September 27, 2018 | By Brian Hanson, Flavia Carbonari

Deep Dish: Cities Combatting Urban Violence

Of the 50 most violent cities in the world, 47 are in the Americas. This week's Deep Dish features World Bank citizen security expert Flavia Carbonari, Mario Maciel from San Jose's Gang Prevention Task Force; and Medellín's Chief Resilience Officer Santiago Uribe discussing how cities can combat urban violence. 

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Transcript

Brian Hanson: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson and today we're talking about efforts in the Americas to reduce urban violence. I've got Santiago Uribe, the Chief Resillience Officer from the city of Medellín. Welcome

Santiago Uribe: Thank you so much. Thank you for the invitation and hosting us here in Chicago.

Brian Hanson: And also with us is Mario Maciel, a Division Manager of the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force for the city of San Jose, California. Mario, welcome.

Mario Maciel: Well thank you Brian. Thank you for the opportunity.

Brian Hanson: And the third person joining us is Flavia Carbonari, a consultant with the social development department at the World Bank.

One of the things that struck me is that if one looks at the 50 most violent cities in the world, if you just look at homicide rates, right, murder rates and you ask where those 50 cities are, the most violent in the world, 47 of the 50 are in the Americas, are in this hemisphere. And Flavia, if I could start with you. Why is it that North and South America are home to this really devastating problem?

Flavia Carbonar: Well first of all, thank for the opportunity of being here. I think there's one thing that we need to mention. When you talk about the rank of the 50 cities, that we also have other regions that have lack of data. Although that is important to bring up, that number, because it's real and this is, in my view, one of the top concerns in most of our cities in the Americas. There's also this issue of lack of data.

For example, in Africa we could have had other cities in that list but despite that, I think part of the reason that this is a regional problem, I mean, we have a lot of the risk factors present in all of our region. Right. So the availability of guns, for example is something that we have all over the region. Of course, there are difference between the rates of violence that you have in US cities and some in central America and in Brazil. There is difference but they're also, in-land America for example, cultural factors that lead to that.

And we also have the segregation, the social exclusion that leads to this in specific areas. You have that in Chicago and you have that in Brazil, and cities that you have that in [inaudible 00:02:23]. So a lot of those macro factors that we experience in different countries, you see them all over the region. There are many factors. It's a very complex problem.

Brian Hanson: Any other thoughts on what creates this pattern in our region?

Santiago Uribe: Well, thank you Brian again. I think after three of these events, we started meeting here in Chicago actually almost three years ago and we're back again, reflecting on this issue. It is always a question mark on, is culture playing any role there? And I'm not saying that in a specific culture brings a factor of violence but there are certain ideas inside culture like masuclinities. And when you see that idea of macho in Latin culture that is also present in Afro-American, Afro-Columbian, Afro-Brazilian culture, that brings a ground for violence to emerge. And especially in the most vulnerable but amazing network which is the family. And once violence emerge in families, it's very hard for you to create a peaceful society.

So we have to pay attention into these cultural factors that played an important role in terms of violence, and of course in terms of our determination to focus on attaining that issue there on the ground within families, within communities. And that's important to really acknowledge and be conscious of that.

Mario Maciel: yeah, Brian I would also add that I think there's an overlay of economics there that seems to pop its head out. Many of these countries that are experiencing this, I would say, is a manifestation and a byproduct of inequities, and isms, and things that we're not ready to talk about completely but they're commonalities across this whole region you're talking about. So I think it's be farfetched to walk away from that as a variable in this whole discussion.

Brian Hanson: One of the things that has been so fascinating for me over the last two days since we've been talking about this is, not only is there a major problem but there also are really helpful stories. I mean Chicago, this is obviously ... gun violence is a problem that we confront here in our city and it can feel intractable sometimes, right, or it's moving in the wrong direction. And all three of you have been involved in successful efforts and I'd like to hear a little bit about what were some of those ... what were the ways in which you were able to deal with these problems. Obviously they're incredibly complex, right? But kind of what are the approaches that you've found to be helpful?

