A new model builds youth civic engagement to fight crime
The people who can best solve the problems of communities are usually members of those very communities. The problem is that they are rarely empowered or equipped to be effective as agents of change. TCI’s approach to addressing a problem is to identify its key stakeholders, strengthen their engagement, and find ways to support the solutions they create by replicating their experiences, scaling up their programs, and brokering equitable partnerships.
Like any other city, crime in New Orleans reduces the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. In spite of New Orleans’ extraordinary social resources, crime has greatly affected the economy and social development of the entire city for decades. In 2012 the city of New Orleans launched NOLA For Life, a violence reduction strategy designed to tackle the city’s high murder rate. Recognizing that law enforcement alone cannot solve the murder problem, the NOLA for Life Strategy takes a holistic approach in an attempt to address the root causes of crime. The strategy has had some success. However, though the crime rate has fallen in some neighborhoods over the past year, the city’s most disadvantaged communities have yet to benefit.
This is because crime is only one of three complex social and economic factors that are strongly linked to each other and are widespread, but define the most disadvantaged communities. Besides crime, the other two factors are a low level of citizen civic engagement and limited economic opportunity. As these three factors are strongly linked to each other, they can only be successfully addressed through interrelated strategies, with the key stakeholders empowered to play leading roles.
Strengthening stakeholder engagement is what TCI is about. The key stakeholders in community development and resilience in the Caribbean are the youth and the city of New Orleans, the greater Caribbean region’s northernmost city, is no exception. Youth are also both perpetrators and victims of crime and tend to bear the brunt of bad conditions, poor resources, and limited options. But they are rarely engaged as change agents. They are too often neither consulted nor enlisted to lead programs to improve conditions in their neighborhoods, and in the best of circumstances are usually only treated either as passive beneficiaries or targets of programs, – rarely as empowered agents of transformative change in their communities.
To raise nature and level of youth engagement, TCI has combined best practices from the most successful efforts at transformative community change into a small, holistic innovative program called the Community Empowerment & Transformation Program. The CET is a youth crime reduction and neighborhood development program with a simple but novel approach: it engages youth to be their communities’ leading agents of change. The objective of the CET Program is to reduce crime and raise the standard of living in disadvantaged urban communities by empowering the youth, as key stakeholders, to be agents of change. What’s novel about this approach is that youth civic engagement is its centerpiece. CET is based on the notion that neighborhood change is most transformative when led by youth, and therefore helps young people take the initiative and more responsibility for working with all stakeholders in the neighborhood to transform their community.
The CET’s strategy is to address the three core factors that limit the quality of life and the relationships between them. As it is based on youth civic engagement, the CET’s first Pillar is Citizen Engagement, whose goal is to raise the level of civic engagement of young people in their neighborhoods. Within that goal, the Citizen Engagement Pillar has three objectives, which are civic education and voter registration; education in critical thinking and constructive activism; and support for creating local empowerment programs. The youths will learn how to conduct advocacy campaigns, interact constructively with government, and improve community access to public services. The CET’s other two Pillars are Economic Opportunity and Community Safety & Security, each of which also have their own three objectives. One of the exciting features of the Economic Opportunity Pillar is its plan to establish youth-owned and operated franchise businesses in the community for income and skills development; and one of the exciting features of the Community Safety & Security Pillar is a youth-centered community policing partnership program. Of course, both the objectives and the activities of all three Pillars are strategically linked with each other for maximum impact.
True to TCI’s self characterization as “an international organization with a local focus”, TCI will avoid CET becoming isolated in its own practices by making sure to learn from the experiences of many other community development and community policing programs locally, nationally and internationally through monthly advisory group meetings. On a management and technical level, TCI also partners with Xavier University, which has agreed to provide CET with several student interns and office space in the Gert Town Community Center.
TCI, led by Executive Chairman Bertrand Laurent, is responsible for the CET’s management and administration support needs, liaison with city, state and government agencies, knowledge management, and its relationships with funders. Laurent points out that CET’s design is heavily influenced by the highly successful USAID funded civil society and community policing projects that he managed in Jamaica and points out that CET is probably the first example of an overseas USAID governance project being replicated in the United States.