On Monday, July 15, 2019, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Prevention Project—Organizing Against Violent Extremism, and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), part of United Kingdom Research and Innovation), with support from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, convened a day-long expert roundtable on the margins of the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. Practitioners and members from Member States, multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations (including civil society organizations), and the private sector came together to explore potential for operationalizing the linkages between the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16 (SDG 16), and efforts aimed at preventing violent extremism (PVE).  Two WASL partners shared insights into the situations on the ground in their respective countries.


UN Sustainable Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The event opened with a brief overview of the current situation in the PVE world.  “In response to the ongoing crisis of the rise of violent extremism, PVE actors collectively need to look ahead, not behind, regarding what needs to be done to prevent conflict and build peace,” said one participant.

The first session of the day aimed to determine where linkages exist between the SDG 16 agenda and the PVE agenda.  During the second session, participants sought to determine how all actors working in the PVE and SDG 16 spheres can work together to leverage comparative strengths to achieve the best outcome possible.  The third session focused on methods to bridge divides and bring coherence between actors in PVE and those involved in SDG 16.  The expert roundtable concluded with a discussion among all attendees about how best to move forward and possible recommendations.

The approach needs to be two-pronged: we need strong institutions, and trust in civil society.

Intervenors and other attendees highlighted several important facets to keep in mind when working to operationalize linkages between the SDG 16 and PVE agendas.  For example, language is crucial in all steps of this work.  A critical factor is the need for a single, unified definition of violent extremism between all relevant actors.  Language also needs to be specific when labelling work.  Depending on the region or country, civil society organizations have to label their work differently, such as “PVE work” versus “social cohesion.”  In addition, there are some places where SDG 16 language holds weight, but in other spaces, that language is not useful.  Instead, actors should be talking about the components and underlying tenets of SDG 16.  Finally, it is imperative to not only prevent violent extremism—we must also be working towards peace.

In order for the linkages between the SDG 16 and PVE agendas to function well, approaches need to be tailor-made to fit each individual context.  This includes funding work that is based on rigorous research—including talking to local civil society actors present on the ground—regarding the local drivers of violent extremism, and that responds to these root causes.  In addition, some donors require recipients to have experience handling a set amount of money, but often that amount isn’t realistic for a small, on-the-ground organization to have managed.  Donors need to be more realistic in their expectations of organizations’ capacities when funding these organizations.  Similarly, donors need to be willing to take risks in the organizations they fund.

Decisions to fund often are not driven by rigorous research or reports of the drivers of violent extremism in that country. Governments need to ask if what they’re funding ignores the structural reasons for why violent extremism exists in a space, and why people join violent extremist groups.

The outcomes and conclusions from this roundtable will inform a policy brief that will be presented during a high-level side vent during the opening of the 74th UN General Assembly in September 2019.

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