And I'd love to start with Methuen. It's such a dramatic story. If we go back to about 1991, you know it's got a homicide rate of like 380 people per hundred thousand. Just a staggering, staggering number. And then if you'll look at now, you go from 380 down to 25. Somewhere in that neighborhood in a really short period, right. In 20 some odd years. So Santiago, what was the situation driving that violence and why were you able to make such great progress?

Santiago Uribe: Yeah. First of all, I think there were many factors. Drugs, but also inequalities, social economical inequalities. Cultural factors. Political factor, lack of leaderships and more than that, the lack of opportunities, especially for youngsters to create new ways of living but also proposing a new society. And perhaps that was our first step, to understand. And as Mario was saying, that violence is the manifestation of major structural issues. In our case, it was clearly social and spacial segregation. Two cities divided and there's more societies and a huge amount of our population suffering from basic needs.

And when I say basic needs, lack of education, schools, cultural centers, public spaces, transportation, and at the end of the day the lack of the ability to build and construct dignifying lives. And of course, that emerged into the [inaudible 00:07:33] forms and violence was one of them. And I think that first step helped us to put together a more integrated and comprehensive strategy, not only in terms of police and law enforcement but saying, "What if we really pay attention and we put all our budget, and effort, and human resources into building better schools, better parks, better transport systems. Bring them opportunities. Create jobs."

And at the end of three decades, we can see the results. And actually without being able to measure most of what we did because we didn't have time to measure. We have to just go into action and face reality, and I will suggest to any city around the world that we shouldn't look at violence as the main problem. We should really look at the structural issues behind violence. And they could be very different in different cities, but everyone has to really figure it out what is going on in your society that is becoming violent, and is having expressions of conflict and violence.

Brian Hanson: That's very helpful. And Mario, you've been involved in a sustained effort in San Jose. Give us a flavor for what the conditions were when you started this work and how they've unfolded.

Mario Maciel: Well you know Brian, San Jose is a blessed area. We're in the middle of the Silicon Valley which means the resources are abundant and with resources mean you can take immediate action. So unlike many of my counterparts that come from economically strapped scenarios, we were able to mobilize 26 years ago under a general fund process in a municipality where we weren't dependent on grants, or measures, or bonds but an actual true leadership commitment from counsel and Mayor to put a percentage of the general fund toward the most important issue of public safety. And with that, it's given us the ability to learn through time.

Brian, when we started, our city was experiencing, for its context, a spike in youth violence and it was unacceptable to the community. And I think there was a good nexus of great leadership and a demanding community both owning the concept that this was a community issue that demanded a community response, not just an elected official response. We had the resources to come to bare and over 26 years, we realized that as we were learning lessons, and being fortunate enough to have the economy to build out our models, that it was encombant on us to share.

You know, California's exported so much of this problem. When you talk about MS, 13, and 18 street and it's breeding grounds in Las Angeles, and San Jose, and all of California and the impact it has, sometimes you've got to take your blessings and share them. I'm grateful to San Jose for not only focusing on itself but sharing its best practices.

Brian Hanson: Terrific. And I want to get back to that in a minute. Flavia, you've worked in this area for years now. Do you have a favorite example of a city that you've seen be affective in addressing these problems.

Flavia Carbonar: I actually, I wouldn't say I have a favorite example and I try to avoid using the favorite examples. I mean, Santiago and I have known each other for a while and I appreciate him even more because he's the first one to put out the challenge on the table and say, "We still have almost 30 homicides per hundred thousand so we have come a long way but we still have a lot to do." So I don't have a favorite city but we actually did a study last year that I think is very relevant where we looked at 10 cities across Latin America because we have the famous reputation of being the most violent region in the world. So that also comes with some policy innovations that we have been trying, and failing, over the same amount of years that we have had this reputation.

So we looked in cities, Methuen was one of them. We looked at three cities in Columbia, three cities in Brazil, Mexico, and two in central America. And if you don't mind, instead of saying the city itself, we looked at what were the trends? That they were able to reach a sustained decline in homicide rates over a minimum of seven years. So what we saw was a lot of the issues that we discussed these past two days, first of all you need political leadership. So you actually need the Mayor sitting down and say, "This is a priority for my agenda." Bringing all the different sectors, education, law enforcement, health, everybody on the table and holding them accountable for a problem that has links to each of their areas.

