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[Live Conversation] Design – Not Guns

[Live Conversation] Design – Not Guns

A conversation presented by Amy Devers of Clever and co-hosted by Jerry Helling of Bernhardt Design, with Roberto Juárez from El Salvador.

This is the story of how design is making the world a better place, one street at a time, in the most impoverished gang ravaged neighborhoods in El Salvador. Designer Roberto Juárez, co-founder of Lero Studio in San Salvador, discusses how he is helping 10- to 15-year-old at-risk children to embrace design rather than gang membership.

The program engages young people in the design process to create neighborhood safe spaces and improve the appearance of their communities. They are becoming the catalyst for social change, using design as their weapon rather than guns.

To understand how important this project is, you need to understand the context of El Salvador.

Since the early 21st century, El Salvador has experienced high crime rates, including gang-related crimes and juvenile delinquency. El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world in 2012, but experienced a sharp decline in 2019 with a new centrist government in power. It is also considered an epicenter of a gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras.

In response to this, the government has set up countless programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership; so far its efforts have not produced any quick results.

Roberto and his business partner, Leo, have decided to take action and use design as a tool to help the kids stay out of the streets, and out of trouble.
Roberto and his team are shaping this group of kids using design as their common language. They created a space for them to gather, and be creative together.

“It gives the kids a sense of freedom, a place to be themselves, to be with kids their age, to avoid violence and be creative. We wanted to create safe space for the kids so they would feel that they they belong somewhere,” said Roberto during the live conversation.

“Life is a succession of choices. For these kids, each choice can put them on the path of having a good life or a very scary one.”

Roberto developed this program to empower the kids and give them opportunities to make choices by themselves, and encourage good choices. Teaching them through design to evaluate a situation and take action, letting them do things themselves, and trusting them to do the right things has been a big part of this program.

Jerry ended the talk with one important quote by Roberto: “Design allows the kids to envision a future they would have never dreamt of.”


See a recap for the WantedDesign Manhattan Online Conversation Series, presented with Design Milk + Clever, at wanteddesignnyc.com/online

About our guests…

Jerry Helling is President and Creative Director of Bernhardt Design. He repositioned Bernhardt Design from a domestic manufacturer of traditional wood furniture to an international brand with global distribution. Helling is widely known for supporting design education and mentoring young designers. He is credited with establishing an annual design studio at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 2005, he created ICFF Studio to provide assistance to young American designers in launching their careers. A featured speaker on design and business, Helling addresses audiences for organizations throughout the Americas and Europe. He also serves as curator and juror for various exhibitions and design competitions. In 2014, Helling was elected as the first President of Be Original Americas, an industry initiative committed to preserve authenticity in design. Helling resides in North Carolina with his wife Peggy and their three sons – Matt, Carter and Drew.

Roberto Juárez is an industrial designer based in El Salvador. Co-Founder and Creative Director of LERO Studio that co-designs solutions for human development and companies competitiveness. Also Co-Founder of IDWEEK that promotes a design community in El Salvador by creating spaces to share, learn and connect. Member of the Global Shapers San Salvador Hub, part of the global young leaders community of Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. As a Shaper he has been leading and supporting projects with other youth organizations on topics like dialogue, democracy, gender equality, entrepreneurship and peace culture. Selected in 2017 as one of the most promising entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean by the U.S. Department of State as being selected for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.

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