2023 HONOURABLE MENTION
TOUCHÉ | Belgium
In a large, bright gym in Ghent, Belgium, people of all ages and abilities participate in a boxing lesson. Others join in online. This session is being led by Ismail Abdoul, boxing champion and member of the Belgian social enterprise, Touché. He helps participants with their technique, and encourages them as they jab and hook, practice their footwork or hit the heavy bag. He and his colleagues encourage participants to persevere when things get rough. He invites the participants to think about difficulties they face in their life and to address them with a different perspective. At the end of the session, participants are sweaty and smiling, having connected with friends and released the tensions of the day. As Ismail explains it, these participants are learning to fight in order to fight less. Boxing is one of the many initiatives Touché has developed to bridge gaps between different groups and teach people how to redirect their aggression and anger in positive ways.
Touché provides psychological and rehabilitative support to people who went through, or who are still going through, a difficult time in their life (e.g. a relationship breakdown, imprisonment, a professional crisis) with a particular emphasis on redirecting aggression toward positive goals and building tools to manage conflict effectively. At the same time, the organization works to shift societal perceptions by emphasizing that anger and aggression are universal.
Instead of providing constructive, interconnected responses to anger and its causes, society represses it and outsources its management to the criminal justice system, with imprisonment as the symbol of this escalating cycle. This reinforces exclusion, decreasing cognitive-emotional skills and disrupting the social network and safety net of individuals captured within this system.
Touché began offering solutions-focused therapy in 2007. Today, the organization offers a wide range of programs, from counselling and training, to boxing or stillness sessions, led by a diverse team that includes ex-prisoners. By focusing on a person’s humanity, rather than background, diagnosis, or “problem”, Touché fosters interpersonal connections based on respect and common interests.
Touché’s work is having a profound impact on individual lives, the wider public and, increasingly, on legislation in Belgium. By creating opportunities for members of traditionally excluded populations to meaningfully contribute their unique skills and perspectives, Touché is building a powerful model for a peaceful, inclusive society that is equipped to respond positively to anger and its causes.