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Be the Bridge: Youth Leadership for Interfaith Dialogs

We solve a problem common to youth interfaith/intercultural dialogs, which is that youth are too often seen as participants, not leaders.

Photo of Cheryl Duckworth

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Peaceful school cultures are essential to educating the whole student, in terms of preparation for community, school, work and family life, as well as for participation as a citizen in our democracy. When various faith, ethnic, gender or other groups experience high levels of conflict or tension in a school, educators have both an opportunity and responsibility to teach the skills of empathy, inclusion and intercultural dialog. Noting an increase in community tensions between local Muslims, as well as escalated incidences of bullying of Muslim students, the PI (CAHSS’s Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert in peace education) proposes to partner with Broward County Public Schools’ Tom Albano, in BCPS’s Diversity, Prevention and Intervention Office. We propose to partner in developing a series of interfaith dialogs and teacher trainings, as well as a resource guide for teachers on inclusion of Muslim students. Uniquely, our strategic program design looks to avoid a common flaw in many such programs, which is overlooking the ability of youth themselves to lead such community conflict resolution efforts. By ensuring youth leadership in the dialogs through including them as student facilitators alongside faculty, our project design avoids this mistake. This increases the educational and peace building value of our proposal; by building both student and faculty community dialog capacity, we ensure impact and program sustainability beyond the life of the grant. Because of this design, we will be better able to impact school culture. The outcomes of our resource materials, trainings and dialogs will be (1) a reduction of incidents of bullying of Muslim students (2) development of increased skills with regard to interfaith dialog to be measured via a mix-methods assessment (3) observable reduction in current tensions between faith and inter-cultural communities in BCPS

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are Broward Co. Public school students and teachers first. Students build skills for peace leadership, and have the opportunity to address the root causes of hate and violence in their schools and communities. The wider school and community are also beneficiaries. When school cultures are more peaceful, academics improve. Also, Broward Co. has suffered from violent incidents and hate crimes. Youth leadership is needed to address this issue which grows daily in urgency. As our pilot project showed, youth-led peace projects succeed in fostering more inclusive, peaceful school cultures. During this project, implemented during academic year 2017-18, students designed and led peace projects. Such projects included facilitating interfaith dialogs, hosting “Ask a Muslim” events, and interfaith dinners. Student teams then presented on their projects publicly. Such projects build youth peace leadership skills, and impact school cultures for peace.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our innovation addresses two key challenges that youth intercultural dialogs have had. One is that youth capacity for creative and impactful leadership is too often overlooked. We center youth leadership through their school-site peace projects, which they lead and design. Secondly, this model also gives us the advantage of sustainability. With a scarcity of time and resources, youth peace and conflict resolution programs have been notoriously hard to sustain over time. By directly engaging students themselves in projects they design and believe in, we maximize impact (youth respond to one another more than adults) and sustainability because youth are committed to sustaining what they themselves designed. Our data from the pilot project are clear that youth see every day the impact of intercultural violence and tension in their classrooms. They are eager to lead solutions that will work for them. Our unique design, centering youth projects, creates the opportunity for them to do so.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

I am a professor of peace education at Nova Southeastern Univ (

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

“Why not a ladder of peace, Dr. D?”, asked my student. I’d just finished a lesson I called “the ladder of hate”, designed to teach students the dangers of stereotypes and scapegoating. Inspired by him, I rewrote my lesson plan, asking students to consider what a ladder of peace would include. When we create the space, young people can lead. This classroom story is just one example.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Alas, S. Florida is home to more hate groups per capita than anywhere else in the USA, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Our local public radio station (WLRN), corroborating this, noted that in the past two or so years, hate crimes have been on the rise. Local school systems struggle with racial and inter-cultural incidents. Broward Co. schools is an incredibly diverse district, with a rich history of curriculum and programs aimed at inclusivity and equality--as well as challenges manifest in incidents of bullying, hate crimes and even violence related to specific cultural celebrations. Given both the extant skill set and the clear need, we propose to build on the excitement and momentum created during school year 2017-18. Our data demonstrate that students are eager to continue dialoging about solutions to the inter-cultural tensions they witness daily at school, and to build on and expand the peace projects they lead post-dialog at their school sites.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Over the past academic year (AY 2017-18), I have partnered with the office of Diversity, Prevention and Intervention at Broward Co. Schools ( This partnership has proven fruitful and effective. Together we hosted four youth interfaith/intercultural dialogs. The final youth dialog also offered students who had been leading peace projects at their own schools the opportunity to present, as described above. We have conducted qualitative and quantitative assessment throughout the program to ensure impact, and will be publishing that data soon. Our team has demonstrated that we have the experience and expertise to expand our youth interfaith dialogs throughout South FL, building youth peace leadership capacity, reducing school and community violence, and fostering a culture where academics can improve.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Broward Schools is empowered with an office dedicated to violence prevention and cultural inclusion, as well as a core of teachers and students passionate about peace, human rights and equality in schools. My department is one of the largest academic departments dedicated to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the world, and I am internationally recognized as a facilitator and human rights education expert. We have every ingredient needed for this project to continue succeeding.

Geographic Focus

This project targets the diverse S. Florida region, especially Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Co.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

This project will be implemented over the course of 24 months. During this time, we will involve schools in Broward Co. and neighboring systems (Palm Beach Co, Dade Co) in a series of youth intercultural dialogs. We will offer youth training in facilitation skills, and mentor them in designing and implementing school-based peace projects. We will use focus groups, field observation and survey questionnaires to collect data on the impact of the programs on the students and school communities.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jerome Sam-De Mwaya

I love your inspiration story! I love how the student shifted the possible narrative to peace and focusing on what we want more of. It made me want to hear more of the youth voices that inspire your work and proposal. Good luck!

Photo of Cheryl Duckworth

Thanks so much! That's just what I loved about it too, and why I wanted to share. Young people have so much potential to lead. Thanks again!

Photo of Jerome Sam-De Mwaya

I wonder if you have ever engaged young people in intergenerational dialogue? I would be happy to share some examples if you are interested. In one project I worked on, the young people realized they needed the support of adults and elders in the community and wanted to work on shifting the views that people had of them that might get in the way. I can't wait to hear how your project goes!

Photo of Cheryl Duckworth

Thanks--These dialogs have not be intergenerational, but I've advocated for such. Great idea. I'd love examples, thank you!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Cheryl Duckworth great to have you in the Challenge! Jerome Sam-De Mwaya really interesting insight, that reminds me of one of the Top Ideas from last year, which had a slightly different focus, but is doing intergenerational work and has a train-the-trainer model based out of Chicago that might be interesting to check out:

Photo of Cheryl Duckworth

Thanks so much! I enjoyed reading a bit about your project and would love to learn more. They inspire me.

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