Importing Innovation: the Challenges and Rewards of Transplanting a Program from One Nation to Another

Simon Fulford, chief executive of Khulisa
, explains how and why his not-for-profit brought a successful South African prisoner reentry program
to the United Kingdom.


SIMON FULFORD: You walk into an
English prison, you’ve got a group of 10 young offenders. If you hand them anything more than one piece of paper,
they would probably throw it back in your face.

ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, director of
communications at the Center for Court Innovation. Today I’m with Simon Fulford, who is the chief executive
of Khulisa U.K., a non-profit started in South Africa and dedicated to breaking the cycle of crime and violence.
Welcome to New York – or maybe I should say welcome back, because I know you used to live here.

I did. So, I lived in New York from ’92 to the end of 2004 and loved it, it was brilliant.

I was really interested to see that you were also an award winning photographer and that you’ve used your work
as a photographer to engage the disabled community, and that you co-founded and directed a non-profit in New York
called Art Start, that received a president service award from President Clinton in 1997.

That’s right.

WOLF: I wonder if you could explain how you see art as a way to empower underserved
and disadvantaged communities.

FULFORD: I guess it’s empowering, I guess on multiple levels.
On a personal level, often being given and having the opportunity to express hopes, fears, challenges, needs, in
a way that is creative as opposed to verbal, that feels a bit more accessible, sometimes it’s less personally
challenging, and often kind of from that, it can be very empowering for them to be able to then say – and now I’ve
told you, or now I’ve shared this with you as an organization or you as a policy maker, you as a government
service provider, and this is the – I’ve now expressed my needs, and hopefully you can help meet my needs.

WOLF: So it’s a blend of personal growth and advocacy.

FULFORD: Correct.

WOLF: In your current endeavor at Khulisa, you know its mission is to break the cycle of crime and violence.
That’s a tall order.


WOLF: How does Khulisa work? And
maybe you could start by explaining the South African connection, or its origin in South Africa.

So, Khulisa is a Zulu word which means “to nurture”. You know, the freedom had come to South Africa and
the multi-racial elections. There was a huge increase and explosion in violent crime and my understanding from my
colleagues there, is a lot of it sort of took society by surprise, that in a sense, a lot of the black community,
and what they call colored community, kind of almost turned on themselves. So our founder, Leslie Ann van Selm, she
founded the organization and the first program they ran was using traditional African storytelling techniques so
it creates a rehabilitative tool and vehicle, sort of helping violent offenders reconnect with their cultural roots.
A lot of this community has been totally decimated by apartheid and trying to use that as a tool to kind of have
them see themselves as positive contributors to their communities.

WOLF: So these are people who
are currently in prison, or they were returning from prison?

FULFORD: Well, they were currently
in prison. It was part of their sort of pre-release and hopefully re-integration, as they call it in South Africa,
re-integration into their communities. Fast forward 16 years. Colleagues in South Africa in one of the leading crime
prevention NGOs – so they do a lot of work with young people, with children from their late teens to early 30s, gang
diversion programs, getting young people to stay in education, helping them develop community projects. We then brought
one of their program models, Silence the Violence, from South Africa to the U.K. in 2009 and we began to pilot test
that in English prisons, in English schools, and in the community.

WOLF: So you brought one specific
program of many that they have.

FULFORD: Yes, they have a whole raft of different programs and
interventions that they run in various different settings, in schools, in community. When Khulisa was coming to England
and talking about South Africa society, that has 20 times the U.K.s violent crime rate, has communities with 80 percent
unemployment, it’s a very, very extreme – and extreme poverty and depravation. So there was a question posed.
You’ve been very successful in South Africa in quite an extreme environment, a very fragile sort of social economic
environment. Could your success be translated to a more modern, Western, developed society? And with many more resources.

WOLF: That’s an interesting question too, that I don’t think many people ask. because usually
when you think of exporting an idea from one country to another, there seems to be a tendency to think that it would
go from a more developed, supposedly – I don’t know what the proper word to describe it would be – but a country
with more resources, or a so-called first world country, to perhaps a country that in many areas was less developed.
So it’s interesting.

FULFORD: It is an interesting model and I wouldn’t say we’re
unique in that, there are some other examples of it, but it is a new way of looking at it. I think it’s quite
subversive in some way, because the traditional development model is very much the west – America, western Europe,
Japan, whatever, the more “developed” countries, exporting their models of social development to, you know,
the less developed “third world countries”, and saying we’ve developed all the right solutions and
you now go through them. And of course, interestingly, if not ironically, a lot of less developed countries struggle
to implement some of the systems and processes that more developed countries can do. A lot of it has to do with resourcing.
They are very under-resourced environments.

WOLF: So tell me, what is the program and how has
it been working?

