Economic Opportunity + Connection: A Solution to Violent Extremism
How Economic Opportunity & Connection can be a Solution to Violent Extremism.
A few weeks ago, I was watching television coverage of the most recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, trying to understand why these senseless, seemingly random acts of violence and terrorism continue to occur here in the U.S. and around the world. And while there may be differences between the types of violent acts or the specific ideology behind them, the same themes consistently crop up as to why someone would commit this type of violence—individually or as part of a radicalized extremist group.
What makes young people vulnerable to radicalization?
In the U.S., and globally, disaffected young men are frequently the ones who commit these atrocities. However, in several African countries such as Kenya or Mali, the number of young female militants is growing. So why is this happening? The research points to a variety of reasons.
- Lack of employment and opportunity.
- Alienation, isolation and a lack of community.
- Economic marginalization.
- No hope for the future.
- A feeling of powerlessness.
Preventing violence from people already radicalized sometimes feels like fighting a hydra, which grows two heads for each one chopped off. How then, do we also tackle the root causes of extremism to prevent radicalization from happening in the first place?
High unemployment and lack of hope for the future can amplify radical messaging.
I remembered this well-dressed young man in Uganda, who I would pass on my way to work. He would stand in the middle of the busy street, selling bundled stalks of sugar cane. When I saw him, a deep sadness came over me, thinking, “Is this all he has to look forward to?” Sadly, the answer is “yes.”
In Uganda, 70% of the population is below 30 years of age, and has 70% youth unemployment, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. Across Africa, the International Labour Organization estimates that the youth unemployment rate is expected to exceed 30% this year. Multiply the young man in the road by hundreds of thousands of young people who have great potential, but limited job and economic opportunity in Africa, and the issue becomes even more grim. Having no hope can open the door for violence and radicalization, where grievances are legitimized, and promises of a purpose and a sense of community can be an attractive proposition.
Economic opportunity and community connection can be a gamechanger.
I believe what is needed is twofold. First of all, people need cash in their pockets and prospects to put their potential to work. In the U.S. and around the world, we must invest in programs that give people the tools and opportunities they need to thrive. In Africa, formal sector jobs will not come even close to meeting the need. In fact, research also shows that approximately 400,000 Ugandan youth enter the job market annually to compete for approximately 10,000 available jobs. Small scale entrepreneurship in Africa is necessary to fill this gap. In the U.S., job training for the new economy, as well as bringing entrepreneurship out of Silicon Valley and into the heartland and depressed areas of the country, is essential.
But perhaps equally important, programs need to create connection. This means connecting people to their own potential and human dignity, as well as connecting them to each other and to their communities. Doing this helps create a strong fabric of society, in which it’s harder to demonize “the other,” and where we hold each other accountable to be our best selves.
It is only by combining robust access to economic hope, with building networks of community and connection, that we will address the root causes of radicalization, extremism, and violence which is all too common on our TV screens.
Devin Hibbard is the founder and CEO of Street Business School, an award winning non-profit, igniting the impact of other organizations by equipping them with our one-of-a-kind entrepreneurial training for people, proven to triple their income and enable them to lift their families out of poverty with dignity.
Street Business School trains organizations in many different sectors how to customize and incorporate Street Business School into their work, to help the people they serve earn more money, which helps accelerate their impact.