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.

Building Local Partnerships to Empower Youth in Kenya

I’m 35,000 feet above Greenland, and I’m thinking about Africa. Kenya, specifically. I spent six years growing up in Kenya in the 1970s and 80s, and so it is a place that remains clse to my heart, and it’s only been in the last ten years that I’ve realized how much those experiences havScreen Shot 2016-07-18 at 10.02.38 AMe shaped my world view and my career. I’m extremely lucky to be able to do the work I do for SSG Advisors, and to be able to give back – even in little ways– to a place that shaped so much of who I am.

Kenya is a country of contrasts: huge population growth and large swaths of empty space; arid land that is hard to farm, and lush, green valleys full of growth. Industries in decline – tourism, sugar farming – and new, growth sectors like minerals and technology. It has booming cities – Nairobi and Mombasa — with their frenetic construction, impenetrable traffic jams and vibrant populations; small towns on the verge of collapse, and sparsely populated rural areas. The country is governed by a Constitution that virtually every Kenyan believes in, but they struggle with daily small-scale corruption and ongoing political scandals. As always, Kenya represents the hope and de
speration of Africa.

I just completed, with three colleagues, a Rapid Partnership Appraisal (RPA) on the Kenya Youth Employment Skills (KYES) program, which aims to connect unemployed and underemployed youth with job opPicture2portunities in nine counties over the next five years. The program is funded by USAID, and is being implemented by the Research Triangle Institute International (RTI), our partner on the project. This kind of program can help reshape Kenya, a country with more than 60% of the population under the age of 25. Unemployment, while high among all under-educated youth, is even more prevalent among young women, who often become young mothers, or aren’t allowed to work due to religious or cultural reasons. A program like KYES can give hope to young people who lack confidence and skills, and don’t feel like they are part of the growing middle class. People who feel they are stuck doing low-level jobs with few skills or opportunities to move up the economic ladder.

Under this backdrop is where SSG Advisors does its best work. We believe strongly that partnerships between the private sector, non-governmental organizations, community groups and donors represent a critical part of the path forward in any program. The only way to make development really, truly sustainable is to work with the businesses and organizations that were built locally and will be in their communities long after the five-year span of any program. The great news is that many other organizations are also understanding this, including our partner NGOs, the donors and development banks, and of course the businesses with whom we are engaging. Our Sustainable, Transparent, Effective Partnership (STEP) process simply gives everyone a framework from which to work.

In the past 15 days, we met with more than 50 businesses and organizations in five counties across Kenya – from rural farming areas to the bustling cities. We learned about why growing indigenous chickens can yield faster profits than boiler chickens. We learned how ingredients like tea, sugar and bixa are grown and harvested (employing thousands of people) in the start of a long value chain that stretches around the world. We spoke with women’s groups who are selling handicrafts on the Internet in Europe and the US, and met home-grown technology companies that are designing products for Africans by Africans. We heard how a new government regulator is striving to provide better building standards to manage the construction boom. We met local political leaders who are trying to change their communities from the ground up. These people see hope in the future of Kenya, and are deeply invested in it. When we surveyed them about how long they planned to be working in the country, the answer was invariably “for a lifetime.”

The work we did in Kenya over the last few weeks is really just the start of a process that will last for the entirety of the five-year program, and well beyond. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are actively working with the program team and the partners in every county to start the process of brokering the partnerships that will make KYES successful, and just as importantly, that will give youth the skills and the job opportunities they need to be successful.

At SSG, we don’t just talk about sustainability as a vague concept, or something to check a box in a work plan. It’s fundamental to the work we’ve done in more than 50 countries, and with countless businesses and organizations. It’s core to how we help organizations rethink new business models, allowing them to tap into new markets. By working together in deeply rooted local partnerships, we have some hope of changing the outcomes for millions of people around the world.

