Nanko van Buuren and the Impact of IBISS on Rio Favela Youth


Rio de Janeiro has over one thousand favelas sprawling across the city. Some are tiny or small, others hold over 100,000 residents, totaling in all about 2.4 million, or 20 percent of the greater city area population. Some favelas are more violent than others, mostly due to the drug trafficking gangs fighting for business, ascendency and turf, but all have interesting backgrounds and special histories. They all have problems, social differences and many people within the communities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) from outside are striving to give their young people an opportunity for a life outside the world of crime.

DSC_5814 copy

Nanko van Buuren, a Dutch psychiatrist who was earlier with the United Nations World Health Organisation, founded IBISS (Brazilian Institute for Innovation in Social Health) over 20 years ago to ”rescue” young people from these situations and offer them training, work and an opportunity to change their lives by joining normal society. Until his untimely death of heart failure this past February 2015, he had rescued over 4,700 youngsters. IBISS will undoubtedly continue without him, and this recent, insightful, Guardian article titled Guns, drugs and bandidos: inside the favela too violent for Rio’s armed police highlights the challenges, dangers and rewards of this unparalled humanitarian work. Click here for the full article and photographs.

Nanko: Loss of a Legend


It is with deep sadness that Richard and Margot announce the untimely death of our friend and partner, Nanko van Buuren, who died unexpectedly on February 14, in Rio de Janeiro.

BRAYCE Nanko Pic for Blog

How Nanko Came to be in Brazil

In 1985, humanitarian Dr. Nanko van Buuren, a psychiatrist with the World Health Organization (WHO), was sent to Rio to report on the brutal assassination of street children by police. Devastated by what he had witnessed, Nanko filed his report having determined to return to Rio and dedicate his life to improving the lives of young people in the favelas.

Nanko Establishes the IBISS Foundation

In 1987, he founded IBISS (Brazilian Institute of Innovation in Social Health) to “rescue” youngsters from exploitation by drug lords. Since then he has rescued a total of over 4,400 young men and women and rehabilitated many of them into society by employing them in his own organization as project managers. Nanko worked in the city’s most violent favelas (slums) to develop long-term, community-engaged responses to social conflict, organized crime, poverty and the loss of hope. Remarkably, through his tireless commitment he has managed to establish working relationships with both the government and dozens of favela communities and to work simultaneously in territories controlled by cartels at war with one another. His ongoing struggle to establish relationships between the favela communities and the broader society and communities divided by conflict has profoundly improved the lives of thousands of young Brazilians. For his commitment and service to humanity Nanko received the equivalent of a Knighthood from the Queen of Holland in 2007 and the Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship in 2012, an honor shared with only seven others worldwide. He was much loved and revered throughout the favela communities of Rio and was known as o Patrão, a title somewhere between “boss” and “godfather”.

BRAYCE Partners with IBISS Foundation

Richard and Margot first met Nanko in 2005 and established a partnership between BRAYCE and IBISS. Since then, Nanko has been a board member for our organization continuing to be an inspirational force and focus for our work with favela youth.

It is impossible to appreciate the impact and reach of his death. Although The IBISS Foundation will continue its work with Nanko’s principals, no-one will ever replace that unique and extraordinary man Richard and I are proud to have called our friend.

Chester, 2015