Nonprofit innovation: fight violence with fighting?

21 Aug

I’m fascinated by nonprofit innovation– not innovation for the sake of change itself, or for the glamor of being first out of the gate with a new idea. Rather, I’m interested in innovation as a mindset for problem solving and opportunity tapping. Drawing from global examples, I’ve conducted several workshops on Five Mindsets for Nonprofit Innovation, and this month’s Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) features a wonderful example of one such mindset: flipping an idea.

The “flipping” mindset refers to intentionally exploring the opposite of your first strategy idea to address a given issue. The SSIR article describes a Brazilian nonprofit called “Fight for Peace” or “Luta pela Paz” in Portuguese. Based in Rio de Janeiro, its goal is to help street children survive and thrive, even as they’re surrounded by drugs and gang violence. Luke Dowdney, a former British amateur boxer, founded the organization 12 years ago after writing his dissertation on violence affecting Brazilian street children. Dowdney sees boxing as a way to build connections with “young people who don’t find what they need in traditional youth programs.” Literally, he’s helping young people focus on their ability to fight back against poverty by experiencing a very tangible link between hard work and winning, between self control and empowerment.

The Fight for Peace program is not all about boxing. It includes elements of mentoring, job training and leadership development. But at its core is a very counter-intuitive idea; to fight violence with fighting. And it’s been effective.  The United Nations Development Programme is one high profile endorser.  Organizations in eight other countries, including the United States, are working to adapt the Brazilian model.