As urban populations grow and become younger, violence, social inequality, and marginalization prevent cities from reaching their full economic potential. The total economic impact of violence on the world economy in 2016 was $14.3 trillion. At the same time, economic progress tends to exclude ethnic and religious minorities, and public trust in the institutions supporting and driving that progress — from government and business to NGOs and media — 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.
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. Countries with burgeoning youth populations typically view this demographic as a burden or threat, failing to activate their positive potential or respond to their needs. This is the same demographic that violent political and extremist groups often target for recruitment. Young people have also been at the forefront of some of the world’s most influential social change movements. However, UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security, 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.”
Around the world, governments, businesses, communities, and the individuals (of all ages) that form these organizations struggle to work together effectively to resolve conflicts and leverage their various resources to drive forward sustainable social and economic progress. Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than in complex urban settings. Poorly managed urban growth and rapid, large-scale development projects often exacerbate inequalities and exclusion of poor communities and minorities.
A New Approach to a Complex Issue
Efforts to address complex social issues like these have typically focused on project-based interventions by independent organizations, primarily in the nonprofit sector, each aiming to produce and scale impact. These efforts are often top-down, driven and funded by outside or international actors, rather than those most involved in or affected by the issues. However, evidence increasingly indicates that sustainable, large-scale social change on complex issues requires local, inclusive ownership and broad cross-sector collaboration, and that the inclusion of young people is critical to long-term peace and prosperity.
Building on these principles, we have started piloting an innovative approach that combines and integrates elements of systems thinking, collective impact, positive youth development, and asset-based development, into a locally-led and locally-owned “Collaborative”.
The Collaborative is driven both by those who are most affected by the issue as well as those who are most directly involved and influential, across sectors and levels. This collaboration across government, business, and civil society includes young people as partners and co-leaders –instead of beneficiaries, victims, or threats— in addressing the root causes of violence, exclusion, and marginalization. Activating the skills and creative energy of the local community, amplifying their positive leadership and influence, and investing in their solutions could shift the tide towards inclusive development and shared peace and prosperity.
Piloting the Collaborative
Search for Common Ground is piloting the Collaborative approach in Sri Lanka, as the country recovers from the civilian and economic tolls of its 27-year civil war, and in conflict-ridden Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. Youth engagement and partnership is at the core of the approach; in Nigeria, 63% of the population is under 24 years old, and in Sri Lanka, that number is 40%.
Initial piloting will focus on central Colombo in Sri Lanka and Jos in Nigeria. Central Colombo 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 central Colombo are already being pulled into political violence and crime. Jos, on the other hand, has suffered from intense ethnoreligious 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.
Learning through Piloting
Our “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. We are piloting the Collaborative using a sequenced approach to capture and apply learnings from initial piloting to subsequent efforts.
CDA Collaborative Learning Projects— a non-profit organization committed to improving the effectiveness of humanitarian, peacebuilding, and development practitioners— has joined this pilot initiative as our learning partner. They will help build capacity among members of the Collaborative on how to apply systems approaches and analysis to achieve large-scale change. 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.
Join in our Vision
This audacious approach relies on long-term partnerships for collaboration and support at all levels. Our vision is that this trans-local architecture for collaboration will be a powerful force for sustainable and systemic change around the world.
Join us in bringing this vision to life as a local, regional, or global partner. As a co-creator and collaborator, you amplify the collective impact of these efforts to transform direct and structural violence. Together, we can transform the way the world engages young people and their communities for lasting, inclusive peace and prosperity.
Children & Youth Program Director