(New York, NY) -- The Counter Extremism Project (CEP), joined with the U.S. State Department, the White House and Search for Common Ground, to host more than 100 youth activists and government officials from more than 40 countries at the first Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism on September 28 in New York City.
The Summit, which highlighted positive youth contributions to combatting violent extremism, will be an annual CEP event, giving young people the chance to engage their peers, develop effective grassroots programs to steer youth away from radicalization and build community resilience against extremism.
CEP CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace complimented the activists for their dedication and their creativity in combatting extremism.
“The fact that you are doing so much in your communities and have chosen to make this issue an important part of your life’s work is extremely encouraging, because it tells us that we are not alone in recognizing this as the seminal issue for our time and that there are many others with passion, energy and creativity who recognize the urgency and the need to fight extremism on many fronts in addition to the battlefield,” Wallace said. “We hope that we can look back on this day, this first Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism, and be able to say this was a turning point in the fight for peace, tolerance and pluralism.”
Speakers during the day included U.S. Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall and Search for Common Ground President Shamil Idriss.
Actress and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg attended the Summit and delighted youth activists with her interest and enthusiasm for their projects and ideas.
More than 40 of the youth activists presented specific proposals in a rapid fire session where judges and members of the audience asked questions and provided constructive commentary. CEP has committed $100,000 to advance promising youth generated proposals to counter extremism and up to $100,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department will be available for ideas and initiatives were judged promising or ready to scale.
Discussions, breakout sessions, and panels were held onsite throughout the day. Microsoft Corp. and Facebook both participated in the Summit, leading discussions focused on improving employment prospects for vulnerable youth and how technology can be used to support community-based efforts to counter radicalization. Mark Lagon of Freedom House led a discussion about how establishing effective networks could contribute to overcoming extremism.
The Summit also served as the kick-off of CEP’s One95 counter-narrative campaign, which includes a new website that will provide young activists a year-round platform for discussion and idea-sharing, and access to a counter extremism based educational curriculum that can be widely adapted and shared.
Also finalized and announced as part of the Summit was the Global Youth Action Agenda to Prevent Violent Extremism and Promote Peace, which was presented to President Obama and other officials at the UN Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism on September 29. In his remarks at the UN, Obama referenced the Global Youth Summit.
“And as we saw yesterday, young people from around the world are participating in their own summit. These young people, many of them Muslim, are coming together and using their talents and technology to push back on ISIL’s propaganda, especially online, and to protect their brothers and sisters from recruitment,” Obama said. “These young people are an inspiration and give us hope, and I’d ask everyone to join me in thanking all the young people who are here today.”
Summit participants came from as far as Australia and New Zealand and brought rich backgrounds and a commitment to working in their communities to fight the forces of radicalization, hate and violence. Some of the participants included:
- Yousef Assidiq of Norway, the co-founder of JustUnity, a Norwegian organization that is successfully working to prevent extremism and youth radicalization. A former extremist himself, Assidiq shares his powerful personal experiences in conversations with youth.
- Ilwad Elman of Somalia, Director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, helps to rehabilitate and reintegrate youth and adults disassociated from armed groups and works to counter violent extremism in the Horn and East Africa.
- Essma Bengabsia, a college student from New Jersey, who said she was campaigning to “counter violence in all its forms,” planned to launch a series of social media hashtag campaigns against ISIS online recruitment.
- Daouda Zalle, is film director and producer from Burkina Faso. Last year, he worked as a mentor for students in the Sahel of Burkina Faso making films promoting peace and denouncing practices of violent extremism.
- Achaleke Leke was a victim of radicalization and violence growing up in Cameroon. However, he has been able to transform himself into an ambassador of peace and for more than eight years has been a youth civil society peace activist inspiring others.
- Widyan Fares of Australia is a reporter for The Point Magazine, an online youth-focused magazine covering issues affecting community harmony and cohesion. She presented a multi-platform concept to create global networks and partnerships to combat radicalization.
The Summit garnered widespread press attention from domestic and foreign press outlets, including Bloomberg News, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, Politico, Times of India, Lebanon’s The Daily Star, Malaysia’s Benar News, The Cairo Post, and AllAfrica News.