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IDRC, Carlos Slim Foundation team up to reduce youth violence

July 27, 2016

Homicide rates have skyrocketed among young people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico—especially among youth between the ages of 15 to 24, when they should be finishing high school and entering the work force.

IDRC is partnering with Mexico’s Carlos Slim Foundation to curb the violence by fostering more opportunities for young people to study or work.

The Youth Citizen Security Platform will combine IDRC’s long history of research on social issues, and more recently on violence reduction, with the Carlos Slim Foundation’s innovative ways of using technology to reach young people.

“The program aims to influence security-related public policies by helping to understand and prevent the causes that lead to the many forms of violence to which young people are exposed,” says Markus Gottsbacher, senior program specialist at IDRC.

No future for youth

Throughout Latin America, a large number of teens and young adults neither study nor work, says Christiane Hajj, executive director of the Carlos Slim Foundation’s violence prevention program. Young people who quit school often end up in temporary, informal jobs that offer low pay, no benefits, and little stability, she says. The scarcity of opportunities pushes some young people into jobs related to drug trafficking and organized crime.

“Personally, I worry that we are leaving a generation without hope,” Hajj says. “The fact that they can't see a plan for their lives five or 10 years into the future—that’s terrible.”

This program combines research, training, and advocacy to find and promote solutions that can help youth regain hope.

Understanding the dynamics of youth and violence

Research in the four countries will focus on the obstacles that sometimes cause young people to drop out of school and that prevent them from entering the job market, making them more vulnerable in their communities, says Ricardo Córdova, executive director of the Fundación Dr. Guillermo Manuel Ungo (Fundaungo), a Salvadoran think tank that is coordinating the project.

Researchers will also explore promising initiatives that aim to reduce youth violence in communities and schools and create economic opportunities. They will produce six in-depth studies of such initiatives.

“We want to understand how young people experience violence: how it affects young men and women in schools, how it affects them in their everyday lives, how problems of violence and security affect girls,” says Carlos Rodríguez, coordinator of Fundaungo’s Territorial Management and Citizenship Program.

In addition to Fundaungo in El Salvador, the National University of Honduras, the Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales in Guatemala, and the Colectivo de Análisis de la Seguridad con Democracia in Mexico will also carry out the studies.

Training agents for change

The research data will help shape the content for an online certificate course focused on understanding the causes and characteristics of violence affecting young people and ways of addressing the problem.

The course will target public servants in public safety, criminal justice, education, health, and other areas involved in efforts to lower rates of youth violence. Members of civil society organizations, youth leaders, and others who could form public opinion or engage in advocacy on the issue will also participate.

The content is still being designed, but the course will include theory and practical action, such as the development of advocacy strategies, and will give participants an opportunity to learn from successful initiatives already under way.

Spreading the word online

A virtual, smartphone-friendly platform will also disseminate the program’s research results and provide information about youth violence and security and economic opportunities for at-risk youth.

“One important aspect of the platform is that it will give young people the opportunity to develop recommendations for policies that affect their lives,” Gottsbacher says. Youth participation will also be a key aspect of workshops and facilitated discussions designed to develop ideas for projects and an agenda on policies for youth, he explains. 

Crowd sourcing and other methods will bring forth ideas from youth organizations, individual youth leaders, and civil society and international cooperation organizations that work on youth-related issues.

Better security for youth

Drawing on the information and skills they acquire, course participants and platform users will become advocates for improving youth prospects.

Hajj hopes that the emerging solutions to overcome the barriers to education and jobs for youth can also lead to policies and actions that will help stem the northward flow of young people from Central America through Mexico to the United States. This perilous journey exposes youth to more violence and drains countries of those who could help build a better future.

“I would like to see a future in which young people have better opportunities,” says Hajj, who expects the program will create a virtuous circle of support. “Our goal is to help increase security for them through better opportunities.”