Josue, American Trade Star Bartender
Josue, American Trade Star Bartender
Marco, Forteleza Tours
Marco, Forteleza Tours' Sous Chef
Antonio, explaining graffiti to guests
Antonio, explaining graffiti to guests

Attachments:
La Prensa Covers Forteleza
La Prensa Covers Forteleza

In March we reported on the graduation of Esperanza's second class, but we all know that Esperanza's goal isn't to gradaute young men, it's to demobilize gangs and give their members a chance to be productive parts of the community.   Esperanza invests heavily in post-graduation support, and we are very happy to report that so far, two months later, things are going very, very well. 

Let's start with the quantitative:

--Of the ten graduates, nine are still working full time or have started their own businesses.  

--All have shown substantial increases in levels of social integration (we measure size of social and professional networks, and contacts with formal society such as bank accounts, drivers licenses and use of public services). 

--None have been arrested since graduation (though police harrasment continues to be a challenge).

--Excitingly, two micro businesses have grown out of this group. As you may recall, Esperanza has a separate track for leaders who show entreprenuerial drive, and at the graduation the former gang leaders presented a plan to do tours of their neighborhood and start a pop-up restaurant in their alley. Well, they did it and we can only describe it as a raving sucess. Three Saturdays in a row now they've had close to 50 people at their restaurant, grossing $700-$800 each night, on top of tours several days a week. In total they say it is far more than they were making before from illegal activities. On Sunday, La Prensa published an article about them so we expect even more sucess going forward as word gets out.  And a third micro business, an electrical contracting company, is in the works.

Qualitatively, there is a pride beginning to show up not just in the boys, but in other stakeholders as well.

--Supervisers at their jobs are giving good reviews, with several qualified as "excellent".

--The mentors who are helping guide their businesses are proud and engaged, the results of which you can see in the quality of food and cocktails the entreprenurs are serving at their Saturday evening events.

--Members of the community now walk freely in an area they used to fear, and are starting to use the new name, Forteleza, rather than the old gang territory name.

All this of course would not be possible without the amazingly dedicated Esperanza team of professionals and volunteers, and the support of the Esperanza Social Venture Club members. We have lots of work left to do with those who've graduated and many others in the community we haven't yet reached, but so far so good!

Pescado Frito and Mojitos at Callejon Forteleza
Pescado Frito and Mojitos at Callejon Forteleza
Tilson @ American Trade
Tilson @ American Trade
Forteleza Tours Flyer
Forteleza Tours Flyer
A resident beginning to know a new part of Casco
A resident beginning to know a new part of Casco
Josue: A star bartender in the making
Josue: A star bartender in the making

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Project Leader

Keyes Hardin

Panama City, Panama

Where is this project located?