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Fine to be resilient, better to be “presilient”



We know what it means to be resilient, but what if there was a way to prevent crises in the first place? This is the question that drives South African expatriate Dr Gavriel (Gav) Schneider, who was recently placed in the top ten IFSEC (International Fire and Security Exhibition and Conference) thought leaders globally by a group of contemporaries.

With a long career in martial arts, bodyguarding, security, education, and crime prevention, he realised that while resilience is important, being able to prevent negative incidents before they have a chance to cause disruption or damage is even more crucial. In a world upended by a pandemic that hardly anyone saw coming, this has become even more relevant.

He developed the concept of “presilience”, which essentially is “risk intelligence and risk culture in practice”, says Schneider from his home in Brisbane, Australia. “‘Presilience’ is about enhancing people’s inherent skills and capability to be adaptable, flexible, and agile in response [to crises].

“Unlike resilience, which focuses purely on recovery and the ability to ‘bounce back’, ‘presilience’ focuses on building mental fortitude not only to ‘bounce back’ but also to completely avoid crises, manage them effectively, and minimise any negative effects,” he says.

“‘Presilience’ is much more than simply ensuring business continuity in case a negative event happens,” he says. “It’s about high performance and outcomes that make us better than we were before. It’s about constant learning and adaption to seize opportunity, not simply recover.” He has since trademarked the concept.

A serial entrepreneur, Schneider has been running his own businesses since the age of 23. He has conducted business in more than 17 countries and provided a wide range of services for clients ranging from heads of state to school teachers. He has trained thousands of people in his own right, and to date, his companies have trained in excess of 150 000 people in numerous countries.

He is also the author of two books and holds a doctorate in criminology and a Masters in technology from Unisa (the University of South Africa).

It’s an incredible journey for someone who was a sickly child, and whose family was told by doctors that he might never be able to exercise. Growing up in Johannesburg, he proved them all wrong by immersing himself in martial arts, gaining black belts in Ninjutsu and Taekwondo by the time he was 16.

After school, he headed to Israel with the idea of joining the army. But he was introduced to fellow ex-South African Dennis Hanover, who has been described as “the godfather of Israeli martial arts”. Hanover trained him in Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, and other disciplines. Schneider landed up teaching in Hanover’s martial arts school in Herzliya.

Returning to South Africa, he brought “street-ready Jiu-Jitsu and Krav Maga” back with him, setting up two schools. “It was a good time [in South Africa in the early 2000s] as there was an exodus of expertise from law enforcement and the military,” he says. The business trained everyone from the police force to corporates in specialised security and self-defence. A contract with Standard Bank meant that his company trained 23 000 people in security awareness, hijack avoidance, armed-robbery management, hostage survival, and rape prevention. He was also the first person in Africa to get a Masters in security risk.

He also worked as a bodyguard, including personally protecting the president of Equatorial Guinea, the prime minister of Kenya, and training the protection team of the prime minister of Zimbabwe. “All things that nice Jewish boys don’t usually do,” he quips.

But all this wasn’t enough to protect his own family when his stepfather was shot in the head during a hijacking, and died. “It was a turning point. I realised that it doesn’t matter how good the experts are if they’re not there when you need them.” It was one step closer to him developing the concept of “presilience” so that people would have the knowledge to protect themselves.

“When my stepfather was killed, I felt that if he and my mother had more knowledge, it may have been different.”

He moved to Australia when he received a scholarship to do his doctorate at the Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, his first business expanded, and at its height, in about 2010, it had 150 employees and had conducted operations in more than 30 countries.

Schneider focuses on training people and implementing “presilience” in organisations. But organisations cannot be “presilient” if their people aren’t. “That’s why we start with each individual. This is something I learnt from martial arts – if you can’t control the voice in your head, how can you control an entire organisation?”

Turning to the issue of crime in South Africa, Schneider says, “Part of the problem is that crime and violence have become something people accept as part of life. When it’s so ingrained, it’s very difficult to change.” He says being proactive in practicing situational awareness (which Schneider talks about in his book, Can I See Your Hands) can enhance personal safety. But, long-term societal change is the only way to truly eradicate crime.

Regarding the massive global disruption caused by the pandemic, he says, “What we’ve learnt from it is that we are all hyper-connected – what happens on the other side of the world affects everyone. And we are interdependent – we will rely on others to get through this – for example, by ensuring that everyone gets vaccinated. COVID-19 has also shown up fundamental societal flaws.”

He says people often either over or underestimate their capabilities. “We all have a lot of skills to keep ourselves safe, make good decisions, and work cohesively. The challenge is that our survival instincts are wired towards flight, fight, freeze, or panic. We often get paralysed in difficult situations. But think about what Viktor Frankl said about his time in the concentration camps – even there, he could control how he saw the world.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Vacelia Goodman

    Aug 28, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    How do I get in contact with Dr Schneider please via WhatsApp/Messenger/Email. It’s Urgent. Thanks.

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