Pathfinding Cities

In 2019, End Violence piloted the Pathfinding concept in cities with a strong political commitment to ending violence against children. Pathfinding Cities, similar to Pathfinding Countries, commit to ending violence against children through collaboration, knowledge exchange, and evidence-based programming.

By working within cities, the Partnership hopes to rapidly scale the number of children reached — taking advantage of the fact that today, more than half the world's population lives in urban centres

Sometimes, national systems may not capture the realities of rapidly changing urban areas. The Pathfinding City model can help local officials work within a contained area to incubate and test new modalities of implementation. Pathfinding Cities must be locally driven, have real-time feedback loops and be responsive to dynamic urban environments. If successful, these approaches – which build on learning around localising national action plans – can be scaled nationally.

Within 12 months of becoming a pathfinding city, government leaders are expected to make a public commitment to ending violence by:

  • Appointing a senior city government focal point;
  • Convening and supporting a multi-stakeholder group to build consensus;
  • Conducting data audits across city departments to build a coherent and quality monitoring system to measure change;
  • Adapting and developing an evidence-based intervention plan that aligns with the national action plan; and
  • Consulting with children and following Convention on the Rights of the Child standards on child participation.

Within 18 months, programming and implementation research should begin, using adaptations of the 7 INSPIRE Strategies. By measuring existing efforts within cities, practitioners and researchers in Pathfinding Cities are better equipped to understand what is working — or what needs improvement — to end violence against children.

Valenzuela, the Philippines

Valenzuela, a bustling city in the greater Metropolitan Manila, became the first End Violence Pathfinding City in May of 2019. For years, the government had been working to reduce violence against children through city-wide initiatives, including a school-based mindfulness programme, teacher training on violence and abuse, and other programmes. Valenzuela was recognized as the second safest city in Southeast Asia when it became Pathfinding.

Linking with the Partnership has deepened Valenzuela’s commitment to ending violence against children. Under the leadership of Mayor Rex Gatchalian, the End Violence Lab brokered, convened and documented a series of essential consultations and capacity-building activities to support the localisation of the Philippines Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children. This work led to the creation of multiple publications, including child-centred indicators to complement INSPIRE, an outcome mapping tool, and a city-friendly guide on the processes that can help cities use this model.

Since then, the End Violence Lab and our partners in Valenzuela have established a Pathfinding City coordinating group, a data working group, and a broader cross-sector coordinating group to streamline efforts across the health, social welfare, education and justice sectors, and to track progress within the community.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

In October of 2019, Sao Paulo, Brazil became End Violence’s second Pathfinding City. Under the leadership of Mayor Bruno Covas, the city of 12.18 million reaffirmed its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, with a special focus on upholding children’s rights and protection.

Sao Paulo has created a cross-sectoral committee to focus on preventing violence against children and adolescents. This builds on the city’s earlier development of a municipal plan for early childhood, which officials use to promote safe, healthy environments for children. End Violence is working with the city of Sao Paulo to document solutions and lessons learned throughout the Pathfinding City process.

Pelotas, Brazil

Pelotas became a Pathfinding City in September of 2020. As a Pathfinding City, the Government of Pelotas hopes to strengthen their current programming and learn from the work of others, including Valenzuela and Sao Paulo.

“By working together, we can transform a city,” said Paula Mascarenhas, Mayor of Pelotas. “And by designing creative strategies and building bridges between different sectors, we can do this for little money.”

Pelotas’ commitment builds on years of work toward making the city safer for children, including an INSPIRE-infused package – the Pelotas Pact for Peace – that Mayor Mascarenhas drove forward in 2017. By becoming a Pathfinding City, Pelotas hopes to use its experience to help others adapt and implement their own programming.

Read more.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

On 25 April, 2022, Buenos Aires became the world’s fourth Pathfinding City. The city will work to make safer environments for children through collaboration, knowledge exchange, and the development of evidence-based programming.

Through Pathfinding, Buenos Aires seeks to encourage a paradigm shift in society's view towards mistreatment and violence and strengthen the role of the existing systems for protection of children and their rights. End Violence will work with the city to create a diagnosis and assess the concrete measures to be taken and policies to be implemented. The alliance also aims to promote cooperation and exchanges with other Pathfinding Cities, such as Pelotas and Sao Paulo, Brazil. By measuring existing efforts within cities, practitioners and researchers in Pathfinding Cities will be better equipped to understand what is working — or what needs improvement — to end violence against children.

Read more.

What Pathfinding Cities can teach us about preparing to end violence

In 2030, at the end of the lifespan of the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is projected that 60% of the world’s citizens will live in cities. Africa will need 1,000 new cities the size of my hometown Edinburgh in the next 10 years to accommodate projected population growth and the shift from rural to urban.

