In Medellin Colombia 
Leer este artículo en español clic en la bandera en la esquina superior derecha 

Jim Capraro writes: Setting the context for the following article from Wolfgang Christian Goede
I spent the first week of February, 2015 in Medellín,Colombia. I felt honored to be invited.

Colombians have suffered fifty years of continuous armed conflict.  Only the elderly can remember the time before the war. After such prolonged hostilities it may be true that there is no family in the whole country that has not fallen victim to it. There seems to be no one who doesn't have an honest fear of, and anger with, "the other side" - no matter which side that is. Needless to say this has taken a great toll among Colombians, a people I found to be warm, friendly and welcoming.  The final stage of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrillas is currently under way in Havana. If successful, peace will follow.  But Colombia has been at the precipice of peace before, and each time their hopes for future harmony where shattered by new and horrific acts of violence.

I traveled at the invitation of Medellin's University of Antioquia. I was invited to instruct a seminar on relational organizing and community engagement. University faculty believed that these methods might provide an effective means for rebuilding community in Colombia as they are about to enter the post conflict era. In a country whose culture holds no memory of peace, working to create "one to one" relationships, the most basic element of harmonious human existence, seems to be a good and logical thing to do.  Creating and utilizing relationships to appeal to what is most meaningful to people caught up in the conflict has already proven to be effective as you can see in this TED talk:

How Christmas lights helped guerillas put down their guns, by Jose Miguel Sokoloff



The message of our seminar -- to create relationships across the boundaries which divide people -- was extremely well received. There was also recognition that while simple, this work would be very hard to accomplish. Workshops among participants devised creative strategies.  At the end of our time together there was consent among all that a name for the work that was conceived in one of the workshops should be adopted. The name that they believed best represented how Colombians felt about creating relationships with those they believed had victimized them is "Pet The Monster".  
Wolfgang Christian Goede is a multi-lingual journalist from Munich Germany who helped to organize the seminar and facilitate it's sessions wrote the following article documenting the proceedings.
But before the article let me say that Medellin itself is an incredible city, and an amazing and evolving success story. After decades fraught with violence wrought by the drug trade the city began its recovery in the mid 1990's. On its way to becoming a world class city Medellín has been awarded the Innovative City of the Year Award by the Wall Street Journal and was recently named by National Geographic as a top 2015 travel destination.  Medellin sits in a valley cradled by the Andes mountains and it's neighborhoods rise up the mountain slopes.  It's climate is temperate.  It's drinking water is pure. It's food is delicious.  The local drinks of choice is Aguardiente (each Colombian Department, a.k.a. province, boasts that it's locally crafted Aquardiente is the best) and Carribean rum. You would be hard pressed to find a friendlier people and a more lively culture. Medellin's "DON'T MISS" event is the annual Medellin Flower Festival or Feria De Las Flores that occurs during at the beginning of August.  The mountainous rural area surrounding is lush, sub-tropical and beautiful.  Anyone looking for a relaxing South American Nature escapade should check out Hosta La Finca.  One of Hosta La Finca's many specialties is an experience dubbed VolunTOURISM.
As so, now it's time to . . .

Pet the Monster—or: The Power of Relationships / Acarície al monstruo—o: El poder de las relaciones

Don’t run away. Confront your conflicts and challenges. Apply a novel art of conversation by: listening, engaging, and focusing, not on yourself, but on what the community wants. Then you create new social realities

This is, in a nutshell, the résumé of a conference held in Colombia’s “Miracle Town Medellín” (National Geographic). In this Andean valley not only technology is booming, but also the social sciences. They define the rules for a more peaceful, participatory, inclusive and thus thriving society. These principles, in general, could contribute to more robust social fabrics in other parts of this world as well.

The event at the Art Faculty of the University of Antioquia UdeA, Feb. 3rd through Feb. 5th 2015, explored “Community empowerment and transformation in the post-conflict period”. In 2015, Colombia’s government and guerilla forces want to sign a treaty and end 100 years of violence (and “solitude”: Garcia Marquez). Done and implemented right, this step could ignite a new soaring community spirit, in tranquility and creativity, and set global standards.

