What Works in Countering Violent Extremism

Chad / Darfurian refugees from Sudan / Djabal camp  (17 766 refugees, 4681 families), 4 kilometers west from Goz Beida UNHCR sub-office located 217 km south from Abeche, located 900 kilometer east from N'Djamena the chadian capital. The camp, created on 4/6/2004, is located 80 km from the sudanese border. Sunset on one of the playground of Djabal refugees' camp. Teenagers play football, the main sport activities. 60 % of the camp's population is under 18 years old, with 40% of old people. / UNHCR / F. Noy / December 2011

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post. To view the original article, please follow this link.

By Elise Barry

Twenty years ago, no one had ever heard of CVE. Now, CVE (or countering violent extremism if you haven’t quite caught up on the acronym) has evolved into a field of study, a strategy, a U.S. government and international priority, and a larger debate over what is effective in preventing the terrorist attacks that inundate the news these days. This is not to say that either the tactics used by violent extremist groups or efforts to prevent violent extremism are new phenomena – they are age-old. However, in the last decade, there has been a significant push by governments, multilateral organizations, and NGOs to focus efforts under the umbrella of CVE to respond to the increase of terrorism worldwide. Unlike the hardline military, security, and intelligence approach of counterterrorism, programs under the CVE umbrella seek to empower communities and build resilience to violent extremism (though many programs in the past have misunderstood or blurred this distinction).

In contrast to the sharp increase in interest being focused on this new field of CVE, there are few studies or examples that have been able to concretely pinpoint what works and what doesn’t in preventing individuals from joining violent extremist groups. Leaving aside the fact that quantifying ‘success’ in CVE is extremely difficult, the lack of hard data or success stories has created a larger debate over what works in CVE or whether it even does work. This has left many scratching their heads or worse – talking a lot, while saying little of substance.

This debate has gotten one thing right in that there are no easy answers or panaceas in CVE. However, with the benefit of hindsight on the last decade of CVE programming and from my own experience supporting development agencies, NGOs, development professionals, youth, and other stakeholders to understand the role they can play in CVE across Africa, I see a few rules of thumb that are critical for CVE to be effective:

One size does not fit all

In a world where you can customize your latte in 100 different combinations, we need to begin thinking this way in terms of CVE programming. The backgrounds of individuals who join violent extremist groups and their reasons for doing so are incredibly diverse and often very individual. Not only does it matter what country you live in, what your gender is, and your socioeconomic status, but your individual life experiences leading up to this point also play a key role in the reasons you may or may not be more likely to join or support a violent extremist group. Because of this, the unfortunate fact is that one size does not fit all and a program that might impact one individual is not going to make one bit of difference for their neighbor. For example, let’s think about a youth parliament program in Mandera, Kenya, a city on the border of Somalia that has been the scene of frequent al-Shabaab attacks. For some youth, this program could provide them with a voice and a platform to create change in their community, which may have been the impetus for supporting al-Shabaab otherwise. For others though, they may not be the least bit interested in joining a youth parliament. Perhaps they faced significant discrimination and would benefit more from psychosocial support or yet another type of program. Rather than broad projects that attempt to address all of the grievances in a community, let alone a country, CVE programs need to be as granular as possible. As a result, we need a lot of them.

Learn and act locally, with a global awareness

When we talk about addressing the drivers of violent extremism, it often requires real social change. For example, if we look at what makes violent extremist groups attractive, predominately to youth, it often comes down to the fact that many groups are offering those individuals a voice, a recognized role in a society, and an opportunity to overturn systems – whether that system is based on age or entrenched elites – that is holding them back. To address this will require that the status quo of social structures be challenged and revised. Such social change is nearly impossible to predict or plan from the outside. Moreover, it would be naïve to assume that anyone, outside of the community enacting that change, knows what is best or would work for them. Creating a space for individuals to discuss their grievances and be a part of devising the programs will not only result in better solutions, but will also give individuals a measure of control over their problems.

This does not mean we should promote CVE programs in a vacuum. Country-wide, regional, and even global trends do play into violent extremism and how it manifests around the world. This is true when looking at the overlap that often exists between organized crime and violent extremism. For example, while the grievances that cause an individual to join Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are likely very localized, responses need to at least be aware of the regional criminal networks and instability that keeps AQIM in business in the first place. So, programs should be targeted, locally-driven, and localized, while keeping an eye on broader trends and patterns.

Be realistic and focused, but not discouraged

It is easy to become overwhelmed when looking at the complexity of the issues that need to be addressed to mitigate the root causes of violent extremism or the length of time it will take to see progress. CVE programs needs to go hand in hand with economic development, security sector reform, democracy and governance strengthening, and a whole host of other development objectives. Moreover, many of the drivers of violent extremism are generational problems that may very well take generations to resolve. This is not what many want to hear, but it is the truth. Even with a diverse range of programs in every at-risk community, there will not be a quick fix to terrorism. We need to accept this now, so that we can focus on what can be achieved.