This reality means that an increasing majority of families and children are growing up in urban and peri-urban communities where complex social and infrastructure challenges shape nearly all aspects of their lives. These children are part of the growing global cohort, currently estimated at 1 billion, who experience some form of violence every day.

In 2016, the UN Secretary-General launched the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children — known as End Violence — catalysing global resources. An important part of this is End Violence’s work with a growing number of pathfinding countries to develop national violence prevention plans and accelerate implementation.

Recognising the potential to also harness civic leadership in rapidly changing cities, End Violence is initiating a pilot to explore the concept of Pathfinding Cities. Pathfinding Cities use the INSPIRE Seven strategies for Ending Violence Against Children to understand the drivers of violence and to build integrated responses that improve the lives of children and young people.

Thanks to peer-to-peer learning, supported by the Global Partnership, three other Pathfinding Countries in Cambodia, Colombia and Uganda are exploring similar opportunities to work at the city level with their stakeholders.

Rapid learning in 2019 in a proof of concept Pathfinding City — Valenzuela in the Philippines — demonstrates that building citywide stakeholder capacity, including the capacity of young people, is critical to sustaining effective violence prevention for decades to come. Pathfinding Cities must be locally driven, have real-time feedback loops and be responsive to dynamic urban environments. As well as working with individual cities we have recently begun bringing together civic leaders, service leaders and scholars from each of the pilot Pathfinding Cities. Each of their situations is unique with specific challenges and contexts. A standout observation by members of this group is the importance of the social and interpersonal dimensions of firstly, leading complex interventions at a city level; and secondly, of the power of the connections between cities.

So far, our approach to Pathfinding has been up-close and personal. An expert, multidisciplinary external team works closely with national or city level teams in adaptive cycles of learning, implementation and evaluation in each Pathfinding city or country.

Early evidence suggests that this intensive approach works and is a proportionate investment in the lives of children and families. Yet, this approach will also, in an important way, fail.

One of our big questions is scaling. Ending violence against children by 2030 in all cities is essential to delivering Sustainable Development Goal 11, to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In 2030, there will 4.9 billion people living in urban areas and while growth in large cities is part of the picture, over half of this urban population will live in a vast number of cities and other settlements of 500,000 or less. We cannot wait until we have a perfect prototype Pathfinding City. Scaling has to be baked in from the start, otherwise, we risk creating approaches that only function with intensive external support and resources.

Right now, we are not close to having a model for scaling. But we have identified key ingredients needed to bring massive multi-city scaling to ending violence:


By being explicit about the extraordinary human dimensions that make complex interventions stick we can catalyse existing and new communities of practice that motivate, celebrate, re-energise, level up, learn and invent together. These can deliver at a national, regional and global level and be configured to fit with regulatory, education, and justice systems; build hyper-local affinity groups, and leverage social and cultural connections to share experience and offer companionship in through good and bad.


Civic leaders face resource allocation trade-offs. Becoming a Pathfinding City has not only to be the right thing to do; it has to be clearly understood – and politically sellable – as an investment in children now and their futures as adults.


Ending violence has to be locally led and delivered — not dependant on external support or drivers. The support that external actors provide should be adaptable, build on the local context. Children’s part in decision making is an essential element of this local leadership.


Cities need to understand and share progress. The Global End Violence Against Children Knowledge Network is coordinating partners to deliver a range of products to enable them to do so. These products are 1. a methods menu offering a selection of rigorous approaches for baselines and surveillance; 2. an evidence and gap map on violence prevention strategies for future research planning; and 3. a resource pack on child participation in VAC research.

Our work with Pathfinders is ongoing. End Violence Lab hosted a Pathfinding Delegation in Scotland in September 2019 to participate in a Learning Journey. The vision of this learning journey was based on the belief that bringing people together, who are working on the same problem in different parts of the world, increases learning and galvanises action.

Now our ambition for the year ahead is to mobilise resources to continue learning with this group of individuals from Pathfinding Countries and Pathfinding Cities in order to strengthen and accelerate the work of ending violence against children in pilot cities and inform massive multi-city implementation strategies for ending violence against children. While pilot Pathfinding Cities show early promise and we are excited about the possibility of radical scaling, we are concerned whether it is possible to scale the support for people and relationships essential to leading complex interventions at a city level.

This article draws on ideas and material created by independent consultants Debra Williams Gaulandi and Wendy Ball; Dr Debi Fry, University of Edinburgh; and Catherine Maternowska, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

Children walk down the road in Mexico.

Image Credits

© 2018 Barbara Davidson for End Violence