So it's the teacher in the school that can do a job preventing violence. Changing that kid's behavior at that age. It's the Health Department. It's the Law Enforcement who is part of the solution and part of the problem. In Brazil we had 5,000 killings by the police every year. So they are also part of the problem. They are also part of the culture that we need to change, as Santiago was saying before. That was one of the first trends that we identified and coming down from the political leadership, in all those cities we found Mayors that created infrastructure, government infrastructures, that were able to put that agenda forward. So they created information systems that would look at, okay, what are the exact drivers? When are the homicides happening? Weekend, what hours, and then we could use that data to actually develop more evidence-based oriented policy. That was one thing.

They also had partnerships with civil society, with academia, to help them evaluate what they were doing, private sector in many cases. In Monterey, we saw a lot of private sector engagement. In [inaudible 00:13:51], there was a lot of private sector engagement. And when it comes down to the programing level, in all of these cases you had a combination of violence prevention and controls. So you had both measures, you had-

Brian Hanson: And what's the difference between those two? For most people they hear violence prevention and control and they're like, "Isn't that the same thing?"

Flavia Carbonar: Well, actually we did have an interesting debate these past few days here, and I'm not entitled academically to, to speak, so I'm speaking as a citizen.

Brian Hanson: Good.

Flavia Carbonar: I don't think ... I think you can do violence prevention with law enforcement, and you also have the violence prevention, the social violence prevention, that we talk about. Primary targeting, the whole population. Secondary, with at risk youth. Tertiary, with ex-offenders, or victims. I think violence prevention could be everything, when I say control I'm talking specifically about law enforcement. But in all these cases, we saw that the combination of the two in an integrated, multi-sector effort, was essential. I think these are some of the trends that we found that I think they played a stronger role in one city or another, but they were definitely there in all of those successful cases as we would like to call.

Santiago Uribe: Yes, and as Flavia is saying, once you realize this is a multi-factor issue, of course the solutions brings also multi-factorial responses. Saying that if you deal with violence, your city most likely will be more prosperous, more competitive. And will clearly be more inclusive. And they all integrated. By being more inclusive, your city becomes less violent and more safe and secure.

It's a very difficult point to draw a line where you can just isolate an issue like violence and say, I'm just going to focus on this. There is no way that you can deal with a problem on violence and security if you're looking at that. And the solution will bring you so many other good results for the city that we should really pay attention in a more integrated way, and also in a more multi-sectorial way. It's not only easier for the Mayor, or for police, and lawyers and enforcement, but it's also an easier for private sector: business, for the Chamber of Commerce, for shop owners, the teachers, the health department. Everyone must really be part of the solution, because we really need to tackle it that way, otherwise you are really going to fail.

Mario Maciel: And Brian, I think that multi-faceted approach was finally accepted. The justice approach to this issue was the mode of operanda until-

Brian Hanson: Arrest people and get people off the streets, lock them up.

Mario Maciel: Exactly sir, until ... The epiphany from law enforcement to finally come out with that slogan, We Can't Arrest Our Way Out Of This Situation, was the first epiphany we needed, so that they could open the partnership doors so the rest of us that had all the services that were truly going to be needed to have an impact on society.

Flavia Carbonar: We need that translated into Portuguese, desperately.

Brian Hanson: Well, that's a great place to go, because I want to talk about this issue, and Mario referred to it about sharing ideas, right. We talked about this is a hemisphere, bringing people from around the hemisphere together. When I told people this is a conference we're going to have, one of the reactions I got from many people was, "Really? Isn't every city so different that they have to solve these things on their own?"

You all are experienced in this. What is the benefit of people from across the hemisphere talking to each other? Cities talking to each other? Us thinking about this a hemispheric way? What are some examples of what that does for us in trying to solve these problems?

Santiago Uribe: Well the most obvious one is why to wait to become like [inaudible 00:18:17] 30 years ago. If we know what happened then, so don't do that, and saying that don't keep yourself forgetting social exclusion, economical exclusion. Leaving communities behind in terms of all those basic needs. Because sooner or later you're going to deal with issues of violence, conflict, and the eruption serious, serious and major, major challenges. Don't wait, because it's going to happen, and that's the first lesson. Don't wait, and really work hard on that, and work in a more integrated way.