Jim Capraro from “Praxis International”, a seasoned expert in community organization and development, contributed to three special days, with 45 years of experience, personal charisma—and tons of stories, narrated in a highly engaging interactive style. Capraro is the founder and former long-time director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation. It channeled half a billion US$ worth of investments and improvements into this Chicago neighborhood.

The Chicagoan’s truly universal approach, developed, tested and applied in 87 neighborhoods in 26 major US cities, moreover in Italy and Germany, matches up with the laws of evolution.

Paraphrasing him: We may go back four or ten billion years, to the creation of the planet earth or even the Bing Bang. Nature is entirely open and adaptive. It always has interacted with new information and thus upwardly evolved. What this means for our future shape and fate, neither Einstein nor Hawking could predict, but there is a message for social scientists and community makers.

Go with what the people need and want, meet and listen to them, regularly “date” them and build new relations, draw up the strengths and weaknesses of a community, create and publicly roll out the visions, with the people, of the people, by the people—and especially the ones, “who have fire in the belly”, as Capraro recommends.

In his words, “take a deep look at the community’s pantry” and inventory, its “human resources and leaders”, involve them on the basis of what is “meaningful to them”, connect them and thus instigate social evolution. A cycle will be started, at the end of which “new values are created, moral and also economic ones”.

It all boils down, as Capraro tirelessly emphasizes, to “creating new relations”, or adhere to a new formula of social engineering: “Change relations, change reality”, in a One Million Colombian Peso sentence:

“All opportunities come from relationships.”

Indeed: As an outcome of the conference, a core group of 13 attendees was formed to start “relational meetings” in their communities. Other leading institutions in Colombia have expressed interest to engage Capraro. TED talks will provide a dissemination platform.

The three day conference at Medellín’s UdeA was attended by round about 150 people, among them students, representatives of NGOs, institutional leaders, community residents. It consisted of workshops, a public lecture and ended with the play “Pest of Rage”.

Art bridged the gaps and provided bonding force. As Art Faculty Dean Francisco Londoño had suggested in his opening, the event was an opportunity for the arts to get more entwined into stakeholder dialogues and to live up to its societal responsibility. “Pet the monster”, which became the informal subtitle of the conference, had been suggested by a workshop attended by artists.

Further bridges were extended to the social sciences. UdeA politologist Max Gil, expert in human rights and paramilitarism, provided an impulse in which he described the rather complex peace process. He expressed his hope that after decades of armed conflict it soon will be settled. The scientisit reminded the country’s elites of the necessity to firmly commit themselves to create more justice and equality. The effort must be embedded in an international conference on drugs and the controversy of legalizing them.

Principally, Gil said, long lasting peace will be determined in Colombia’s rural country side with the solution of agrarian issues and a fair distribution of the land. “Building new relationships and tapping the lost and hidden resources of the communities could make the difference”, responded Capraro.

The conference became real due to the efforts of the following contributors: Anneli Seifert, Director of Medellín’s Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Mauricio Celis A. and Eduardo Sanchez, UdeA Art Faculty professors and administrators, the sociologist Lina Maria Villegas G. and the psychologist Libia Luz Obeso M., the communicator Malena Reimelt, with the oral translations of Lina Maria Villegas, Ana Maria Tamayo, Alejandro Quiceno R., and the logistic support of Daziel, Marisol as well many other unnamed helpers, last but not least with the generous support of G+J Corporate Social Responsibility “Commitment”, Hamburg|Germany, dedicated to assist and empower vulnerable populations, for the 4th time now on behalf of Colombia.


PS: And don’t forget now: Don’t hide or run away, but pet the monster!


Capraro’s Presentation@UdeA Medellín, Colombia

More background & details

“An Activist For Human Togetherness”
Portrait of Jim Capraro in the Swiss Journal CREDO focused on Community Spirit…/140313_Credo_XVIII_Gemein…

Videos about Capraro

Capraro’s Munich Training

About Medellin, Innovation Hotspot and a “MUST to visit in 2015” (National Geographic)
The Science Medallion, in: EUSJA News, Winter 2015, p 9ff,
Museo de la Memoria, Memorial Museum,
TV RAI: Vento di Primavera…/ContentItem-ffbdff99-be50-469d-ae20-fd6…