Wastewater Solutions: Partnerships for Sustainability in the Mara-Serengeti

Mara Partnership

The Mara Serengeti Hoteliers and the partners after Signing the Resource Efficiency Partnership

On September 15th, the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Dr. Mohamed Gharib Bilal, and other government officials gathered alongside members from a number of industries on the edge of the Mara River as part of the Mara Day celebration – an annual event shared between Kenya and Tanzania devoted to protecting the natural beauty and resources of the Mara River region.

This year’s Mara Day marked an exciting milestone. For the first time, Kenya and Tanzania signed an agreement ensuring that both countries will sustainably co-manage the Mara ecosystem. This inter-governmental commitment demonstrates a prominent level of engagement for sustainability efforts in the area. Meanwhile, members of a new public-private partnership signed and agreed to address some of the difficulties associated with water pollution in the Mara-Serengeti region. The partners included the Mara-Serengeti Hoteliers Forum (MSHF), the multi-national chemicals manufacturing company BASF, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), the Kenya National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), and the Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA) of the Lake Victoria Region.

The partnership declared at Mara Day is a result of  SSG Advisors’ private sector mapping work, carried out as part of the USAID Kenya and East Africa Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaption, Research and Economic Development (PREPARED) project, with the continued efforts of Polycarp Ngoje, PREPARED’s Partnership Specialist. In describing the level of effort and cultivation needed to get partners on board, SSG’s Director Thomas Buck noted, “This partnership has been over a year in the making, and has really started to take shape in the past 4-5 months.”

Through intense collaboration and the utilization of a diverse multi-sectoral set of skills and assets, the partnership will be instrumental in addressing and improving resource efficiency challenges and practices throughout the Mara-Serengeti region. By providing technical assistance through assessments and management guidance to hospitality operations in the area, the impact of BASF’s involvement will be two-fold: lowering operating costs and establishing sustainable wastewater practices. The result will be a cleaner and healthier ecosystem, sustaining the natural beauty of the region.

The partnership has already set goals for the first year. During the upcoming months, the partners plan to establish a measurable breakdown of how to achieve the reduced effects of wastewater in the Mara. In addition to forming a quantitative, results-driven analysis, the partnership also aims to facilitate a noticeable increase in the use of green technology and innovation practices. Lastly, within a year from now, the group intends to identify and institutionalize a set of actionable wastewater practices – management models and technological innovations – intended to become the industry standard in the area.

Leveraging Tourism for Conservation in the Mara-Serengeti

By Tom Buck and Marissa KimseyVersion 2

The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania is recognized worldwide for its size and biodiversity.
Spanning an area larger than Jamaica, the Tanzanian Serengeti National Park provides critical sanctuary for the greatest number of plains game in Africa, including two million wildebeest, half a million Thomson’s gazelle, and a quarter of a million zebra. Each year, the ecosystem hosts the largest mammal migration in the world, with vast numbers of wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River from Tanzania to Kenya in search of relief from the dry season to the south. The landscape also provides an important hub for the conservation economies of both countries, with several hundred thousand visitors crossing park borders each year. [1]

Despite its importance to both countries’ economies and its protected status, the Serengeti and larger Mara River Basin face acute challenges related to human development. In Tanzania, issues such as population growth, overgrazing, and game poaching have weakened the environmental integrity of neighboring buffer zones designed to protect the park.[2] In Kenya, overdevelopment of the tourism sector has led to a spike in lodges, camps. and tour operators – only 29% of them legal. Bed numbers have more than tripled since 2003.[3] While recent insecurity has slowed the unchecked growth of tourism, the specter of tourism expansion remains in place in the Mara National Reserve. The health of the Mara-Serengeti landscape depends on improved management of human encroachments and development pressures.

