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Collective action to transform urban violence and marginalization in Sri Lanka and Nigeria for inclusive and sustainable peace & prosperity

Local cross-sector collaboration leveraging demographic dividends can address violence & marginalization curbing cities' economic potential

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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. 

Explain your idea

To address a complex issue like violence and marginalization, the “Collaborative” builds on the acknowledgment that isolated, short-term interventions by individual organizations are insufficient and that sustainable solutions require local, inclusive ownership and a whole-of-society approach. It brings in individuals and organizations, as well as corporate, government and philanthropic sectors to collaborate as partners in driving this process and ensure ownership is shared for collective impact and action. Recognizing the demographic imperative, the proposed Collaborative engages young people as partners and co-leaders –instead of beneficiaries, victims, or threats— in decisionmaking and implementation, in partnership with other community leaders and local stakeholders. The Collaborative relies on long-term cross-sector coordination, where many organizations and individuals develop a shared understanding and analysis of the causes and drivers of marginalization and exclusion in their community. They then commit to working towards the same agreed-upon long-term vision and intermediate goals through joint activities, as well as their own differentiated activities. A dedicated, centralized support staff actively coordinate between members so activities are mutually reinforcing. This “backbone team” facilitates shared measurement, feedback loops, adaptive management strategies, and active communication efforts to build on ongoing data analysis and evaluation and ensure efforts remain aligned and accountable. This centralized infrastructure and structured process set the “Collaborative” apart from other networks or joint initiatives. It enables innovative, locally-led and locally-generated initiatives to make systemic-level changes for sustainable and inclusive development and security over time. The first twelve months of piloting catalyzes cross-sector, collaborative leadership for long-term collective action and impact. An important part of the process is helping leaders across sectors reach a common understanding of the issue from a complex systems approach, to define gaps and determine how to work together towards program and systems outcomes. During this period, leaders formalize their collaboration and agree on a governance model, define key strategies and goals, develop shared metrics, and identify “quick wins”. Building trust between disparate groups and organizations and then coming to a shared understanding of a problem and the best strategies for addressing it, particularly when dealing with complex issues of direct and structural violence, are time-consuming processes. Once the members are organized as such, the next several years focus on sustaining action and impact through continued engagement and coordination, and ongoing collaborative learning and evaluation of progress to adapt accordingly. A culture of trust and learning, and multi-year funding partnerships, are essential for the success of this approach.

Who Benefits?

This “Collaborative” approach provides the most benefit to the communities affected by marginalization and violence, including young people and ethnic and religious minorities. It also benefits the private sector, as business is no longer disrupted by violence and relationships and trust are restored with local communities. The government benefits on the local and national level from improved relationships and trust with its marginalized populations, and collaboration strengthens the government’s capacities to better respond to the needs of their constituencies, particularly when resources are limited. It also allows local and national state institutions to invest funds and energies that would have been dedicated to containing violence or unrest towards other priorities. Initial piloting is underway in Slave Island, Sri Lanka, and will begin by the end of 2017 in Jos, Nigeria. As we collect evidence and further refine our approach, we plan to expand to new locations and greater scale.

How is your idea unique?

Our cross-sector, collaborative approach brings different players together around a common agenda for action. This is a challenge for organizations who typically compete against one another for grants, and in conflict contexts where adversarial dynamics dominate. It also engages corporate, government, community, and youth actors as partners rather than beneficiaries. Unlike other networks or joint initiatives, which typically focus on a specific project or short-term goal and lack sufficient support structures, the “Collaborative” aims at long-term, systems-level rather than project-level change and has dedicated staff and a centralized infrastructure. Shared, local ownership and participatory decisionmaking shift the dynamics of dependency on international assistance towards local strength and capacity to drive sustainable local solutions. A process-oriented approach centered on collective learning and adaptive management ensures the “Collaborative” remains aligned for impact.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

Search for Common Ground is an international non-profit organization founded in 1982 that promotes peaceful resolution of conflict. The world’s largest peacebuilding organization, we use a process-oriented approach to help conflicting parties understand their differences and act on their commonalities. With a total of approximately 650 staff worldwide, we implement projects from 59 offices and in 48 countries, including in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Approximately 89% of our staff are nationals in-country, representing various local ethnic and religious communities. We also have extensive local partnerships with organizations and individuals. Search has been working in Sri Lanka since 2011 to collaborate with and build capacities of the government, civil society, media, and community leaders to promote religious tolerance, protect language diversity, and address gender and equality issues as the country recovers from civil war. Our team in Sri Lanka is composed entirely of local staff. In Nigeria, Search has been active since 2004, using innovative approaches to promote peacebuilding in areas of tension and to encourage understanding across ethnic, religious, and gender lines using consensus-based advocacy training, conflict resolution training, human rights monitoring and reporting, and the facilitation of dialogue processes that engage all levels of society. Our country team is primarily local (4 out of 43 staff are expats) and our staff in Jos are all local. Children and youth play an essential role in Search’s approach to peacebuilding. While the world typically looks at young people as either victims or villains in conflict, Search recognizes that young people have unprecedented potential to drive change and transform conflict in their communities. In one year, Search directly engages over 1.16 million children and youth, more than 90 youth peace organizations, and over 200 youth-led organizations all over the world. As co-founding co-chair of the inter-agency Working Group on Youth Participation in Peacebuilding, one of the most significant accomplishments has been our advocacy and collaborative leadership alongside many partners, which led to the historic passage of the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security on December 9, 2015. CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA) is our learning partner for the piloting. CDA is a non-profit organization committed to improving the effectiveness of those who work to provide humanitarian assistance, engage in peace practice, support sustainable development, and conduct corporate operations in a socially responsible manner. CDA combines rigorous analysis with pragmatic field-level work and delivers practical tools to field staff and policymakers alike. A “Framework for Collective Impact in Peacebuilding” is one of CDA's tools and frameworks, based on their many years of work on peacebuilding effectiveness, that the pilot will use.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


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