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Pioneering ‘Debate to Action’ research exposes the potential of youth dialogue and creative enterprise to challenge extremist narratives, at landmark Regional Youth Forum in Tunisia

Tunis, 24 March 2016 – More than 100 emerging youth leaders came together this week in Tunis for the Young Arab Voices ‘Debate to Action’ Regional Forum. The landmark event, co-organised by the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) and the British Council through their flagship debate programme ‘Young Arab Voices’ (YAV), represents the culmination of the ‘Debate to Action’ research and development project. Featuring a series of regional debates and training sessions over the course of the three-day event, the forum was organised in partnership with IDEA and attended by emerging young leaders from around the region, in addition to community leaders, European peers and regional institutions for regional debate competitions and advocacy training.

The forum was inaugurated with the announcement of findings of a research study exploring perceptions among young debaters and youth activists in the MENA region. The study was performed across eight Arab countries, and was presented during a public panel session on Thursday morning. Key figures in community leadership met with regional youth alumni for a special dialogue event on the eve of the Forum, among them Tunisia’s Minister of Education Neji Jalloul and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Co-Founder of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, Wided Bouchamaoui.

ALF Executive Director, Hatem Atallah, said: “The YAV ‘Debate to Action’ Project has been particularly successful because it responds to the appetite from youth in the MENA region to be create productive solutions to the problems facing their societies. It does so by encouraging dialogue, and providing the opportunity and skills to use debate as a platform to connect young people from diverse backgrounds across the region. We are very proud of the new partnership with the Ministry of Education in Tunisia as part of a sustainable approach to embed new approaches to youth participation in the curricula. Our programme focuses on debate not as simple training but as a change in mindset – something which is necessary as young people are on the front line of challenging extremist narratives.”

The British Council’s Country Director for Tunisia, Nigel Bellingham, said: “Partnership is key to create a long-term support mechanism for youth. Young people want to be regarded as part of the solution, not the problem, a demographic dividend, not deficit. It is a massive opportunity and young people are a huge resource, a huge opportunity for this region to prosper.” He underlined that “Programmes like ‘Young Arab Voices’ have demonstrated that transformational change is achievable in the lives of young people. By developing their soft skills, we equip them with skills for life, for employment and to play a positive role in their society”.

The research findings are further testament to the success of the YAV programme, which has engaged more than 100,000 members of the youth generation in debate training activities since its launch in 2011, providing five years of key lessons learned for regional youth programming and policy to youth leadership programmes throughout the region to strengthen their own training and education initiatives towards challenging extremist narratives.

According to the “Debate to Action” research, Young Arab Voices is one of the more successful programmes for skills transfer and training and has been continuing to expand over the past five years”. Additionally, results showed that according to a majority of YAV alumni, the biggest advantage their participation gave them is the ability to stop and think about how to get their messages across clearly and effectively to people from diverse backgrounds and that putting themselves in the place of their audience is a critical to productive communication.

As part of the “Debate to Action” project, In Place Of War of the University of Manchester carried out a specific research initiative across eight Arab countries. The research evidence underlines the growing demand for training on social and creative entrepreneurship, which is linked to the increase of young people looking to develop alternative opportunities for employability and sustainable civil society programmes. As part of the outcomes of “Debate to Action”, IPOW is now working with partners to roll out a newly tested training model on education for social enterprise, with networks of the ALF across the MENA.

The “Debate to Action” strategic research and development project is acting as a catalyst for regional programming under way to prepare during 2016 the next phase of the flagship debate programme Young Arab Voices which will be expanded to involve the first time networks in Europe. The research will also be made available for policy-makers involved in the new EU Neighbourhood Policy for the Southern Mediterranean, with a focus on new approaches to “partnerships with youth” and reaffirming “cross-cultural dialogue”.

The Forum is the culminating activity in the British Foreign Office-funded “Debate to Action” project. It is being co-organised by the British Council and the Anna Lindh Foundation through their regional flagship programme Young Arab Voices and in partnership with the International Debate Education Association (IDEA).