Guest Article: The Pandemic That Continues to Spread: Now More Than Ever We Must All Come Together to Stand up to Racism, Bigotry, Hate, Intolerance, and Extremism

Above: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launches the Shared Endeavour Fund at Google’s headquarters in London in January 2020

9 September 2020

Olly Levinson
Head of the London Countering Violent Extremism Programme at the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC)

While society has had to focus on the huge challenges posed by COVID-19, another virus continues to spread.  Bigots, supremacists and extremists have sought to use the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic to peddle prejudiced views, dangerous conspiracy theories and even violence. If left unchecked, it could have catastrophic ramifications for London and cities everywhere.

In the main, society has come together during the pandemic to mitigate the risk COVID 19 presents, sometimes at great cost. We need to repeat that unity and encourage all sections of society to contribute to stopping the spread of racism, hate and intolerance while also working together to protect vulnerable people from radicalisation.

Civil society contributions are critical and that is why I am delighted the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has invested in over 30 civil society led projects that will safeguard vulnerable Londoners from radicalisation, stop the spread of harmful ideologies and empower the capital to challenge hate in all its forms. Reaching over 100,000 Londoners from across all of London’s 32 boroughs, these projects will work through; schools, colleges, universities, community, sport and performing arts centres as well as online platforms. They will challenge all manifestations of extremism from across the ideological spectrum with a focus on those most prevalent in our city.

London civil society groups are a central component of a joined up city-wide effort to implement these important initiatives. They lie at the heart of our communities and often provide much needed support and help to those most vulnerable. They are impactful and command a respect, trust and rapport within their communities that often surpasses that of authority-based entities. They speak with credibility and can reach the marginalised cohorts extremists so often target for grooming. There is simply no one better placed than civil society to stand up to racism, hate, intolerance and extremism and that is why, in these challenging times, their work has never been more important.

“There is simply no one better placed than civil society to stand up to racism, hate, intolerance and extremism and that is why, in these challenging times, their work has never been more important”

However, civil society cannot do this alone. Cities must take initiative and show leadership. The Mayor of London has continued to lead from the front and has invested more than any Mayor before him to create a new London Countering Violent Extremism Programme. At the heart of this programme is the Shared Endeavour Fund, the fulfilment of a Mayoral commitment made in light of the most comprehensive city-wide review and engagement exercise in this policy area ever, which acknowledged the need to support civil society in these efforts.

I was most delighted that Google.org recognised the critical challenge that hate and intolerance pose to London’s society and supported the Shared Endeavour Fund by matching the Mayor’s investment, creating a total fund of £800,000 and doubling the reach of this vital work.

London has a rich private sector and I would like to see more businesses follow Google.org’s leadership by supporting public sector and civil society actors to help keep us safe and resilient. Money always helps, however this support shouldn’t simply be confined to funding. In-kind support such as offering mentoring to young people, the facilitation of events in corporate spaces, or technical and communications support to further the reach of impactful community projects are just a handful of ways in which the private sector can join this critical struggle and contribute to making the city a fairer and safer place.

To complete the perfect consortia of city-wide partnerships, I was thrilled the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) joined us as a delivery partner on the Shared Endeavour Fund. ISD bring the critical component of research, insight and learning to this piece. This invaluable contribution will allow our city-wide approach to be even more impactful with an even longer lasting legacy. Through their Strong Cities Network, ISD will also help us to share our success and learnings with cities across the UK, the EU and the world.

Of course, national governments must play a crucial role here. They hold the lion’s share of resources and have ultimate responsibility to keep citizens safe. However, London has shown that a city can drive its own initiative. In combining the right leadership, determination, and (albeit smaller) resources, we have been able to build authentic and impactful partnerships between City Hall, civil society and the private sector.  We have built a genuine shared endeavour.

Keeping Londoners safe will always be our number one priority. We have challenging times ahead and extremists will no doubt continue to seek to take advantage of this unprecedented environment. By working together as a city, we can truly mobilise the majority to drown out the small but often loud voices of those who peddle racism, hate, intolerance and extremism. Together we are stronger, and only together can we defeat hate.

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