SPARK is offering 20 youth of Erbil the chance to take in a 8 month digital workforce programme (starting in February 2018). The programme is designed to nurture the digital and storytelling skills of future leaders to effect positive change. Together the 20 team members, recruited online and offline, form the Erbil Digital Workforce (EDW). They receive a series of trainings by international and local experts and will work together as a team to develop new innovative ways to prevent violent extremism through online and offline campaigning. The skills and experiences gained throughout the programme can be transferred to a range of different career paths and the programme provides with one-to-one career guidance mentoring. This is an opportunity for anybody in and around Erbil interested in the transformational potential of digital tools and technology. Selected members of the EDW receive a stipend to cover expenses during the programme.
Political extremists are using the internet as an instrument for recruitment and propaganda. Research has shown that any strategy that hopes to counter (online) radicalisation must create an environment in which the production and consumption of such materials becomes, not only less accessible in a technical sense, but unacceptable and less desirable. YouTube, known for removing content that violates local laws or promotes terrorism, argues against relying solely on censorship. Therefore it is important that that media influencers focus on ‘drowning out’ the Islamic State and other extremist organisations with better, reasonable messages.
The drivers of radicalisation of youth are multiple: ideological, religious, socioeconomic, political and personal drivers come into play to determine the likelihood that certain youth become susceptible to radicalisation and violent extremism. However many recruits of extremist organisations are lured by false promises rather than being attracted to violence. This makes it an ‘access-to-information’ problem. Basically this means that youth are often making bad decisions based on bad, partial information.
Part of the solution lies in building the capacity of youth to deliver alternative and positive messages. In order to enable youth to see and create the alternative narratives, access to diverse information is important, just like making the right information available in a digestible way.
The geographical location and the relatively high number of young Kurdish people, who joined ISIS in the past years, make Kurdistan region a suitable place to implement this programme. According to the Kurdish security forces and other officials, at least 700-1000 young Kurdish men have joined ISIS since 2014. Mostly they are young men influenced by online propaganda or by local extremists. In Halabja, a city close to Iran border and which is 300 km far from Erbil, the range of the number of people who joined ISIS is between 85-600. The high unemployment rates, the lack of services provided by the Kurdish authorities and a lack of belonging have led to this high number. It’s also worth to mention that the area has a history of militant Islam. Another factor that KR-I is suitable for this programme is that the Kurdish government is struggling with this problem and is looking for a tool to control the mix group of IDPs, Syrian refugees, returnees from abroad and host community and therefore the government is ready to provide any (legal) assistance and support to implement this programme.
Moonshot CVE was founded in order to place the exponential power of emerging technology at the heart of efforts to counter violent extremism. From digital capacity building to counter messaging campaigns, Moonshot uses data-proven techniques to ensure clients respond to violent extremism effectively. For example, with these techniques it is possible to find so-called ‘hotspots of radicalisation’ (places where youth radicalises in higher rates than elsewhere).