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.

Investing with Impact: the Challenges of Getting to Deal Closure

Africa is a hot topic for investors. Rarely does a week go by without a report from McKinsey or an investment bank touting the promise of Africa’s growth potential. Beyond the hype, though, investors and companies find that significant challenges remain. The experience of a woman entrepreneur in Ghana illustrates both the potential and the challenges that face investors and entrepreneurs alike.

pic15 copyFifteen years ago, Catherine Krobo Edusei returned to her native Ghana after years living in Europe only to find some surprising inconveniences in everyday life. Accustomed to cooking with fresh herbs, Catherine was unable to find them in any of the supermarkets or produce markets in Ghana’s bustling capital city of Accra. Recognizing a market opportunity, she planted a few herbs in her backyard and, a few months later, presented her product to the manager of her local supermarket. He grudgingly agreed to see if her herbs would be of any interest to his customers: much to his surprise, they sold out almost immediately!

This was the birth of Eden Tree Limited (ETL), Ghana’s leading premium fresh fruit, vegetable, and herb distributor. Since then, the business has grown to include the sourcing, cleaning, packaging, and distributing of the full range of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs typically available in Western-style supermarkets. ETL’s customers are guaranteed a wide selection of fresh, safe, high-quality produce. In the process, Catherine has won numerous awards for her work – including two selections as a Ghanaian Entrepreneur of the Year.

In 2013, Agricultural Fast Track Fund (AFT) – a unique partnership of USAID, the African Development Bank (AfDB), SIDA and other donors – selected ETL as a pilot partner company.   As part of the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the purpose of the AFT Fund is to put promising agribusinesses on the ‘fast track’ to growth through support for project preparation – business plans, feasibility studies, market research, environmental impact assessments – the analyses typically required by investors before they will commit to an investment. The AFT chose ETL as one of two pilots from among more than 200 potential investment opportunities.

In preparing the business plan, feasibility analysis, and market research, our teams worked closely with Catherine to develop and structure an investment model that would see her business quadruple in size in 4-5 years, benefitting hundreds of smallholder farmers who supply ETL. SSG worked alongside Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, who provided coaching support to Catherine. The combination proved to be a potent one. According to Stanford’s Ed Forman, “I am in awe of the quality and comprehensiveness of the work. This will be an amazing asset for ETL specifically and for food processing in the Accra market because it sets up ETL to raise the standard.” For her part, Catherine agrees, stating, “SSG’s support gave me the resources and know-how I needed to approach investors with the confidence that there was a strong business case for what I was proposing.”

When ETL began reaching out to investors and banks with its new business plan interest was very high from a range of traditional and impact investors. However, moving from a high level of interest to actual investment has taken more time than anticipated. It took nearly a year for a bank and a impact fund to commit to invest in ETL’s growth plans due to an extended due diligence process and approval formalities.

While the support of AFT and Stanford ultimately proved successful, the ETL experience demonstrates that even established businesses in Africa face significant challenges in mobilizing capital for growth. Investors, entrepreneurs, and governments need to work together to ensure that the promise of the growth of African countries like Ghana are fulfilled.

 

SSG’s Innovative Approach to Youth Engagement Enables Social and Economic Empowerment

One of the most vexing challenges facing the developing world remains what has commonly been termed the ‘youth bulge.’ While half of the world’s population is currently under the age of 30, 90% of these youth live in developing economies in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. This burgeoning population presents enormous challenges as countries struggle to provide their young citizens with ample employment, education opportunities, social inclusion, and effective healthcare. Frustration at the lack of opportunity and political voice has already boiled over among youth throughout the Middle East, leading to sweeping and revolutionary change from Tunisia to Egypt as part of the Arab Spring.

Together with USAID and several key implementing partners, SSG has worked for a number of years at the leading edge of youth development in Africa and Asia. We’ve worked directly with youth organizations to empower them through solutions that provide youth with the skills, assets, and opportunities to shape their own future as healthy, educated, and productive citizens. In numerous challenging contexts, SSG has empowered youth to take control of their own destinies through a range of skills and partnership-development activities.

Yes Youth Can! capacity building

 

SSG Advisors served as a key implementing partner in Kenya for the Yes Youth Can Western youth empowerment project, training numerous youth organizations in private sector partnership development, which in turn led to over 100 youth-managed partnerships focusing on issues from agricultural commercialization and business training to conservation, ecotourism, and waste management. Under the USAID/Pakistan Conflict Victims Support Program (CVSP), SSG mobilized numerous partnerships across a broad range of industries, including pharmaceutical, telemedicine, manufacturing, microfinance, media, agribusiness, and finance, directly benefiting more than 1,600 at-risk youth in the northern war-torn regions. Partnerships focused on vocational training, building trust between young citizens and their government, and encouraging youth to take an active role in their own lives. SSG has also worked with the USAID/Africa Bureau to mainstream youth and community development strategies to reduce the potential for violent extremism and recruitment of youth to extremist organizations. In the Philippines, SSG developed a partnership with Microsoft to use TV White Space—unused TV broadcast channels—to establish wireless Internet connectivity in remote fishing areas. Through the partnership, local schools and municipal centers are serving as e-knowledge hubs and registration centers for local youth and their communities.

As the rapidly evolving Arab Spring has shown, countries and markets cannot develop successfully without providing youth with clear avenues for economic and social empowerment. Without focused efforts to provide youth with pathways for economic and social improvement, emerging markets and democracies will remain squarely in the shadow of the youth bulge. SSG understands the central importance of this paradigm and continually strives towards youth empowerment across its program portfolio.