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Impact: Catalysing City-Led Prevention

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Since the launch of a new Regional Hub structure in late 2022, and a new three-year Global Strategy in 2023, the Strong Cities Network has broadened and deepened its engagement with cities around the globe. This includes existing members, cities that have since joined the Network, and ones that are in the process of doing so. As a result, in different regions, more mayors, governors and other local leaders, as well as the governments they lead, have been able to benefit from Strong Cities’ support and guidance. Among other things, this has allowed more cities – big, small, urban, rural – to share with and learn from each other’s experiences in preventing and responding to hate- and extremist-motivated violence and polarisation. More local leaders and governments now not only have a better understanding of the often-unique roles they can play in whole-of-society approaches to addressing these challenges in their communities, cities and countries, but – crucially – how to operationalise and sustain them.

As part of our commitment to inspire, and highlight examples of, city-led prevention and response, and to demonstrate the practical affect it is having on cities around the globe, Strong Cities has identified the following impact stories; each one shows the impact that has resulted from a city’s engagement with the Strong Cities Network. These stories are organised into five categories:

  1. Inspiring City-Led Action Through Peer Learning
  2. Facilitating City-Led Multi-Actor Collaboration
  3. Strengthening City-Led Youth Engagement
  4. Country-Wide National-Local Dialogues
  5. Global Crises, Local Impacts

Inspiring City-Led Action through Peer Learning

Cape Town (South Africa)

Integrating Hate and Extremism Prevention into Existing Infrastructure and Assuming Regional Leadership

Inspired by their participation in a Strong Cities regional workshop in Nairobi (Kenya) in May 2022, the City of Cape Town realised the need to implement prevention infrastructure proactively, before hate and extremism erode social cohesion and threaten public safety. The City, therefore, developed and adopted a prevention strategy that is nested within its broader safety and security infrastructure. It has since partnered with Strong Cities to host a roundtable for South African cities to encourage them to do the same, as well as hosting a learning visit for mayors and technical officers from across East and Southern Africa to share lessons with implementing an integrated approach to prevention that leverages existing safety infrastructure. Strong Cities is further helping participants replicate practices they learned from Cape Town in their own cities (see Nansana Municipality under Multi-Actor Collaboration).

Strasbourg (France)

Mobilising European Cities

Since joining the Network in 2022, the City of Strasbourg has participated in numerous Strong Cities Transatlantic Dialogue Initiative events, as well as the Network’s Fourth Global Summit in September 2023. Inspired by the potential and impact of city-city learning, Strasbourg partnered with Strong Cities to host a transatlantic dialogue to sensitise more European cities on prevention. Held at the European Parliament in May 2024, the dialogue sparked interest from several cities new to the Network – including Kalamaria and Kordelio-Evosmos (Greece), Montpellier and Dijon (France), and Murcia (Spain) – to become more actively engaged in prevention. Madrid (Spain), already a Strong Cities member, additionally expressed interest to host a transatlantic dialogue to inspire more Spanish cities to engage.

Rajshahi District (Bangladesh)

Building a City Coalition Against Hate and Extremism

Inspired by their participation in a Strong Cities workshop in Colombo in August 2023, the Bangladesh’s Mayor Alliance for Healthy Cities (MAHC), Singra Municipality and AID Foundation took proactive steps towards building a united front of municipalities to combat threats of hate and extremism, embracing the potential of cities to lead in prevention, previously viewed to be within the purview of national and security stakeholders. In January 2024, they hosted a workshop in the Rajshahi District on the Way Forward to Stop Hate and Extremism in Municipalities, which gathered mayors, councillors and municipal executive officers from ten municipalities across the region. Participating mayors committed to add hate, extremism and polarisation as an agenda item for Town Level Coordination Committee (TLCC) meetings in each municipality and establish a youth engagement platform to coordinate activities across municipalities, with each municipality implementing its own youth engagement initiatives. MAHC has since incorporated prevention and response to hate, extremism and polarisation into its thematic areas and programmes with the goal of raising awareness among other Bangladeshi municipalities of the importance of addressing these threats at the local level. 

Highland Park (Illinois, United States)

Strengthening City-Led Incident Response

In 2022, the City of Highland Park, a suburban city just north of Chicago, experienced a mass shooting. Ten months later, Nancy Rotering, the Mayor of Highland Park, participated in a Strong Cities in Oslo (Norway) focused on city-led strategies for mitigating and responding to hate, violence and extremism. Co-hosted by the City of Oslo, the workshop included a focus on the city’s response to the 2011 attacks that killed 77 people, mostly teenage political activists attending summer camp. A visit to Utøya island (one of two sites attacked) presented an opportunity for mayors and city officials to hear how Oslo had approached rebuilding and memorialising that fateful day in a way that was trauma-informed, impactful and contributed to healing. Utøya’s CEO, Joergen Frydnes, shared his process for connecting with each of the affected families and for remembering and recognising each victim and survivor. His candour in relating his considerations and challenges in re-imagining Utøya as “a place to remember, yet continue living”, started Mayor Rotering on a journey to consider how Highland Park – and other cities that had experienced horrific mass violence events – could create places of remembrance. She took this experience back to her community, informing her approach to remembering those lost, the needs of survivors and the long-term nature of healing. She shared that her “Strong Cities visit to Utøya stands out as a vital experience in thoughtful and deliberate engagement, and the importance of envisioning the future while never forgetting the lessons learned through the pain of the past”.