Mario Maciel: And those that would say that the countries and the cities are so different that how could they convene and have any sort of efficacy. I'd have to come back to the human factor. I mean, what are we talking about? We are all the human race, and if we really take a look at things, we have more similarities than dissimilarities, yet we want to focus on the dissimilarities whether it's language or the skin color, or whatever the case may be. But if you can keep that common humanity lens on it, then it's a moral imperative, its incumbent, it's the due diligence work. We need to help each other, there's only one planet.

Santiago Uribe: Yeah, and we're talking about lives.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, I mean this is human life.

Santiago Uribe: Yeah, this is human lives. We're not talking about assets or roads or buildings, we are talking about lives. Dreams and aspirations, and we have a duty to protect them and let them realize their own project.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, Flavia, let-

Flavia Carbonar: Yeah, if I may add, at my work at the bank sometimes I have dealt with some resistance when you go to somebody and say, "I've seen this program in Chicago and it worked really well." And people looked at you and like, "Well, it's Chicago. We don't have their money, we don't have their institutional capacity." Which is, true in many cases, but then I always use the argument that the same way I was talking about the trends when it comes to solutions, the drivers, there are some common factors that you always see. What is a global trend? I mean, it's always male youth, they are the large majority of the victims and the perpetrators of crime. Race, in Brazil and the US, I mean in Brazil 75% of the homicides are ... the victims are [African 00:20:44] descendant. The same thing in the US.

You have a lot of the factors, are common, so you have the concentration of crime in very specific ... [inaudible 00:20:53] level segment. One example I used in Brazil when they were saying this, I said, "This neighbor ... I think it's Englewood-

Mario Maciel: Englewood, yep.

Flavia Carbonar: ... that you say in Chicago, has a higher homicide rate than Salvado Bajadeir in Brazil, which is greater than Juarez in Mexico, so we do have similar context. And when you narrow down and look what's happening there, the drivers behind that violence, they are very similar too.

We do have common realities sometimes, of course that when we have this learning exchange, we talked about a lot of this today, you have to take into account the difference and to adapt the programs. That's very, very important. But I think that doesn't mean you can't learn from each other and you can see what worked in your city. And so I think this is one of the most exciting things I've experienced in this work is the exchange we have with people in the ground, the people studying.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, and do you have an example, do any of you have an example, of either something that you've learned about from another city that you then modified and then tried at home, or something that you've done that you've shared and another city has picked up and successfully implemented?

Santiago Uribe: Oh yeah, we have many of them and actually when we came here two years ago, we start looking at an amazing program, BAM, Becoming A Man.

Brian Hanson: Becoming A Man was a Chicago based program, right?

Santiago Uribe: And of course, the first principle of knowledge exchange and experience exchange is you can't just translate what you do in a city and implement it in another city the same way. It has to be an adaptation process and trying to contextualize your implementation.

But clearly, when we saw BAM here, we saw a great potential, and later on we were implementing a very similar program there. And we took also Cure Violence, The Interrupters Approach. And it's working in [inaudible 00:23:00] We look at it in [inaudible 00:23:02]

And the importance is that the bilateral process of learning, because the way we learn on BAM and Cure Violence, and we adapted in [inaudible 00:23:14], then Chicago has the ability to think and say, "This is a new program, this has new elements, and now we can bring those new elements back to Chicago and re-engineer what we have designed." And it works like that.

Mario Maciel: Brian, there's also a programmatic change in that knowledge base, but as many of these cities and countries are in their infancy stage, cities like San Jose that obviously don't have the same violence context as some of these areas that we're talking about, does have structures in place, leadership structures in place, sustainability models that have kept us in play for 26 years. And some of that is what needs to be learned. You can't come just and implement projects if you don't have the right structure.

And so, who do you want to learn from? Cities that have had structure that have lasted six mayors, seven Police Chiefs, 26 years and not thrown out the baby in the bathwater? Because you need structure as much as you need ... and you need governance as much as you need programs and resources.

Flavia Carbonar: One of the most important things when we are having this learning experience is also, learn from the mistakes. That is why this kind of gathering, where we come together, is very important, because we are open about it. It's not selling the good experience.

