PVE and Strengthening Social Cohesion: Investing in Youth-led and Youth-driven Initiatives

Speaking Event: Prevention of Violent Extremism and Strengthening Social Cohesion: Investing in Youth-led and Youth-driven Initiatives to Build Resilient Societies

July 9, 2020

As prepared for delivery.


With many thanks to Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

Excellencies, Colleagues,

I warmly welcome the valuable contributions of Wevyn and Fatima today. Millions of young people like you -- are at the frontlines of creating the world we want.

As COVID-19 spreads, it is youth who are reaching out to vulnerable neighbours and volunteering to help the marginalized.

They are also leading the calls to address discrimination, inequality and injustice. However, young people are amongst those most affected by COVID-19. Even prior to the onset of COVID-19, youth were three times more likely to be unemployed compared to adults.

The increase in unemployment is expected to even exceed the unemployment rates of the aftermath of the 2007-9 global financial crisis.

And the problems run deeper. Global human development is on course to decline this year for the first time since 1990. It is also straining institutions and deepening economic and social marginalization.

This is not counting its other significant effects -- for instance on gender equality and the shocking spike in gender-based violence.

So, we must now work even closer with young women and men to address these crucial areas to build back better from COVID-19.

How UNDP is Driving a Deeper Understanding of PVE

This work is crucial as there are indications that the impacts of COVID-19 could aggravate the drivers of violent extremism.

Therefore, it is crucial we have a deeper understanding of the ways to prevent violent extremism (PVE).

Some examples of our work includes:

·         A flagship UNDP study, Journey to Extremism explored how young people who lack opportunities and feel let down by institutions can be persuaded to join violent extremist groups.

One striking finding was that an overwhelming 71 per cent of those surveyed cited a state action -- such as the killing or arrest of a friend or relative by local law enforcement or security forces -- as the tipping point that pushed them to join a violent extremist movement.

·         Our Invisible Women report revealed how these groups “co-opt” messages of gender equality and social transformation to persuade women and girls to join.

·         Indeed, UNDP’s research has found that 80 per cent of young people from poor communities who joined extremist groups did so within just a few months of first contact with a recruiter

·         And our Frontlines report shows how young people are taking critical action to change these conditions, in which violent extremism so often thrives.

At the same time, the report identifies the lack of meaningful consultation with youth in PVE initiatives -- and the lack of funding for youth initiatives as top challenges for young people.

How UNDP’s Investment in Youth Initiatives Builds Resilient Societies

Our global Prevention of Violent Extremism workstream is taking these crucial findings to heart -- it is centered around nurturing and supporting the strengths of young people to play a central role in preventing violent extremism as well as helping to sustain peacebuilding efforts in 34 countries.

It is country-focused and evidence-based.In this respect, it is clear from working with young people, that they want to see real change in a range of key areas.

For instance: 

·         They want to be able to be more active in decision-making processes.

·         They want to build an economy that creates sustainable jobs that can support their family. They also want to propel businesses that take into account the needs of the planet.

·         They have a range of other crucial needs -- including access to justice and factual information -- as well as enhanced support to mental health.

So, our work in this area integrates efforts on livelihoods, governance, education, social cohesion, as well as access to the arts and media as tools for young people to advance their vision of a better world.

·         For instance, our livelihoods initiatives in Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia and Mali is centered around the creation of green jobs and supporting youth-led entrepreneurship.

·         Or in Bangladesh, where UNDP is supporting young people’s digital literacy; their capacity to spot fake news, and to produce content that presents an inclusive, peaceful alternative to violent extremist rhetoric.

·          We are also working with youth to apply behavioural insights to address violent extremism in countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Our work is very much partnership focused -- including with youth-led and youth-focused civil society organisations.

I am delighted so many of the UN entities and CSO partners that support these efforts are present here today.


In closing, it is clear that preventing and countering violent extremism means addressing its root causes and strengthening state authority and good governance at local levels.

The engagement of vulnerable groups, women’s organizations and inter-religious community dialogue also continue to play a key role in preventing violent extremism.

Much of UNDP’s added value in this area derives from its long-term development and local governance focus and our longstanding engagement with youth.

Indeed, the contributions today demonstrate yet again how young people are taking a lead role in these crucial efforts.

We must now work together even more closely to give them the support they need.

As part of our commitment to this, UNDP and UNOCT recently agreed on an Action Plan -- I thank UNOCT for bringing us all here today so that, together, we can become the even more unified organisation that our partners need.

This is vital as like the virus, terrorism does not respect national borders – it can only be defeated collectively.

It is also about looking at what is coming down the road. For instance, new technologies hold enormous potential to help us address the root causes and drivers of violent extremism.

They can enhance the transparency of public institutions; broaden inclusion and participation in decision-making; and enhance understanding of public issues through greater access to public information. UNDP envisages a future in which youth are fully empowered with the skills necessary in the post COVID-19 world -- most notably digital literacy and internet access.

This will help them fully participate in the entire development process -- from planning and design to evaluation and learning.  

In sum, it is clear that when young people are involved in building a future they want, and they are afforded the necessary tools -- they will indeed build more inclusive, more resilient, more sustainable and more peaceful societies.

Thank you.