As urban populations grow and become younger (UN-Habitat estimates that 60% of urban populations will be under the age of 18 by 2030), violence and marginalization prevent cities from reaching their economic potential. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that the total economic impact of violence to the world economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion. Public trust in the institutions supporting and driving economic progress and social advancement, from government and business to NGOs, is also in crisis. There is a growing public perception across income and education scales that the “system” is failing its people, and is broken, unfair, and hopeless (according to the Edelman Trust Barometer). Young people- the largest generation the world has ever seen, with one in every six people falling between the age of 15 and 24 years- remain underrepresented and excluded from discourse and decision-making on issues that affect their lives. A UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security, which was passed in December 2015, recognizes that “a large youth population presents a unique demographic dividend that can contribute to lasting peace and economic prosperity if inclusive policies are in place.”
Evidence increasingly indicates that sustainable, large-scale social change on complex issues like direct and structural violence requires local, inclusive ownership and broad cross-sector collaboration, and that the inclusion of young people is critical to both sustainable peace and prosperity.
Over the past year, Search for Common Ground (Search) has engaged young leaders and policy experts in conversations on the best approaches to leveraging this “demographic dividend” for inclusive and sustainable peace and security at the local level. These consultations, a review of existing evidence, and our more than 35 years in peacebuilding indicate that an effective approach should: a) be locally-driven and led, b) foster cooperation rather than competition among local actors, c) engage young people as partners and co-leaders in decisionmaking and implementation, d) involve a cross-sector of actors directly and indirectly influenced or affected by the issues, with an emphasis on inclusivity across genders, ethnicities, religions, etc. e) transform the traditional model of siloed, time-bound interventions to more long-term collaboration and systems thinking, f) secured dedicated staff to provide centralized or “backbone” support to guide the process at scale, and g) ensure a shared, evidence-based learning and adaptive management process that builds on progress for effective interventions and sustained impact.
As a result, Search has recently started piloting an innovative approach that combines elements of systems thinking, collective impact, positive youth development, and positive peace into a locally-led and locally-owned “Collaborative” to address and mitigate violence and marginalization. We have secured initial seed funding and piloting is underway in Sri Lanka, as the country recovers from the civilian and economic tolls of its 27-year civil war, and will begin in conflict-ridden Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy, by the end of 2017. In Sri Lanka, 40% of the population is under 24 years old, and in Nigeria that number is 63% (according to the UN Population Division).
Initial piloting will focus on Slave Island in Sri Lanka and Jos in Nigeria. Slave Island is an area experiencing rapid gentrification, criticized for its marginalization and exclusion of ethnic and religious minorities, as the country advances its ambitious multibillion-dollar plan to redevelop Colombo and the surrounding area. Marginalization, distrust of institutions, and the lack of development dividends for youth and their communities were some of the root causes of Sri Lanka’s youth insurgencies in past decades, and young people in Slave Island are already being pulled into political violence and crime. Jos, on the other hand, has suffered from intense ethno-religious violence and intolerance and been targeted by the extremist group Boko Haram over the past decade. The city is located in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, where the country’s Christian South “meets” the Muslim North. The region’s conflicts have political, economic, and communal resource roots with a religious overtone. The “Collaborative” approach is designed to be flexible and adaptable for many different contexts and types of violence, and scalable for different levels of collective impact - national, regional, and eventually global.
Because this approach aims at fostering collaborative thinking and action across various sectors and actors to achieve systemic change, it is a multi-year undertaking. Accordingly, it requires long-term partnerships for funding and support. CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, a non-profit organization committed to improving the effectiveness of humanitarian, peacebuilding, and development practitioners, has joined the pilot initiative as our learning partner. As we collect evidence and further refine our approach, we plan to expand locations and build connections for national, regional, and global collective impact for inclusive and sustainable peace and prosperity.