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South Asia Regional Hub: Regional Workshop on Inclusive, City-Led Approaches to Preventing Hate, Extremism and Polarisation

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Regional Workshop on Inclusive, City-Led Approaches to Preventing Hate, Extremism and Polarisation

On 2 – 3 August 2023, Strong Cities brought together nearly 40 mayors and other city officials, civil society organisations and national government representatives from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Colombo for its South Asia Regional Hub’s second regional workshop of 2023. With support from the European Union and the US Department of State, the workshop provided a rare opportunity to unite local governments across the region for working-level discussions to deepen understanding of how cities can play a greater role in addressing hate- and extremism-related challenges that are traditionally considered to be the responsibility of national governments and security agencies. While some participants discussed the progress they had made since February’s inaugural workshop, many stakeholders joined this conversation for the first time, with the workshop serving to catalyse the structured sharing of good practices, local experiences and lessons learned on both regional and country levels. Participants emphasised how this dialogue continues to be urgently needed across the region. Few other opportunities exist across South Asia for bringing local governments into conversation on issues of building social cohesion and peace amid sensitive and security-related topics such as hate and extremism.

Following a review of the most prominent challenges to peace and social harmony at local levels across all five countries, the workshop showcased a number of local government-led initiatives to strengthen community resilience. These covered a wide range of efforts, from initiatives to promote inter-cultural dialogue in Delhi, India and programmes to support the integration of internally displaced persons from disaster-affected areas in Mardan, Pakistan to setting up or playing a role in wider post-conflict reconciliation efforts, like those in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Throughout each of the practices discussed, participants stressed the importance of strong coordination at multiple levels. This includes national-local cooperation (NLC) as well as multi-stakeholder coordination at the local level, both among different departments and services of a city, and between cities and community-based organisations and other civil society partners. Discussions around building effective coordination and realising a whole-of-society approach to prevention also encompassed the need for greater inclusion efforts, especially with youth, women, minorities and marginalised groups. Cities highlighted that these efforts need to be long-term and built on trusted partnerships in which such groups are valued as partners in designing effective prevention, outreach and resilience efforts, able to offer unique insight into how local challenges affect communities differently.

With Strong Cities’ new guides for mayors and cities being launched in September (available now via the Resource Hub), participants emphasised the unique and often pivotal role mayors and municipal practitioners play in South Asian contexts in preventing and responding to hate and extremism. Mayors, participants underscored, are in a position to drive positive change within their communities by including grassroots participation in local decision-making, allocating resources, developing local strategies and empowering often-overlooked local stakeholders. However, to be impactful, participants emphasised that it was necessary to transcend political partisanship in favour of community development. Similarly, city officials and local administrations are crucial in fostering dialogue and open communication with community stakeholders and responding to their needs through daily service deliver. Participants shared how by serving successive local political leaders, local administrations can help them to sustain, build and leverage mechanisms, policies and programmes for prevention.  

Key takeaways highlighted during the workshop included:


Event Report