In the peacebuilding field, young people are generally seen as victims, at-risk, perpetrators or recently as ‘potential’ peacebuilders.
What does not get sufficiently highlighted in this youth discourse is the fact that in all conflict contexts, there are invariably young people who build their own peacebuilding initiatives. They do so from their innate desire for peace (for themselves and their community) and on their own agency. Such initiatives are not rare and they are often offbeat and innovative. Sometimes they are unprecedented by the efforts of the older generation. They attempt to transform conflict through building bridges between conflict actors and generating stimulus for dialogue and mediation. This, one can argue, is due to that special ‘something’ of youth, i.e. that distinct biographical phase, characterised by a unique mix of energy, passion and emotion.
In recent years, youth is increasingly on the international peacebuilding agenda. In 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security, urged greater representation by young men and women in the prevention and resolution of violent conflict. Built on and complementing UN SCR 2250, in 2018, Resolution UN SCR 2419, called for an increasing role of young people in negotiating and implementing peace agreements. The independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security further underpins these normative expectations: it concludes that although often overlooked and marginalized, young people all over the world can and do contribute to the prevention and transformation of violent conflicts in various shapes and forms.
At the Berghof Foundation, our youth approach is shaped by this transformative aspect of youth. We are particularly interested in finding ways of engaging with the ‘youth space’. This space, looking from a ‘whole of society’ perspective, is not an isolated space of young people only, but an intergenerational space of youthfulness. It cuts through both informal and formal spaces. It is also a gendered space where a range of different gender roles, constraints and opportunities are exhibited, depending on the context.
Our engagement with the youth space is thus guided and informed by dialogue with people who navigate this space. In our projects, we approach youth engagement across a range of interrelated areas:
Strengthening/ further developing individual and group capacities and identity as peacebuilders
Creating space for learning and knowledge sharing
Connecting and networking young people across constituencies within a context, and across contexts
Co-creating structures for youth participation in formal and informal peacebuilding processes.
Our most recent stimulus is an exploration of the dialogic and mediative aspects of the youth space. It challenges how youth initiatives are often seen as ‘merely peacebuilding’ or activism work, and encourages an open and systemic way of acknowledging how some youth initiatives are actually indispensable for creating space for dialogue and mediation processes.
The Berghof Foundation has been engaging Lebanese youth especially fresh Shari’a graduates in activities organized in cooperation with Dar al-Fatwa to strengthen intra-Sunni dialogue and strategy-building in the Lebanese Sunni community on prevention and addressing root causes of radicalization over the last three years. These activities include trainings of multipliers on dialogue, mediation and conflict transformation as well as their involvement in constructive discussions on different societal, political and religious issues with the Dar Al-Fatwa and the Berghof Foundation. Dar Al-Fatwa – the official Sunni religious institution in Lebanon – has been working in partnership with the Berghof Foundation on a capacity-building pilot project in an attempt to narrow the gap between the institution and the Sunni youth in Lebanon and also to enhance the institutions’ outreach among the younger generation. The target group within the Sunni society involves a considerably high number of youth (males and females) with religious backgrounds as well as young Sheikhs from Dar al-Fatwa and other Sunni streams. Moreover, a project component that focuses on enhancing the work of Dar Al-Fatwas’ radio station "Al-Quran Al-Kareem" ensures the involvement of Sunni media graduates in the trainings to strengthen their capacities, bring them closer to Dar al-Fatwa, and enable them to contribute effectively to the radio station on the short as well as on the long-term. more>
Our colleague Julian Demmer has been part of the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, coordinated by the joint Secretariat of the United Nations Population Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office.
Our exploratory study The youth space of dialogue and mediation: An exploration was a thematic contribution to the Progress Study.
Our former colleague Nico Schernbeck has served as Special Representative on Youth and Security of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), advising the Austrian Chairmanship 2017 on the role of youth in peace and conflict. He has also advised the OSCE Secretariat in its youth mainstreaming strategy.
We have been pushing the case for youth participation in mediation and in formal and informal spaces of National Dialogue at the annual conferences of the Ministry of Finland in Helsinki in the last years.
As a member of the youth-led grassroots think-tank Polis 180 our colleague Julian Demmer organized a workshop within the Peace Lab 2016 Process and through this lobbied successfully for the integration of UN SCR 2250 in the German Guidelines on Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts and Building Peace.
Our colleagues Mir Mubashir and Julian Demmer participated in an expert workshop on “Youth for Peace. Challenges and chances of strengthening youth participation in the Middle East to build peace" organised by FriEnt in cooperation with BMZ and INEF. Julian facilitated a working group on “Youth Participation in Peace Processes”.