A child is unable to attend school because of their gender, ethnicity or social class.

A man reads an article with false information about a minority group and sees the hateful narratives reinforced in his social media feeds.

A woman loses a loved one due to conflict or violence, and doesn't feel like she can seek justice through the system.

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Such scenarios play out on a regular basis around the world, altering the fates of not only the individuals involved but also their communities, countries and sometimes beyond. People travel different routes to violent extremism, but often the journey passes through one or more moments like those above.

UNDP’s work on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) focuses on addressing the grievances that can set people on a course to radicalization or interrupting that journey before it reaches its dangerous end, while also supporting those who want to leave such groups. We work with governments, community leaders and local change agents, including faith-based actors and youth organizations, who are the main custodians of nationally owned solutions to violent extremism.

Interrupting the journey to extremism

Development responses are crucial in preventing violent extremism

February 2023

A global phenomenon

The 2022 Human Development Report (HDR) warned that rising insecurity and polarization are preventing the solidarity and collective action we need to tackle the world’s greatest challenges. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than six in seven people globally felt insecure, according to a Special Report on Human Security.

Despite overall improvements in economic performance, literacy, technological advancement and business opportunities, societies seem to be growing more discordant, politically factionalized and intolerant, with broken social contracts and low levels of trust. And HDR calculations show that those feeling most insecure are also more likely to hold extreme political views.

The January 2023 attacks against the Brazilian government and the similar attack two years earlier on the US Capitol show how this polarization can create conditions for political extremism and radicalization, undermining democracy and threatening individual and national security.

Violent extremism knows no borders. In different ways, all countries are affected by it. And all countries struggle with its drivers and root causes, including poverty, inequality, exclusion, lack of opportunities and perceptions of injustice.



In 2022, UNDP’s Prevention of Violent Extremism portfolio included programming in 40 countries.

Development solutions

The evidence shows that security-driven responses produce limited results for countering violent extremism and can even make things worse.

For instance, youth are often the victims of extremist violence, yet they are also subject to excessive security measures to counter these groups. Such responses can have the opposite effect, by making young people feel further marginalized and thus more susceptible to radicalization.

UNDP argues for a different approach, one that embraces youth aspirations for a productive life in a healthy society and builds their capacity to create that society.

In Trinidad and Tobago – one of the largest per capita contributors of ISIL foreign fighters – the “PVE-YES” project focused on empowering youth to make purposeful decisions that positively contribute to society. It also trained prison officers to mentor at-risk youth into becoming role models and agents of change, advancing progress towards a more restorative justice system that respects human rights and nurtures the full potential of the youths.

These interventions offer youth positive alternatives to meet the same needs and aspirations to which violent extremist groups tend to appeal: income, adventure, entertainment, a sense of purpose and belonging.

In sub-Saharan Africa, UNDP works in 25 countries to address the immediate and underlying factors that contribute to the region’s emergence as a new epicentre of extremist violence. In Mali, the project helped to strengthen community radio as a platform to challenge stereotypes, address tensions and deliver messages of social cohesion. In Somalia, UNDP supported the Ministry of Religious Affairs in establishing a network of religious leaders to counter misinformation and promote Islam as a religion of tolerance and peace. The network has facilitated the disengagement and reintegration of 36 ex-members of violent extremist groups.

Extremist groups exploit development failures to recruit new members or find sympathizers. Whether it’s a lack of employment or livelihood opportunities, inequality or social exclusion, societal ills provide an opening for extremists to introduce their corrosive narratives.

Leveraging evidence-based analysis and recommendations from extensive research, UNDP works with 40 countries to improve governance and service delivery and strengthen trust between governments and their citizens.


By 2021, close to 60 percent of users in some world regions were using platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to get their news. Social media brings many potential benefits for access to information and community building. Contrary to widespread assumptions, UNDP research in sub-Saharan Africa found that higher internet usage was associated with lower susceptibility to violent extremism.

At the same time, social media can provide fertile ground for spreading misinformation and fake news, and inciting violence by dehumanizing the “other”. Extremist groups have mastered the use of these platforms to enhance polarization and radicalization.

UNDP invests in digital peacebuilding solutions that proactively address violent extremism.

