Programming for youth in areas that are affected by violent conflict has seen a significant increase over the last decade. Organizations working with foreign assistance have recognized the need to engage this important demographic group and have increased direct assistance to young people or have begun efforts to mainstream attention to youth in their broader programs. This heightened sensitivity and expanded programming by international actors has increased the understanding that young people are active participants in rebuilding communities that have been torn apart by conflict. It has also highlighted opportunities for programmatic and policy-level challenges around effective project design, coordination, funding, impact and accountability. These challenges encourage more sustained dialogue between agencies about the effects of conflict on youth and about how current practices fit within larger trends in youth programming in conflict affected areas, such as their assessment and evaluation.
This symposium brought together over two dozen different agencies and forty-one practitioners who are working across the youth and conflict sector interested in sharing experiences and strengthening their engagement with youth. The represented private foundations, government donors, scholars/academics and implementing partner agencies and UN agencies.
The symposium set out to achieve four key goals. These included:
- To learn about and clarify the most up-to-date thinking, analysis, challenges, best practices and necessary next steps in assistance and programming targeted at young people living in conflict zones;
- To come up with new approaches to making the sector of youth in conflict more collaborative, coherent, responsive, transparent and evidence-based;
- To foster continuing dialogue, coordination and communication between the different groups involved in this work, particularly among institutional funders, implementers and scholars, who are dedicated to working with youth in conflict affected areas; and
- To create concrete strategies that various actors in youth programming can implement to make the field more coherent, responsible, and relevant to the needs of conflict‐affected youth.
In an effort to achieve symposium goals, meet participant expectations, and utilize participants’ expertise, the symposium was structured around a series of parallel, interactive group sessions over the course of the two days. These sessions included:
- The joint development of a youth and conflict programming timeline: This identified key trends and tendencies over the past decades, the driving ideas and theories of change, important turning points, as well as current research and learning around youth and conflict programming.
- Interest group discussion among donors, practitioners, and academics: This session allowed all three of these groups to self-reflect and identify what key new or emerging challenges and opportunities exist from their perspective within their own sub group.
- “Attention Areas” identification: This session allowed mixed groups of participants to identify key areas (challenges, opportunities, etc) where focused attention is needed in order to move the sector forward and improve the engagement of youth in conflict affected areas. Groups worked under the three umbrella areas of 1) programming, 2) impact and accountability, and 3) coordination and collaboration.
- Preliminary guidelines for engaging youth: In small mixed groups participants brainstormed the prospects of draft preliminary guidelines for what it means to engage youth in conflict areas.