The Kofi Annan Foundation and its youth-led initiative Extremely Together convened leading youth activists, civil society organizations, and local and regional experts from South and Southeast Asia who work to prevent violent extremism (PVE). During the three-day regional conference Envision Together: Youth Building the Future for Peace in October 2021, participants shared their experiences and collectively identified good practices and opportunities for youth-led PVE in the region and beyond.
This article summarizes five good practices on how to strengthen youth-led peacebuilding efforts among young people in urban South and Southeast Asia:
Five good practices for youth participation in peacebuilding efforts:
1. Find solutions with local communities
Communities and people most affected by violent extremism should play a central role in driving prevention efforts in their communities. Practitioners working with local communities need to put aside their biases and listen to the people they aim to support. It is no longer a question of finding solutions “for” youth affected by violent extremism but instead finding solutions “with” them.
“We are not doctors and the communities are not patients. We need to understand that communities are the experts, and we are just there to support them.”
– Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, Extremely Together Pakistan
2. Be inclusive
To create lasting solutions for peace in the communities, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities and networks of women also need to be included. Members of these groups often feel that they are not given sufficient space to express their views and that their grievances remain at the margins of public concern. Fostering their inclusion requires breaking down barriers and persisting social stigma to ensure that they are represented according to their own criteria. This calls for the creation of platforms where people from different marginalized and minority groups can come together, share their experiences, and combine their efforts.
“As practitioners, we do realize that we still need to make a real effort to highlight the real stories, the narratives, and daily lives of people affected by violent extremism, especially those from marginalized sectors.”
– Kier Aventurado, Extremely Together Philippines
3. Create safe spaces
Inclusive approaches require the creation of safe spaces in which marginalized young people can develop relationships based on trust and empathy. Creating safe spaces will provide an enabling environment for personal growth and reinforce young people’s common commitment to their cause. Self-enquiry, mindfulness, compassion and an in-depth understanding of one’s own motivations is the key to building community resilience and generating strong networks for peace.
“If you do not build resilience in the communities, how can you expect them to find resilient solutions to violent extremism?
– Pitom Mustafi, Rupantar, Bangladesh
4. Work with partners (and nurture those relationships!)
Mobilizing young people and creating a movement is difficult, but ensuring it gains traction and grows sustainably is another challenge. For that, you need external stakeholders to create partnerships and alliances with. Building momentum and scaling up activities that extend beyond the local level also requires movements to engage with various actors to bolster regional credibility. Consistency and continued engagement in your partnerships allow for more durable change.
5. Elevate the discussion
Aligning priorities with national and regional policymakers is a crucial step in elevating the discussion beyond grassroots priorities. However, many participants from civil society organizations (CSO’s) expressed their concern about the inaccessibility of certain policymaking bodies. Bolstering legitimacy on a regional level can be achieved by building the thematic and operational capacity of grassroots movements. One way of doing this would be by organizing exchanges among CSOs or with actors from different fields and at different levels, including private sector representatives or even social media influencers.
A publication consolidating the good practices on how to foster youth-led PVE among urban youth in South and Southeast Asia will be released in January 2022.
This regional conference is part of the multi-partner project, “Leading the way to Peace – Youth Together for Social Cohesion,” supported by the European Union. This project is led by the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together initiative with KRIS in the Philippines, CYAAD in Pakistan and GCERF in Bangladesh.