One-third of today’s generation of youth—those ages ten to twenty-four—live in fragile or conflicted countries and are susceptible to the sway of ideological narratives of violent extremism. Evidence suggests, however, that they also play active and valuable roles as agents of positive and constructive change. Part of a USIP portfolio that engages youth leaders as critical partners, this report documents an initiative undertaken in Kenya in 2017 and 2018 and explores its utility and effectiveness as an approach for youth-led peacebuilding in marginalized communities marked by violent extremism.


  •  Since 2015, youth have emerged as new key actors in peacebuilding processes. Policies such as UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250—on peace, youth, and security—place youth at the center of community, national, and global security agendas.
  •  Although small, youth-led groups make up the majority of the organizations in the peacebuilding sector, little research has been conducted on how to operationalize these youth-led peacebuilding agendas.
  •  Innovative approaches for operationalizing UNSCR 2250 on the ground, supported by replicable youth-led methods, are required to overcome the barriers to youth participation in peace and governance processes.
  •  An innovative approach of using participatory action research (PAR) as a mechanism for youth to engage proactively in their communities on key issues related to peace and security is especially promising.
  •  An overview of three youth-led action research projects in Kenya, each with a different youth-determined topic, demonstrates that PAR is a practicable and effective approach for youth to proactively engage with their local communities and governments around critical issues.

About the Report

This collaborative report documents a pilot initiative to explore the utility and effectiveness of participatory action research as an approach for youth-led peacebuilding in marginalized communities. The initiative is both a product of and supported by the United States Institute of Peace Academy.

About the Authors

  • Sahlim Charles Amambia is a consultant, peace trainer, and grassroots organizer as well as current director of operations for The Carrot Co., a Pan-African research, mobilization, and campaign company based in Nairobi.
  • Felix Bivens is founder and co-director of Empyrean Research, a community-based research organization dedicated to enhancing the research and learning capacities of social-change organizations.
  • Munira Hamisi is the founder of Lonamac, a youth-led, community-based organization founded on the basis of peacekeeping, securing livelihoods, and youth empowerment that serves four subcounties within Mombasa County. 
  • Illana Lancaster is a senior program officer at USIP. Her portfolio includes managing the Conflict Management Training for Peacekeepers and Understanding and Engaging Communities for Effective Policing Training.
  • Olivia Ogada is currently the programs coordinator for Women in Democracy and Governance in Kenya, a human rights organization championing the rights of women and youth.
  • Gregory Ochieng Okumu is deputy national coordinator for the National Movement of Catholic Students Kenya PAX ROMANA, a global citizenship education expert with UNESCO/APCEIU.
  • Nicholas Songora is the founder of Manyatta Youth Entertainment, a not-for-profit, youth-led, community-based organization active in coastal Kenya, in Mombasa, Kwale, and Kilifi counties. 
  • Rehema Zaid serves as programs coordinator for Integrated Initiatives for Community Empowerment in Kenya and previously as MIS officer at Aga Khan Development Network program, East Africa.

Related Publications

What Works in Preventing Election Violence

What Works in Preventing Election Violence

Monday, October 22, 2018

By: Inken von Borzyskowski

Drawing on extensive field research in Kenya and Liberia around the 2017 elections in those countries, this report uses local survey data to evaluate the effectiveness of seven prevention measures thought to reduce the risk of election violence. Its recommendations, directed primarily to the international community but offering...

Type: Peaceworks

Electoral Violence

Secretary Tillerson Goes to Africa

Secretary Tillerson Goes to Africa

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Susan Stigant; Aly Verjee

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on the most extensive visit to Africa by a senior official in the Trump administration. Tillerson will visit the continent’s two most populous countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia, both crucial to U.S. regional security interests but which face increasing fragility at home. He will also travel to U.S. allies Chad, Djibouti and Kenya, countries struggling with domestic political stability, and will meet leadership of the continent’s principal regional organization, the African Union. USIP’s Africa experts preview the landscape and key issues for the East Africa leg of Tillerson’s trip to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, and note that broader U.S security and trade interests can only be served if the national challenges for peace and stability in each country are also addressed.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

China’s Soft Power in Africa or Real Corporate Accountability?

China’s Soft Power in Africa or Real Corporate Accountability?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

By: Virginia Harper Ho

China is the fourth largest foreign investor in Africa—more than three thousand Chinese firms operate there. An important but often overlooked aspect of this investment is the emergence of Beijing’s evolving corporate social responsibility policies and how they are applied, especially in Africa, which is what this Peace Brief explores.

Type: Peace Brief

Economics & Environment; Global Policy

Surprise Election Ruling Raises Tension Over Kenya Vote

Surprise Election Ruling Raises Tension Over Kenya Vote

Friday, September 1, 2017

By: USIP Staff; Johnnie Carson; Susan Stigant; Aly Verjee

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called for calm after the country’s Supreme Court annulled his re-election, citing “irregularities.” He said he would accept the court’s order for a new election, similarly to the decision last month by his opponent, Raila Odinga, to challenge the election results in court...

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence; Justice, Security & Rule of Law

View All Publications