November 26, 2013

In Conflict-Heavy Mindanao, a Fresh Start

Can economic opportunity stem the tide of gangs and violence in one of the Philippines’ most dangerous regions?

It’s an unfortunate reality in some developing countries—when young people don’t have the skills or opportunity to find work, they are more likely to join gangs or extremist groups.

EDC is hoping participation in a new project will give out-of-school youth in the Philippines a more conflict-free path.

Called MYDev—short for Mindanao Youth Development—the five-year, USAID-funded project seeks to enroll 19,000 out-of-school youth in basic education and livelihood skill programs to help them get a leg up in the local labor market.

The project continues EDC’s legacy of preparing hundreds of thousands of young people for work in countries around the world, including Honduras, Rwanda, Haiti, and, previously, in Mindanao. From 2006 to 2012, EDC’S EQuALLS2 project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, increased access to quality basic education and skills training programs for close to a half million young people in the Philippines. The project reached nearly 1,000 communities, with much of the work being done in Mindanao and other communities affected by conflict and poverty.

But MYDev is unique, because it specifically seeks to give youth an alternative to violence.

“The program will support USAID’s overall goal of improving peace and stability in areas of conflict in Mindanao,” says EDC’s Bill Potter, project director for MYDev. “Our selection of project sites was based on an assessment of where risks are highest for transnational violent extremism.”

MYDev aims to help heal Mindanao, a region of the Philippines where for many decades opportunity has been in short supply and insecurity all too common.

The southernmost island grouping in the Filipino archipelago, Mindanao has been home to an Islamic separatist movement, which has led to wide displacement of residents, lack of essential services, and periods of violence. As is common in many regions of conflict, formal economic opportunities are scarce in Mindanao. Poverty rates are high throughout the region, and the lack of positive economic options has pushed many young people towards participating in the insurgency.

MYDev hopes to rebuild the bonds between communities in Mindanao and the local government, largely by improving services for increased access to education and livelihood opportunities for the region’s large youth population. The hope is that reestablishing opportunity will help lead to stability and security throughout the region and the Philippines at large.

“Our success will depend on our ability to repair the relationship between community members and Mindanao government officials,” says Potter. “This is an integral part of improving the government’s capacity to deliver education and training services for youth.”

Still in its startup phase, MYDev is identifying areas with the highest concentration of out-of-school youth and assessing the possible labor opportunities in those locations. The team will also begin developing the alternative learning skills and workforce development programs that will be the backbone of the program.

MYDev also seeks to give youth more opportunities for positive social and political engagement. In year two of the program, participants will be encouraged to initiate small-scale community development projects that address issues of interest or concern. And out-of-school youth will have opportunities to be participate in a city/municipal youth development alliance that will address issues of economic and educational importance.

“If we can help strengthen the social contract between communities and the local government, then opportunities for economic prosperity will emerge, especially for young people,” says Potter. “And stability and security won’t be far behind.”