Building a youth community to prevent violent extremism: Insights from peacebuilders and donors
On the 19th of May 2022, the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together initiative hosted an event at the Brussels Press Club in Belgium on the relationship between young peacebuilders and the donor community. The event was held in the context of our EU funded “Leading the Way to Peace – Youth Together for Social Cohesion” project and allowed us to showcase findings from our two-year engagement working alongside young peacebuilders and donors in South and Southeast Asia.
How can donors support youth-led PVE action in a meaningful and sustainable way?
How do donors and peacebuilders envision the future of donor-peacebuilder relations?
How can donors help peacebuilders build a better tomorrow?
To answer these questions and more, we welcomed two Extremely Together leaders, Arizza Nocum and Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, Natascha Skjaldgaard from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and Candida Novak Hornakova from the European External Action Service.
What does it take to engage youth in peace and security?
In his opening remarks, Mark Fiedrich, acting Director and Head of Service for the Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) at the European Commission and Head of the Stability and Peace Unit, highlighted the importance of challenging the status quo when it comes to including youth in peacebuilding efforts. He emphasized the need to give young people a defining role in decision-making and to find balance in how we impose the burden of change onto the younger generation. This reflection became central to the discussion, with speakers expanding on the subject with contextual framing.
“Peacebuilding cannot rely on easy certainties. You must be ready to confront your own ideas and move forward with positions you do not agree with initially”
– Mark Fiedrich
Extremely Together Leaders Arizza Nocum and Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi underlined how youth could become key players in preventing violent extremism and promoting peace at the local and policy-making levels. However, they explained, this can only be achieved if youth are given the appropriate tools, knowledge, and space to develop lasting solutions for peace. Donors are well placed to help young peacebuilders to find their footing. They can support them by providing more flexibility, breaking down bureaucratic barriers, improving youth access to resources and training, and providing them with information about resources already available.
“Inclusion makes peace processes much more sustainable”
– Candida Novak Hornakova
Our donor representatives, Candida Novak Hornakova and Natascha Skjaldgaard agreed that bridging the gap between the donor community and young peacebuilders should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. Not only can young people create a good link between formal and informal aspects of peacebuilding, but their inclusion is a primordial step in provoking sustainable change. As such, a strong emphasis should be placed on trust-building and fostering long-term relationships with young peacebuilding groups.
“The expectation that they will open up is very wrong: they have gone through violent episodes, but in building trust and relationships with them will allow them to take a more active role.”
– Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi
Lessons can be drawn from the European Union, which has been building the capacity of young people by training, monitoring, and supporting peer-to-peer approaches in their responses to conflict prevention around the world. Similarly, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up youth sounding boards in their embassies to help shape policy on the ground.
How to make youth inclusion in peace and security efforts a greater reality?
The discussions also focused on the future of peacebuilding and how to make youth inclusion in peace and security a greater reality. From a donor perspective, the main challenge is converting policies into a concrete reality and ensuring the Youth, Peace and Security agenda is enacted at ground level. Implementing a successful action plan almost always requires youth and civil society to be involved at every step. The European Union has pushed forward a youth agenda to encourage member states to integrate youth inclusion as a consideration in their decision-making processes. Denmark is also a strong example of youth involvement with the creation of a foreign policy strategy with a pronounced focus on youth.
“Going from policy to practice, from practice to implementation, and from implementation to monitoring is not easy.”
– Natascha Skjaldgaard
For such shifts to occur, young peacebuilders must be trained to effectively participate in these conversations to bring solutions to the table. For instance, at a national level, Extremely Together Pakistan seeks to bridge the gap between policy and practice through training activities that help young people integrate into the political arena and participate in high-level discussions. However, as part of a global movement, Extremely Together chapters can also draw from their different experiences and learn from one another. In the case of our Extremely Together Asian chapters, young peacebuilders have been able to build a regional support group where they interact, share lessons, and inspire each other.
Beyond the peace and security agenda, building networks of akin peacebuilders can also help communities reach their immediate development objectives. In building more peaceful communities, young peacebuilders and donors alike should advocate breaking down silos. It is necessary to work towards holistic peacebuilding that tackles issues of polarization, divisiveness, access to fundamental rights and amenities, and access to social and economic opportunities. This signals a shift in mindset, away from peacebuilding as an isolated term and toward social cohesion.
“We can’t survive on peace and security alone; we also need to work on the next step”
– Arizza Nocum
Recommendations to the European Union and its Member States
Based on the lessons drawn from this project, we have identified policy and programmatic recommendations to the European Union (EU) and its Member States for their external action on how to foster youth leadership in preventing violent extremism (PVE). While these lessons and recommendations are mainly inspired by this work with urban youth in South and Southeast Asia, they can provide valuable insight into youth-led PVE action in various settings.