Kumanovo (North Macedonia)

Promoting a National City-Led Prevention Agenda

With guidance and support from the Strong Cities Network, the Municipality of Kumanovo continues to play a leading role in promoting the development and implementation of city-led, multi-actor prevention frameworks and networks in North Macedonia, and the wider region, since it established its prevention infrastructure in 2019, with assistance from Strong Cities. For example, in 2023, Kumanovo hosted a national roundtable on the role of mayors in prevention and how other cities can learn from their experiences in setting up a multi-stakeholder mechanism. In addition, Kumanovo city experts have contributed to Strong Cities’ efforts to develop city-led prevention infrastructure in other cities in the region, including Danilovgrad (Montenegro) and Elbasan (Albania). 

East and Southern Africa

Border Municipalities Working Group

At a Strong Cities regional workshop in Johannesburg (South Africa) in June 2023, mayors and other city leaders from border towns in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda recognised there is much they share when it comes to threats of hate and extremism and challenges with prevention and response. To sustain the peer learning that started at the workshop, they formed a Border Municipalities Working Group with support from Strong Cities’ East and Southern Africa Regional Hub. Since then, at the Working Group’s request, Strong Cities has organised a community safety capacity-building learning visit to Cape Town (South Africa), expanded the Working Group to include cities from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and Somalia, and brought the members of the Working Group together in Arusha (Tanzania) in May 2024 for continued peer learning and identification of priority needs and next steps. Inspired by this dedicated peer learning forum, Working Group members, such as Nebbi Municipality (Uganda), have already initiated further dialogues with cities with which they share a border.

Facilitating Multi-Actor Collaboration

Nansana Municipality (Uganda)

Neighbourhood Watch

Concerned about ADF and other militants crossing into Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and inspired by practices shared in a Strong Cities learning visit to Cape Town (South Africa) in December 2023, Mayor Regina Bakitte asked Strong Cities for technical assistance to implement Neighbourhood Watch as an early-warning mechanism against hate and extremism. Strong Cities has since partnered with Stellenbosch (South Africa), where Neighbourhood Watch is an effective model for community engagement, local needs’ identification and (petty) crime prevention, to train more than 150 municipal officials, community leaders and youth on the model and its deployment. Strong Cities and Stellenbosch are now supporting Nansana to pilot Neighbourhood Watch in Gombe Division, with a view to rolling it out across the city.

Danilovgrad (Montenegro)

Local Safety Council

Upon taking office in 2022, Aleksandar Grgurović, the Mayor of Danilovgrad was concerned that rising ethnic and political tensions during recent elections could escalate to violence in the city. As a newly elected Mayor, he knew he lacked experience in addressing hate and extremism and felt isolated in trying to address these issues at a local government level for the first time. During the course of 2023, he met several times with Strong Cities’ Western Balkans Regional Hub and participated in the Hub’s inaugural workshop in Sarajevo. Inspired and empowered by these experiences, he decided to establish a Local Safety Council (LSC) for his city. To facilitate its operationalisation, Strong Cities convened a workshop for Danilovgrad practitioners that allowed them to learn from the experiences of counterparts in other cities in the region where similar platforms exist. Danilovgrad’s LSC is expected to be launched later in 2024. In addition, to help ensure sustainability and facilitate support from the national government, the City is drafting an LSC action plan that aligns with relevant national strategies.

Trincomalee Town and Gravets (Sri Lanka)

Local Prevention Committee

Trincomalee Town and Gravets Council, a multi-ethnic city in the north-east of Sri Lanka, has a history of inter-communal violence, spanning back to the 30-year civil war. The City has been unable to respond to various local grievances driving hate and extremism because of inadequate understanding of the demographic profile and key needs of its communities; a challenge further compounded by difficulties with service provision. Since joining Strong Cities, and participating in the Network’s South Asia Regional Hub inaugural workshop, city officials have developed a Local Prevention Committee, a multi-actor body that incorporates community leaders, clergy and youth. In addition, the City has enhanced municipal capacities by building an evidence-based risk profile and supporting outreach to the local communities. These activities are building trust between the Council and local communities and helping address gaps in the Council’s understanding of community needs, while proactively working to resolve inter-communal tensions and grievances.

