Switzerland backs project to aid communities fight violent extremism

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Khalid Koser (L), Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and Swiss Foreingn Minister Didier Bukhalter after signing a cooperation agreement on Sept. 9, 2015 in Geneva.

Bombs, drones, spies and boots on the ground are not the only way to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

A Swiss-based foundation is using a new way, in small projects aiding local communities where communities face violence extremism.

The Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund signed an agreement on Sept. 9 with Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter to cooperate and receive $4 million in funding.

GCERF is an independent Geneva-based foundation established in September 2014. Currently it focuses on regions where extremism is often the realm of groups claiming to carry out their extremist acts in the name of Islam.

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The foundation supports grass-roots, community-level projects that tackle the local drivers of violent extremism and strengthen resilience against it, inlcuding religious and ethnic-based acts.

The direct funding of small groups "is new in fighting violent extremisms but it is not new for others projects Switzerland has supported" in other arenas in the past, said Burkhalter in an interview.

The money GCERF gets does not go to governments but directly to small community organizations, its executive director Khalid Koser a Briton of Asian descent explained.

"The international community has spent an enormous of time, effort and energy and money on the military, security, intelligence response.

"That is of course important and necessary, but there is not enough to the other end of the spectrum," said Koser.

GCERF's first funding is to support community initiatives to prevent radicalization to violent extremism will be devoted first in Bangladesh, Mali, and Nigeria.

"The nearly US$15 million committed in this our first year reflects the urgency and importance placed by the international community on more effectively preventing radicalisation to violent extremism," said the GCERF head.

"We think the approach is one part of a comprehensive approach which has largely been ignored in the past," explained Koser.

Switzerland has long engaged civil society and supported community projects, but this is a new approach in countering violent extremism, Bukerhalter noted.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which had its meeting in 2014 chaired by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, spawned the idea of GCERF.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS

Burkhalter also noted the importance of both the public and private sectors in providing helpful alternatives to young people.

He urged GCERF to continue to mobilize private sector support.

"As a public-private partnership one of GCERF's main efforts should be to attract new private partners," said the Swiss foreign minister.

The pilot countries all have predominantly Sunni Muslim populations.

Koser says on the GCERF website, "It is true that in these countries, violent extremism is currently mainly among Muslim populations.

"But GCERF has been set up to try to prevent violent extremism in all its guises – whether religious, tribal, or interethnic," says Koser.

"It is certainly not a fund focusing exclusively on violent extremism perpetrated by Muslims."

The GCERF donors are: Australia, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.

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