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More than Economic Grievance: Exploring Youth Livelihoods in Conflict-Affected Settings

Craig Zelizer

September 30, 2016

As I wrote yesterday, PCDN is very pleased to be attending the 10th Annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit. makingcents On the second day of the session, the morning plenary opened with a panel on More than Economic Grievance: Exploring Youth Livelihoods in Conflict-Affected Settings.
The session featured five amazing speakers who have strong experience on youth, economic opportunity and conflict. They include

Keith Proctor, Senior CVE Analysis, U.S. Department of State
Marcela Menjivar, Program Assistant, USAID, Bridges to Employment, Plan El Salvador
Michel, Okan, Program Assistant, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali
Rebecca Wolfe, Director of Conflict Management, Mercy Corps
Stacia George, Deputy Director, Office of Transition Initiatives, USAID


In introducing the session Sarah Sladen from Making Cents International emphasized that we cannot talk about creating economic opportunity for youth without addressing conflict conflict issues and that according to UNDP that over 600 million youth live in conflict affected states.

Keith said that the although the to date research shows that there is not a direct correlation between poverty and violent extremism, but there are important linkages. All too often the formal society fails to create opportunity for youth. When this happens non-state actors such as warlords or others can capitalize on this gap and be the most effective in providing opportunity for youth. He also cautioned, that only a very small percentage of youth engage in violence, the overwhelming majority are contributing productively and positively to their societies, but too often their voice is drowned out by a small minority. to remember the number of youth who engage in violence is very small. The panel focused on key questions including: how do we partner with youth? How do we leverage the best evidence to have strong programs? How do we make sure our programs are impactful and sustainable?

Rebecca talked about recent research by Mercy Corps that challenged the long-held assumption by many in the development sector, that a lack of jobs in the main reason why youth choose to engage in violence. The reasons are much more complex beyond employment and putting job creation above other factors such as having a voice in society, ability to vision a positive future, respect.

Marcela from El Salvador discussed that many young people living in high crime areas are stigmatized and discriminated against by the larger society. She discussed when someone lives in a high crime area, many others other still assume all youth in the area are engaged in crime. What this translates to in practice is when it is very hard to obtain employment or other opportunities when potential employers see a youth is from a high-crime area as they will not even interview the candidate. she was applying for jobs, potential employers would never call back when they saw her address.

However the challenge is many young people cannot afford to move to a safe area. She asked the audience is it a crime to be poor? There are many restrictions to moving around in an insecure environment controlled in part by criminal groups or grange. To put this in context she asked the group imagine you live in DC but you get a job in Virginia. But if each territory is controlled by a different group, then imagine you cannot go to Virginia as the group there would kill you. This is not just about job, but accessing social services. In her country alone last year,
Unfortunately 289 young people were killed last year on their way to school. More than 280,000 were displaced from their homes due to threats from gangs.She said that many people need local jobs, schools, etc. because they know moving to another community can cost them their lives.

Michel talked about his work in Mali to help generate economic opportunity in a part of Mali that was especially impacted by the conflict. Through his work he is helping to develop capacity of youth. In working with marginalized youth and the wider community, they work together to set priorities. The UN provides technical support and some funding. This has been a great opportunity for youth to work on a project for job creation, infrastructure development, that helps generate activity that was stopped by the conflict, such as school, markets, etc. A central focus of all work is how the project will impact marginalized youth and foster trust with diverse stakeholders.

Stacia started with the question how do you do this type of work in complex environments? The answer for what one should do is different in every content, including often from to town to town. But there are lines of questions that one use to help guide to the right program/impact. The question is what will work? How will what I do possibly make the conflict worse and how to seek to ensure a positive impact?

She stressed, the most important thing is hire people from the region, and ask them what will work and listen to them. In addition constantly questioning all assumptions is key Is everyone from that community a member of the gang? When she worked in the tribal areas of Pakistan everyone said you cannot work there. But after three weeks and talking to people she found the good. When everyone assumes employment is the answer, question if that is true?

Thirdly, it isn't sexy but think about your logistics. How is it going to work, particularly in changing contexts. She cautioned on spending too much time on theory and models, and that is essential to remain grounded in reality and keep your design simple. Contingency plan for everything once you start, then it isn't a problem when things come up as you have a backup plan.
In addition planing in advance for what can go wrong, as well as what can go right is key. There is an assumption conflict situations things always go wrong. But she has found that in conflict situations, people are often incredibly innovative as they have to adapt.

She urged people to also focus on life skills again, interpersonal skills, starting a business, etc. It isn't just about putting people in temporary jobs, people need the soft and hard skills. We need to help youth be resilient and adapt to changing contexts.

She said in working in DRC working with excombatants, they really wanted life skills as that would provide. Life skills are a long term investment and really have been shown to pay off.

.A key issue is how to help ensure one's activities don't make the situation worse and ideally seek to make things better. The number one thing to help ensure that you don't make things worse, is pay attention to who you hire. Particularly in situations where there is conflict, don't only hire from the privileged group. Take chances, seek balance in your own program team, beneficiaries, etc. If you see inequities try to reach out to groups that are marginalized.

These are difficult environments to work in, question your assumptions, reach out to marginalized groups. She urged everyone to try and work in challenging areas, as there is incredibly opportunity, people are already doing innovative things and want to work for change. Unfortunately too few groups are working there.

In the discussion part of the panel one of the issues was how do we a better job of reaching marginalized communities as all too often groups go with elites or just capital areas. Rebecca talked about how important building trust is and having strong local staff is key as they often have the relationships and connections is key. Marcel said you will "reach people when you know their problem."

There is a need to also work with the ecosystem to help them eliminate their discrimination against youth, and help sensitize them how to work with youth and more marginalized communities. As Marcela said, "Working with the most marginalized communities also requires more investment."

A basic starting point is saying we are going to work in the hard areas. Stacia said their criteria is where is no one else working, that is where they want to be. "We are going to go where no one else is" is a goal of their programs.

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