Strengthening Youth Engagement

Liège (Belgium)

Catalysing Meaningful Youth Engagement in Liège

In 2023, Strong Cities, through its youth pillar, Young Cities, partnered with the City of Liège (Belgium), a Network member since 2020, to develop an immersive, cross-cultural youth engagement programme in collaboration with the City’s Prevention Department. With support from a Young Cities’ City Grant, Liège sent ten young people to Berlin (Germany), where they learned about far-right and nationalist extremism and violence and visited many historical and cultural sites, including the Memorial of the German Resistance to Nazism and the Reichstag Palace (National Parliament). Several European experts briefed the young people on drivers of and ways to address hate and extremism. As a result of these engagements, on 8 May 2024, Mayor Willy Demeyer invited youth participants to a ceremony at Liège’s National Monument of the Resistance to mark the end of the Second World War, joining the representative of the King of Belgium and U.S. Embassy officials. During a speech during the ceremony, one of the young beneficiaries of the programme underscored their personal commitment – as young citizens of Liège – to continue to fight against violent extremism and hate speech. He paid tribute to Strong Cities, and its Young Cities programme, for serving as an incubator for their ongoing initiative to build an open, tolerant and democratic society, founded in social justice and public freedoms.

Zanzibar (Tanzania)

First Dialogue with Youth on Prevention

In February 2024, with guidance from the Network’s East & Southern Africa Regional Hub, the Zanzibar Urban Municipal Council hosted a dialogue with youth-led and youth-focused organisations on hate and extremism prevention. Inspired by the participation of Council officials in a Strong Cities November 2023 learning visit to Mombasa (Kenya), which focused on youth-local government engagement, the dialogue marked the first time the Zanzibar local government had engaged with young people on this topic. The Regional Hub continues to support the Council through technical assistance to meet its objective of taking a more strategic and inclusive approach to addressing hate and extremism.

Country-Wide National – Local Dialogues

Strengthening National-Local Cooperation (NLC)

Through dialogues that convene cities with their national government on preventing hate, extremism and polarisation, Strong Cities has strengthened NLC in countries such as Iraq, Malawi, Morocco and Uganda, with national actors committing to better engaging cities in the implementation of their prevention frameworks and in P/CVE more broadly. For example, following an April 2023 National-Local dialogue – the first time Ugandan cities had engaged their national government on prevention – Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs invited local governments to serve on its National Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Steering Committee; part of the national government’s commitment to involve local governments in strategy implementation efforts.

In May 2023, Strong Cities hosted a National-Local roundtable in Baghdad (Iraq) at the request of the National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism, and in cooperation with the EU Advisory Mission in Iraq, resulting in a recently launched joint initiative between Strong Cities and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to support seven local governments with the implementation of local prevention plans: Fallujah, Halabja, Hawija, Mosul (South and West), Tel Afar and Zubair.

As a result of an April 2024 dialogue in Lilongwe (Malawi), the national government has started working with cities to roll out Peace and Unity Committees (which until then only existed at the provincial level), and Strong Cities is supporting the Ministry of Local Government, Unity and Culture to develop and implement a roadmap for strengthening NLC in prevention.

Inspiring Local Action

Country-wide dialogues have also inspired and empowered cities to embrace their crucial role in prevention. Since the Uganda dialogue, five cities have joined the Strong Cities Network and municipalities such as Masaka, Nansana and Nebbi have implemented prevention initiatives based on practices learned in their journey with the Network. In Masaka, the Mayor’s involvement in Strong Cities inspired her to launch a disability council, women’s council and youth council to ensure local policies and programmes are informed by diverse perspectives, and to host (with support from Strong Cities) a dialogue with youth to better understand and meet their specific needs. In Nansana, the Mayor launched a Youth Office responsible for addressing youth needs and has partnered with Stellenbosch Municipality (South Africa) to strengthen its early-warning capabilities. These cities are also active members of the Border Municipalities Working Group.

In Morocco, following the Strong Cities’ MENA Regional Hub’s inaugural workshop in Rabat in March 2023, the cities of Rabat, Marrakech and Oujda (and, subsequently, Fes and Tangier) joined the Network. The Mayor of Rabat expressed strong interest and was selected as Co-Chair of the Network’s International Steering Committee. Following a Strong Cities-led multi-actor roundtable for Moroccan cities in November 2023, which focused on working with cities to identify needs and gaps, the Network signed an MoU with the Moroccan Association of Presidents of Communal Councils (AMPCC) to create more opportunities for Moroccan cities to contribute to hate and extremism prevention efforts within their communities; cataylsing city-led action.

Global Crises, Local Impacts Initiative

Transatlantic City Learning

In late 2023, Strong Cities began receiving requests from cities across Europe and North America for guidance and opportunities to share and learn from each other as they navigate the local impacts of global crises. In the absence of an existing relevant playbook or guidelines for mayors and cities, Strong Cities launched a new Global Crises, Local Impacts Initiative. Through consultations with members and engaged non-member cities, Strong Cities developed a policy brief articulating ten considerations for leaders as they navigate these local impacts. To further facilitate city learning and exchange, the Network launched a monthly webinar series in December 2023 for mayors and other city officials to share how global crises are manifesting in their communities and steps and approaches they are taking to navigate and respond. This has been a crucial platform for mayors, city officials and local practitioners through which to develop a deeper understanding of how global crises can impact local communities and social cohesion, and be inspired by and learn from practices and approaches other cities facing similar challenges are taking. Since the series launched, more than 600 mayors, deputy mayors, city officials, researchers and other prevention stakeholders have participated in this timely and much-needed platform.