In May, SSG Advisors conducted an assessment in Tanzania and Kenya in order to identify strategic public-private partnership opportunities addressing management concerns in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. Our team interviewed dozens of tourism companies and related stakeholders, a large majority of which recognized the threats to conservation posed by unchecked human development and ever-growing crowds of tourists. Many companies also acknowledged the need to bring surrounding communities into the economy of the park in viable ways, encouraging a shift from ‘use and abuse’ towards sustainable integration into tourism value chains, but also in a way that would relieve business pressures. One potential area of focus addressed the challenge of lodges and operators shipping much of their food over vast distances, which Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 12.44.09 PMleads to spoilage and high transportation costs. These businesses were eager to shorten supply chains by working with horticulture and livestock farmers in buffer communities closer to their operations. They were also keen to procure services such as laundering, car repair, and others from local communities as much as possible.

Recognizing the challenge, the regional governments and conservation organizations can work closely with tourism operators to provide pathways for communities to become more deeply involved with solutions to landscape management issues. Without benefiting directly from the conserved areas, local citizens will not be actively involved in their protection.

In the coming months, SSG plans to engage with identified partners in the private sector, communities, and government in order to delineate the partnership details.



Community Partnerships: Unlocking the Sustainability of CSOs through Private Sector Collaboration

By Thomas Buck

Since the collapse of communism and the rise of the “Third Wave” of democratization, many donors including USAID, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) have invested significant resources in strengthening new democracies by building the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to bridge the gap between citizens and government. Through grants and other mechanisms, programs have focused on bolstering the technical and institutional capacity of community associations, advocacy organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other types of CSOs on issues ranging from operational systems strengthening to activity implementation. Capacity building and financial support for CSOs have remained core to projects across the development continuum from improving health services, food security, and climate resiliency to countering violent extremism and strengthening local governance. Recently, the US Government has specifically promoted organizational strengthening in its USAID Forward policy as a pillar in preparing local implementers to work directly with USAID Missions across the developing world.

Partnerships have proved extremely successful in the ECOFISH project in the Philippines.

Community partnership planning in the Philippines.

Despite great progress over the last two decades of this type of investment, donors and development implementers have struggled with the question of CSO financial sustainability. Many local organizations, dependent on program grants, have weakened or even collapsed without access to donor funding. One innovative way to solve this issue of grant dependency is by building organizations’ ability to identify and develop partnerships with companies and other resource partners. Recognizing the necessity of long-term sustainability and local ownership in development, SSG has developed a tailored capacity building approach as part of its Sustainable Transparent and Effect Partnership (STEP) methodology and has successfully utilized this method in contexts throughout the world. Through the STEP Community Partnership module, local CSOs learn to apply a “shared value” lens to identify specific opportunities for partnership in which they bring valuable resources, services, or products to a local market.

The benefits of this type of partnership for both the CSO and the public or private partner become quickly evident. In Kenya, for example, one youth organization formed a partnership with the Kenya Forest Service, which provides seedlings to the Forest Service and an entrepreneurship opportunity and much-needed income to the youth organization. This partnership came out of the USAID-funded Yes Youth Can! Western project focused on political enfranchisement and enhanced civic engagement of Kenyan youth. During this project, SSG catalyzed over 100 community-level, youth-led partnerships on a wide range of issues from agricultural commercialization and business training to conservation, ecotourism, and waste management, working with partners as varied as local agribusinesses, municipal governments, and ICT firms. For the Kenyan youth organizations, these partnerships served to unlock their own potential, not just for employment and economic gain, but also in contributing to society and the self-awareness that they actually have a seat at the table.

These community partnerships reinforce the social and economic empowerment of grassroots
organizations focused on marginalized communities. For example, under the ECOFISH project in the Philippines, SSG has facilitated partnerships between fisherfolk associations and a range of private and public sector resource partners to develop enterprises and lessen the dependency on subsistence fishing. Partnerships have ranged from mangrove reforestation and ecotourism development to crab fattening and sea ranching enterprises. These partnerships provide entrepreneurship opportunities to the fisherfolk villages, but also critically lessen community dependency on fishing for survival, thereby reducing pressure on fish stocks and improving environmental resiliency.

Community partnerships offer obvious benefits to the CSOs and the local or multinational partner. By building the capacity of CSOs to form locally driven public-private partnerships that align with their missions and provide financial and other resources, the benefits and progress that development projects bring to a community can continue on long after a single project has ended.