FULFORD: So the program is Silence the Violence. We have a youth version that
we call Face It. It’s a very intensive, motivational, behavior change program. It focuses on violent behavior,
but in many ways it’s about motivating participants to really understand themselves, to understand the triggers
to their violent and criminal behavior, to understanding – in a sense – the excuses and the value systems and belief
systems – belief with a small b – that allow them to behave in certain ways or propel them to behave in certain ways,
and beginning to try to challenge those or unpick them, so that they can make better choices for themselves, better
choices for family or community, and certainly better choices for their future. We work on a theory of violence developed
by, actually, an American forensic psychologist, Dr. James Gilligan. His approach is that violence is a learned behavior
for the majority of individuals who don’t have a mental health problem or challenge, or psychosis. If it’s
a learned behavior, then it can be unlearned. It doesn’t mean it can be unlearned overnight, but you have to
star that process and our program is a very intense, short duration, high intensity program to trigger the beginning
of that change process.

WOLF: Is it therapy group? Counseling? Classes?

That’s a very good question. It’s a group-led process. We use a lot of therapeutic techniques, and so we
use a lot of drama therapy, creative art therapy. It is based on cognitive behavior therapy techniques, and very
much the group, the participants actually, they provide the content. Their stories, their lives, their experiences
become the content that either the group works through as a group and individually, and by doing role play, by making
masks, and making hats that represent violent signs themselves, and making kind of the original self that they would
like to be through those kind of different creative techniques, sharing and having a dialogue around it that moves
them to a place that they would very much understand more of who they are, more of the connection of themselves and
having been victims of abuse and neglect in their own lives, or witnesses of abuse and neglect and violence.

WOLF: So how’s it been going? How’s the implementation, and what have the results been so far?

FULFORD: So, it’s been a really fun journey of meeting, you know, a healthy level of sort of interest
and certainly a healthy level of skepticism. And I would say it’s been a resounding positive opinion of how
it works. In that the participants themselves say it is one of the most profoundly impactful programs they’ve
ever been in, we’ve had academics evaluate and assess, certainly the short term impact on behavior change that
it can have a – when it works well, when the group dynamics work – that it can have a profound impact on propensity
for violence and reducing aggressive tendencies, and improving emotional well-being, that can be built on for individuals
thinking positively about their lives, and engaging in other rehabilitation programs – job training, drug and alcohol,
substance use programs, etc. We haven’t had the ability to do the long-term tracking on recidivism. Mostly we
just haven’t had the resources to do that. We’ve received some high profile grants for innovation in the
justice center, and we’re implementing one of those current projects now.

WOLF: Oh, a new

FULFORD: Yeah, it’s a combination of our Silence the Violence work with Through
the Gate mentoring to hopefully really embed behavior changes and learning of an offender once they’ve been
released into the community.

WOLF: I see. So – because it does sound like Silence the Violence
is sort of laying a foundation that would, perhaps, require continued engagement around other issues and job training
or whatever. So it sounds like that’s what you’re moving – you’re developing now.

Yes. So we’re adding in a rigorous process of referral from our program onto other service provision, or bringing
in a volunteer mentor who can support that individual, on a more personal way – meeting them once a week, talking
to them on the phone, you know, encouraging them to have goals and sticking to their goals about applying for jobs.

WOLF: And have you encountered any challenges related to translating the model from South Africa? Perhaps
cultural differences? Or have you had to make particular tweaks?

FULFORD: At its core, the program
content and the curriculum design was wholly transferrable. And a lot of that is because it’s not a South Africa
program, it’s universal therapeutic techniques, it’s cognitive behavior therapy, it’s drama therapy,
it’s kind of creative art therapy techniques. What is unique about the program is the way we’ve sequenced
it and our approach with this sort of high intensity, short duration, and then using what are a few more traditional,
indigenous tools such as the mask making, you know? I mean I know in ancient England they wore painted faces and
things like that, but they haven’t done it for about 2,000 years. Whereas in Africa, masks are still very much part
of the culture in rituals and ceremonies. So the mask making is potentially something that came more from South Africa,
but it’s therefore very interesting and novel in England. We use a hat making, which again is a slightly different
approach, and then we have what we call the wisdom circle, which is again a more African tradition of sitting in
a circle at the community, resolving an issue and having a talking piece that they pass around the circle. What we
did remove from the program in its adaptation was obviously a lot of the cultural references. A poem about South
Africa doesn’t translate to London, I have to say, and even less so to Manchester – if anyone knows their English
geography. What was also quite interesting is in South Africa, the prison system is so under-resourced that their
approach to running the program is often quite didactic. So they can go in, there are 20 guys in the program, they
can hand them a program manual to the offenders that was as thick as a phone book, and they would cherish it and
hold it, and they were thankful that someone was coming to do anything. You walk into an English prison, you’ve
got a group of 10 young offenders. If you hand them anything more than one piece of paper, they would probably throw
it back in your face. It was a very different approach.

WOLF: So you have to prove yourself?

FULFORD: You really have to prove yourself. You’ve got to really build and gain the trust of the group,
and it has to be earned, whereas in South Africa there’s more generosity with the group giving you the trust
from the outset, and it’s kind of yours to lose, whereas in England it’s – you’ve got to gain it.
And so we work on gaining it as quickly as possible.

WOLF: Well thank you so much for explaining
your programming at Khulisa U.K. and good luck with your future endeavors.

FULFORD: Thank you
very much.

WOLF: I’ve been speaking with Simon Fulford, who is the chief executive of Khulisa
U.K. I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. You’ve been listening
to one of our New Thinking podcasts and you can listen to more at You can also listen to
us on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening.