Strengthening Resilience Against Violent Extremist Agendas
31 Oct 2014
The Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) is the first global effort to support local, community-level initiatives aimed at strengthening resilience against violent extremist agendas. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation supports GCERF's objectives and is proud to be on its board, advising on the approach of this vital organisation.
The world's first global counter-terrorism "bank" will begin funding projects to stop violent extremism in five of the most "at risk" countries from next year, its interim director has said.
In his first major interview since the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) was established in Switzerland last month, Khalid Koser said the organisation will soon be giving out grants of around $10-$30,000 to small-scale counter-radicalisation programmes in Mali, Pakistan, Nigeria, Morocco and Bangladesh, and expects to be financing thousands of such programmes over the next decade.
The initiative was proposed by the Obama administration some years ago, and is now backed by the UK, the EC, Australia, Canada and Qatar, a country accused of financially supporting jihadi groups in Syria. Koser says the fund is a retort to the tens of billions of dollars that have been spent on arms and security in the fight against militants.
"There is a frustration that governments are spending an enormous amount of money on the security and military end," he said. "I think the international community is at last beginning to realise there is a range of policies."
Fundraising for the foundation – which he stresses must remain independent – appears to be going well. An initial $25m has already been pledged to get work under way, and he says the fund is in talks with Google, as well as with Norway and Denmark, to ensure it can eventually give away hundreds of millions on a long-term basis.
London-born Koser has spent over a decade living in Geneva and New York, where he specialised not in counter-terrorism but in refugees, most recently for the Global Commission on International Migration. He says he will be counting on his 14-member board, which is to include the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and will be chaired by the former director of Unicef, Carol Bellamy, to help him identify appropriate projects to back.
As soon as the board is appointed in mid-November, Koser will fly to Pakistan to start talking to potential project leaders. "This is an urgent issue," he says. "There are communities out there that need the money."
The son of a first-generation Pakistani immigrant and a mother who converted to Islam, Koser admits he is taking forward an idea that is untried and untested, and which bears significant risks of failure.
There are few approaches that are proven to work, and Koser accepts that identifying the factors that motivate young western men to fight for jihadi groups in Syria, or that encourage Buddhist monks in Burma to slaughter Muslims, is not easy.
"There is an approximate notion of what the drivers of radicalisation are, but I don't think it's accurate," he says. "This is about empowering the community with small but impactful grants to give us the answers."
The kinds of projects he has in mind are, for example, women working for gender empowerment in Mali, or IT students in Pakistan challenging jihadi messages on social media.
Some of these project ideas sound like they will be replicating development work. Koser doesn't disagree, but says the difference is that these prospective projects will have security outcomes in mind and funding will target areas of the world at risk of creating violent combatants, but where there are few resources to tackle the issues.
"There are places in Pakistan now where you give a kid $20 and he'll go plant an IED for you," he says. "That kid shouldn't be doing that. Build a football field, give him a job, give him an education. There must be ways to provide constructive alternatives."
There are even deeper issues GCERF must resolve, such as whether the anti-terror bank will only back secular values, or adopt a strategy of divide and rule, supporting non-violent but ostensibly radical groups in order to battle those radicals willing to pick up a Kalashnikov to further their aims.
"I recognise there will have to be value judgments made as we go forward," he says. "We can spend three years debating this or we can just get some money out there and try."
But despite the risks, Koser says donor countries are aware of what they are getting themselves into and expect that some projects will ultimately fail.
"There's an excitement to try this out, and lots of donors who are normally fairly risk averse are willing to take a risk on this."
This article was originally published in The Guardian.