Seen from another perspective, the complexity of the issues is also cause for optimism, as we realize that we can address individual parts of the problem. It is both reassuring and encouraging that one small youth parliament program in Mandera, Kenya can make a difference. No, this is not even remotely close to ‘solving’ the problem of violent extremism in the world, in Kenya, or even merely in Mandera. However, it will make a difference, and, with enough smart, locally-driven, focused, and creatively diverse programs working in collaboration with the development projects already underway all over the world, we will see progress.

Innovative TV White Space Public-Private Partnership Nominated for the P3 Impact Award

SSG Advisors is pleased to announce that the TV White Space (TVWS) Partnership in the Philippines has been nominated for the P3 Impact Award. This prestigious award – a joint effort of Concordia, the State Department, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business – is announced each year in the beginning of October at the Concordia Summit in New York City.

The TVWS partnership is a unique collaboration between Microsoft, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ECOFISH project, and the Government of the Philippines to improve the lives of fisherfolk and the management of coastal fisheries in the Philippines by extending Internet access to remote and underserved coastal communities. The partnership deployed Microsoft’s TVWS technology, which generates an amplified wireless Internet connection by riding empty television UHF and VHF broadcast channels. Together, the partners connected schools and community centers in six remote municipalities to the Internet via TVWS, extending free Internet to over 20,000 people. The TVWS Untitledpartnership was also designed specifically to improve fisheries management: TVWS helped support a new mobile, online system to register fisherfolk in hundreds of rural communities. This system enables the government to better understand who is fishing where and, as a result, to better manage precious and threatened fish stocks. Importantly, the Government of the Philippines has now incorporated TVWS as a key element of its universal broadband access strategy.

SSG Advisors, through its Sustainable Transparent Effective Partnerships (STEP) methodology, developed the TVWS partnership concept, brought the partners together, and facilitated the partnership during implementation.

Today, the TVWS partnership has been recognized as one of five finalists for the P3 Impact Award. The award honors outstanding examples of public-private partnerships that have improved lives and communities around the world, and it recognizes best practices in the public-private partnership arena.

The winner will be announced at the Concordia Summit on October 1-2. Keep your fingers crossed for SSG Advisors, the TVWS partnership, and our partners!


SSG Advisors Media Contact:
Tess Zakaras, 802-735-1169
[email protected]

SSG Advisors and Tetra Tech Launch Mentor-Protégé Agreement


SSG President Nazgul Abdrazaokova and President of Tetra Tech International, Jan Auman, launch a USAID Mentor-Protégé Agreement.

SSG Advisors is pleased to announce that we have launched a USAID Mentor-Protégé Agreement with Tetra Tech, a NASDAQ-traded consulting and engineering firm with 13,000 employees worldwide. Under the Mentor-Protégé Agreement, Tetra Tech will provide class-leading insight on operations, financial management, and strategy.

According to SSG President Nazgul Abdrazaokova, “Tetra Tech is one of the most experienced and capable organizations in international development today. Based on our shared Vermont roots, SSG and Tetra Tech have a long history of collaboration. We are currently implementing projects together in the Philippines, East Africa, and Afghanistan. Through the Mentor-Protégé Agreement, we will benefit from Tetra Tech’s deep expertise and systems in managing complex development projects and activities.   We are grateful to the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business (OSDBU) for championing the mentor-protégé program and look forward to making this agreement a success for SSG, Tetra Tech, and USAID.”

SSG to Build Agribusiness Partnerships in Haiti

SSG is pleased to announce that we are part of the winning consortium for the new USAID Port-au-Prince-Saint Marc Partnership. Chemonics International will be the lead implementer on the new 5-year food security program.

SSG’s Brett Johnson says, “The Port-au-Prince-Saint Marc Partnership represents a new and innovative approach to addressing the food security needs of the Haitian people. We are excited to be working with Chemonics to build market-driven agribusiness partnerships that will enhance lives and livelihoods in Haiti.”

Partnering for Agribusiness in Timor-Leste

SSG Advisors is pleased to announce that we are a member of the newly-awarded USAID/Timor-Leste Avansa Agrikultura project. This new, 5-year project is focused on improving the country’s horticulture value chains and will assist Government of Timor-Leste efforts to join ASEAN through technical assistance on certain ASEAN ‘single window’ requirements. Cardno Emerging Markets is the prime implementer of the project.

According to SSG’s Brett Johnson, “We are excited to be working with our colleagues at Cardno on the new Avansa Agrikultura project. Timor-Leste has tremendous agricultural potential and innovative public-private partnerships will be a critical tool in unlocking investment and growth in the country’s horticultural value chains.   We look forward to working with the entire team to make this project a success for USAID and the people of Timor-Leste.”