I was telling our friends in Chicago that I saw a presentation last week by a World [Banker 00:24:40] League, about an adaptation of BAM that they did in Mexico. And they did change a lot of the program specifics, for example, they didn't have resources to hire Master Degree professionals to be the tutors, they had to use teachers.

Brian Hanson: Cool. And in case people aren't familiar with BAM, could you just really quickly ... what the basics of BAM are?

Flavia Carbonar: Okay-

Brian Hanson: Just so people can follow this-

Flavia Carbonar: I hope my Chicago colleagues won't be mad at me for not saying it correctly. But BAM, I think that the key component of BAM is that it offers cognitive behavior therapy to youth at schools in Chicago, and I know that they have other components, but that's the main activity that they do to change kid's behaviors, right?

In Mexico, they tried to do that, but they couldn't hire people so they used the teachers. There were a lot of-

Brian Hanson: So the people-

Flavia Carbonar: ... implementation-

Brian Hanson: ... and professionals who could provide that kind of therapy and training?

Flavia Carbonar: Yeah, they trained the teachers in school to do that. It was a much more ... The budget that they had, it was much less expensive, and they also did an evaluation and the results weren't really good. And it was great to see a presentation. A very honest presentation saying, "We did all these adaptations, this didn't work. This is what we learned." And one of the key lessons they had there was that, "Okay, we designed this program in Washington. We didn't take into account the specificities of the local communities, the schools, so that next time they try to redesign the program, take into consideration the challenge they had on a day-to-day, the extensive hours, no incentives for the teachers, et cetera. And now, they are redesigning with the school communities. So, I think that kind of sharing is also very interesting. When you try and you fail, to have this very honest exchange about our experiences.

Brian Hanson: And the other thing I'm hearing in this is the importance of local translation done by the local people on the ground. Right? That's such a great example, because often times we think, you develop a model, somebody kind of systematizes it, it's in a book, it's written down somewhere and alls we have to do is carry it out and say, "Do this. Do this. Do this." And I think one of the things that I've heard, and I'd be curious if this is right, is the importance of the local folks making it their own, and not just having imposed from the outside. And why is that important? I mean, one would think we've got the solution, just do this. So, why do you need that?

Santiago Uribe: Well, a straightforward answer to that is who knows better the factors and realities than communities and people who face the issue on a daily basis. Teachers, mothers, youngsters. It's very hard to really think on an external factor to be so effective, when there are really, really great human resources that are able to deal with it. So, I think one of the main lessons that we learned here is we don't really need to go somewhere and tell people what must be done. I think the ideal is area, for this is really, really capture the other value there in the communities and really give them capacities to be able to solve their issues. Because, let's be honest, I mean, we have failed communities as state public servants, and they have done something, trying to figure out ways of solving issues. And their not going to wait for the state or public official to go there. They're going to continue doing it. So, let's help them to get any strength and capacities to continue what they do well.

Mario Maciel: Brian, you know that dynamic tension between drinking the Kool-Aid of evidence-based methodologies and still keep hold of innovation, which those programs that became evidence based, started with innovation. They weren't born evidence based. And so, I think have the right group to ask this question, because if you had certain researchers in the room, they would say the only way you get comparable and transferable results is when you use fidelity to the umpteenth degree.

But, I've also seen the softening there, where they've now taken into consideration that you can't develop an Afro-centric program in Chicago and want to bring it to Latin communities in San Jose, California and expect, without cultural shifts and tweaks. And so, I start seeing the researchers be open to modifications, when before it was it's our way or the highway. And I think there's a fine medium there between honoring research, rigorous research, and evaluation and replicability and the concept of fidelity, but giving yourself the leeway to tweak it to work for you.

Flavia Carbonar: And if I may add one sentence to that. I think sustainability comes with ownership. If you don't have that, it will not last. And one of the things that I was very impressed the first time I came to Chicago was to see exactly what you just said about the researchers' commitment to the results of the policy. It's not about, and I'm talking about the Chicago Crime Lab, which is the one that we have worked with, but it's a model that, I don't know of any similar one in Brazil or Latin America, of people that are actually doing the research, not just to get published, but they are actually interested in the matter, in the okay, what do you need from me to implement better and get better results.

