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Promoting Youth Leadership

Extremely Together: Letting young people lead

Declan O’Brien is a Project Coordinator at the Kofi Annan Foundation. He works closely with the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, the Electoral Integrity Initiative, and Extremely Together.

Over 50% of us are under the age of 30.

There are many often-discussed implications of this shocking statistic, but one point on which there is a general consensus is that without the active engagement of this younger half of the world’s population, we cannot hope to tackle the major crises facing our global community.

Consequently, efforts to ensure greater inclusion of young people in the discussions that define their present and shape their future have increased significantly in recent years; and many to great effect. I count amongst these the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together; an initiative to counter violent extremism, which is perhaps unique in the degree to which it has not simply engaged young people, but actually given them the platform to lead. This is where- as a young person and the Project Coordinator at the Foundation for Extremely Together- I must admit a slight bias towards our approach of letting young people get on with it themselves…

Personal partiality aside, this approach is in line with one of the mantras of the Foundation – don’t try and do things that others are better placed or better able to do. So when, for example, it comes to addressing the challenge that violent extremism poses to young people in communities across the world, let young people lead!

In fact, they already are; the young men and women of Extremely Together are proven leaders in their own communities and their personal stories are compelling. Each has taken responsibility for – and accepted the dangers of – countering extremist voices and building peaceful and diverse communities. Between them, they have survived terrorist attacks or have been forced to flee their homes only to return later, determined to prevent others from ever having to flee. They have founded businesses, civil society organisations, and online communities. They are story-tellers and artists, educators and job creators. They have briefed the UN Security Council, been recognised by Royalty, and exchanged views with Heads of State and Government. On a more basic level, they belong to a generation that is better educated and better connected than any previous generation, with an extraordinary capacity to effect change.

The wisdom and experience of a former Secretary-General Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate was added to this impressive foundation and the result has been rather spectacular. Over the past year, the Extremely Together leaders have been combining their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to develop ideas and advice for their peers to protect their own communities from violent extremists.

On March 28th the ten will present their guide at a day-long conference with Mr. Annan in Brussels, Belgium. They will be speaking to an audience which, like them, is unfortunately all too aware of the devastation violent extremism can cause. Having seen the Extremely Together leaders in action this past year, I am delighted to see how their work will finally be showcased to help communities in Brussels and beyond to prevent and counter extremist violence.

Extremely Together is effectively a peer to peer initiative, and the resources presented next week will be primarily for other young people. But countering violent extremism has become a global struggle and we all have something to learn and contribute. I encourage everyone to watch the live-stream and following the discussions to see how, regardless of age, gender, religion or location, we can support young people in this cause. After all, it is not enough to accept that young people can lead or even to let them lead; we must also be willing to follow.

Declan O’Brien
Project Coordinator, Kofi Annan Foundation