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How Effective Are Mentorship Interventions? Assessing the Evidence Base for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism

Emily Winterbotham
Occasional Papers, 30 September 2020
Tackling Extremism, Terrorism and Conflict, The Prevention Project
Forming part of the Prevention Project, this paper examines the effectiveness of mentorship interventions.

Mentorships, as interventions targeted at the specific needs of individuals or groups of individuals and adapted to the local environment, are assumed to have a higher chance of tackling violent extremism than broad approaches targeting general populations. This paper demonstrates that evaluations of mentorship interventions are limited in number and scope – as with the wider P/CVE field. Existing evaluations often lack well-developed theories of change and are over-reliant on anecdotal evidence. It is therefore difficult to draw causal links between mentoring and positive P/CVE outcomes. This paper is, however, cautiously optimistic about the effectiveness of mentorship programmes.  

Key findings and recommendations include:

  1. All but four studies reviewed focused on Western interventions. This raises questions about how transferable the findings included in this paper are for other contexts, particularly where multi-agency cooperation is lacking.
  2. In Western countries, in particular, mentorship programmes need to be cautious about the assumption that mental vulnerability is primarily associated with Islamist radicalisation rather than right-wing extremism. Similarly, it should not be assumed that young Muslims are in particular need of role models or do not believe in democracy. 
  3. Equipping individuals with life skills such as vocational capabilities, social concerns and realisation of life options is potentially an effective way forward. 
  4. Positive youth development (rewarding social connections with diverse peers, confidence in being able to successfully pursue post-secondary education and obtain employment) may reduce susceptibility to radicalisation or violent extremism. But interventions that unilaterally aim to boost self-esteem can also encourage narcissism, aggression or anti-social behaviour. 
  5. The mentor–mentee relationship is key to intervention effectiveness and can mitigate ‘pull factors’ such as the need for belonging or identity. Creating alternative social networks to violent extremist groups is, however, challenging.
  6. For mentorship programmes to be successful, stakeholders with a thorough understanding of the target group’s social setting and context are crucial. Connections to local material and human resources and services are important for programme effectiveness and sustainability.

BANNER IMAGE: Courtesy of REDPIXEL / Adobe Stock

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Emily Winterbotham
Director, Terrorism and Conflict

Emily is Director of the Terrorism and Conflict group and Senior Research Fellow at RUSI focusing on extremism and... read more

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