So, I think that's very, to have more of the academia and the policy world talking better to each other, because from the policy perspective, you also need policymakers willing to share data, understanding why you need to share the data, why it's important to invest in evaluation. How that will fit into better policy making, more cost-effective policies at the end. So, I think we still have a lot of work to do in that area.

Brian Hanson: It's Chicago that gets pointed to as it's own big murder problem. I appreciate the shout out to our friend Roseanna Ander and her organization, the University of Chicago Crime Lab. That Chicago also is a place that's not only creating problems, but trying to be a force in solving the problems.

One of the things that's so striking to me as I listen to you, there was a twelve-year-old girl killed in Chicago. She was visiting from Michigan to go to her favorite cousin's high school graduation and a stray bullet hit her and killed her. And I think we're used to, and this brings it home, right? These are individual lives that are extinguished, incredibly painful. And the news gives us these accounts and we hear way too many of these accounts. And, I think one of the things that is inspiring when I talk to you all is this sense of hope and a sense that these problems aren't intractable. As we close, I would just like to ask each of you, what gives you the greatest sense of hope in terms of making progress on this really challenging problem?

Santiago Uribe: I would quote my grandma, who used to say, "If violence is a not rational resort of resolving conflicts, why are we expecting rational solutions to become a peaceful society." So, clearly, love and care brings a perfect ground to bring families together to become a more protective environment. So, that's the first principle, is it won't come from universities, academia, it will come from our hearts. It needs to be love and care from each other, we human beings. And then, you can build whatever you want.

Mario Maciel: Brian, a mentor of mine and a well known individual, Jack Calhoun, wrote a book called "Hope Matters." I can tell you, it really does. There's nothing more dangerous than a teenager without hope. What would stop me from committing a heinous crime or robbing you if I had no hope to make it past eighteen? To be able to create a family of my own. So, when you talk about, it moves me, because without it, we're screwed. I mean, sorry to get street on you like that, Brian. This is the real world.

Flavia Carbonar: What I think gives me hope is people like him, who, when the first time I heard your story, which is very moving, and like you know of so many people that were able, not only to overcome their own challenges, but they became examples and fighters. It's not the best word for this, but promoter advocates of peaceful society. So, I think, first you have a lot of people committed to this.

We have already seen a lot of places that were able to turn around, like Medellin is one of them. So that also gives me a lot of hope. As Santiago was saying, at the end of the day, even the worst criminal has a mother, has a kid. I don't think anyone actually wants to live in a violent society. The drug lord in the favelas in Brazil, he also wanted his kid to be able to walk around safely.

So, I think at the end of the day, we all still want that and we have a lot of good people with the heart and minds in the right place trying to change things. And we have seen a lot of things that have worked. We know there are things that work. We still need to work a lot to learn more about it. We know some of the evidence, but we know that things can be, violence can be prevented and reduced. So, I think that gives me a lot of hope and I think that's why we are ... It's a topic, as we said in the beginning, at the end of the day, we're talking about people, literally. That's why every other policy issue to me, which I also care about comes second, because we need to care about our lives first, right? So, I think that's why when you have people committed to this, it's a very passionate and hopeful topic and area.

Brian Hanson: A great place to end this conversation. Obviously an important issue that we'll talk about again, but I just was to say, Flavia, Mario, Santiago, that you so much for being here and sharing your experience.

Flavia Carbonar: No thank you.

Santiago Uribe: Thank you.

Flavia Carbonar: And thank you for having us.

Brian Hanson: And thank you for tuning into this episode of "Deep Dish on Global Affairs." As a reminder, the opinions you heard today belong to the people who expressed them and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. If you like the show, please take a moment and tap on the subscribe button on your podcast app, so that you can get new episodes as they're produced. You can find us under "Deep Dish on Global Affairs" wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you think you know someone who would like this episode, please take a moment to tap the share button and send it to them as well. If you have questions about anything you heard today or if you want to know about upcoming episodes in advance or submit questions for upcoming guests, please join our Facebook group, "Deep Dish on Global Affairs." This episode was produced by Evan Fazio. I'm Brian Hanson and we'll be back soon with another slice of deep dish.

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

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