In recent years, Southeast Asia has witnessed a surge in hate speech that has at times resulted in physical violence and socio-religious disharmony. Through the Creators Forward programme, led by UNDP and TikTok and co-funded by the European Union, young influencers in Southeast Asia underwent a boot camp to learn how to create engaging social media content to foster an online culture of respect, kindness, tolerance and equality.

Another effort to clean up information pollution, UNDP’s iVerify combines technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning with human-supported fact checking to combat the spread of misinformation during elections. It was recently added to the DPG Registry as a digital public good, broadly available to practitioners working to facilitate peaceful and fair elections.

Online data can also help to inform tailored and contextualized responses, provide early-warning information and make prevention measures more effective. But we must also understand the challenges. From content moderation to online monitoring and regulation of digital platforms, policies and programmes must prioritize human rights, comply with data protection regulations and ensure that PVE work does not unintentionally lead to the stigmatization and targeting of individuals.

iVerify combines AI technology with human fact checking to determine whether accounts and narratives related to elections are true or false. Once the veracity is checked, the platform alerts the public and institutions to cases of false narratives.

Photo: UNDP India


UNDP Country Offices

took action to address hate speech in 2022.

A way out

Access to positive alternatives and credible information can help keep people off the path to extremism. But preventing violent extremism is also about providing a way out for those who have already taken the journey.

This includes reintegrating former terrorist fighters and people associated with violent extremist groups. While challenging, reintegration often offers the best chance for long-term reconciliation and stability.

To improve the odds of success, UNDP supports efforts to sensitize communities and authorities to returnees’ experiences and challenges, to address stigma and promote compassion in receiving communities. Emphasis is placed on giving returnees a voice as ‘survivors’ of violent extremist groups, who by sharing their stories, can provide valuable insight into drivers, triggers and early warning signs.

For both combatants and civilians, conflict and violence have a profound impact on mental wellbeing and the ability to form social connections, trust and a sense of belonging, all critical for building cohesive societies. UNDP has advanced policy, partnerships and programming to provide mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for crisis and conflict affected populations, including publishing a Guidance Note to help peacebuilders and institutions integrate MHPSS into all phases of prevention and peacebuilding.

Since UNDP Kazakhstan began its repatriation and reintegration programme in 2018, more than 600 family members of ISIL fighters have returned from Syria to Kazakhstan, including around 400 children. But returning home is only the beginning. To help the returnees move from surviving to thriving, UNDP supported the provision of targeted MHPSS for children and partnered with the Ministry of Education on re-socialization programmes.

UNDP has also piloted innovative approaches to prevent violent extremism, including using behavioural insights to counter feelings of failure, lack of motivation and lack of confidence among vulnerable individuals, as well as the perceived stigma of returnees.

A new PVE Day

On 12 February, the United Nations marks the first ever International Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism. The General Assembly has designated this day to focus attention on the threats of violent extremism and enhance international cooperation to prevent it.

The observance is critical to spreading understanding that violent extremism cannot be addressed through security measures alone. We need multidisciplinary responses that ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and communities – online and offline – that leverage faith-based perspectives and provide credible alternative narratives.

We need all sectors of society working together, with a development and human rights lens, to build tight-knit, inclusive and cohesive societies that leave no opening for violent extremism.

The Ministry of Youth and Sport of Mauritania, in partnership with UNDP, launched a National Strategy for Youth and Sport that aims to promote citizenship and fight radicalization.

Photo: UNDP Mauritania/Freya Morales

Want to know more?

A new series of reports from UNDP examines underlying drivers of violent extremism in Africa and the Arab States, from the tipping points that lead to recruitment to the spill-over impacts of extremism in border areas to the evolution, modus operandi and business models of violent extremist groups. The reports shed new light on the phenomenon of violent extremism and offer new programmatic and policy responses to address it.

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Photo credits

Introduction / Girl at school Photo: Unsplash / Doug Linstedt
Introduction / Man on the phone Photo: Pexels / Shantanu Goyal
Introduction / Woman and child Photo: UNDP / Beyond Borders Media
Riots Photos: Unsplash / Andrew Valdivia
Río de Janeiro Photo: Shutterstock / Salty View