Using Participatory Methods to Facilitate Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

At the recent “Collaboration Post-2015 Forum: Where can Partnerships Take Development?” practitioners from government, civil society and the private sector all acknowledged how complicated it can be to negotiate and then successfully implement multi-stakeholder public-private partnerships (PPPs). Many participants saw this complexity as a key barrier to successful collaboration.

We see the challenges of effective cross-sectoral collaboration every day. Indeed, in our experience the complexity of a partnership goes up exponentially in proportion to the number of partners.   A simple two-partner PPP can be challenging enough, but a large multi-stakeholder partnership can be especially trying to negotiate and manage.

Partnership stakeholders brainstorm goals for reducing water loss in Jinja, Uganda

Using participatory methods in PPPs can help diverse stakeholders reach a consensus on complex issues.

To help address this complexity, SSG is incorporating participatory methods (PM) as a key tool for forging consensus within large, multi-stakeholder partnerships.     Participatory methods themselves are not new. First pioneered in the 1970s, PM includes a range of activities with a common thread, enabling stakeholders to play an active and influential part in decisions, which affect their lives.  Although PM has been used primarily for organizational capacity building and democratic local governance, SSG sees value that PM can provide in forging consensus among diverse stakeholders in complex PPPs.

In East Africa, SSG’s Polycarp Ngoje is pioneering the use of PM under the USAID PREPARED project for a series of complex partnerships that are not only cross-sectoral but cross-boundary in nature. For example, the PREPARED project is facilitating an anti-poaching partnership (APP) that brings together government wildlife services in Kenya and Tanzania, conservation NGOs, universities, technology companies and USAID together to strengthen coordination of anti-poaching efforts in the Mara landscape.   The issue of poaching is a hot topic that never lacks controversy, so traditional approaches to collaboration would likely be ineffective.

Using PM, Polycarp and the PREPARED team are facilitating visioning and action planning sessions that are enabling discrete groups of organizations and institutions to move from a shared sense of purpose to common action.  Partners have developed action plans that focus on a series of ‘sub-partnerships’ to pilot approaches and technologies with the goal of scaling up successful pilots starting in late 2015.

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.

Combatting Poaching through Public-Private Partnerships in East Africa

Anti-Poaching Forum

Poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking have reached unprecedented levels in sub-Saharan Africa. The decimation of the continent’s elephant population is staggering, with estimates indicating that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes—possibly leading this iconic species to a highly endangered existence within the next decade. Last year alone, some 36,000 African elephants were slaughtered to fuel the illicit ivory trade, with potentially far-reaching impacts that could destroy the economic and social development of thousands of people and communities.

In response to this crisis, under the USAID-funded PREPARED Project, SSG Advisors is facilitating a new partnership in Kenya and Tanzania that utilizes information and communications technology (ICT) to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and coordination of anti-poaching campaigns from the community level to enforcement level, and drive public and government support to ongoing anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking programs.

The ICT revolution in Africa is already underway. In the last decade, mobile technology has produced large-scale advances in several development sectors as telecom carriers and other ICT companies have entered partnerships that improve health, agriculture, education, and human rights by radically increasing access to information and finance. However, in spite of these advances, conservation has yet to fully harness the capabilities of ICT in Africa.

SSG is collaborating closely with key conservation organizations, including the Africa Wildlife Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and helping bring together a wide range of potential partners from telecom companies, data analytics firms, and major hoteliers, as well as government enforcement agencies.

On January 30 and 31, key stakeholders met in a facilitated forum in Nairobi to identify needs, resources, and roles to launch pilot activities in priority regions. The forum served as a tailored workshop to frame an overall strategy toward development of an anti-poaching technology platform. The discussion focused on roles, responsibilities, resources, implementation, and expected results of the platform. In the next months, SSG will work toward formalizing the partnership with a Memorandum of Understanding and rolling out pilots in Kenya and Tanzania.