The primary goal of a study conducted by Mercy Corps was to test the possible causality between young people’s improved economic outcomes and their support for political violence -- defined as “violence targeted primarily at the state."
The study, Can Economic Interventions Reduce Violence?, examined young people’s economic conditions, psychosocial well-being, and perceptions of government to see how interventions may reduce willingness to support armed opposition groups (AOGs). The research focused on youth in the Kandahar Province (second largest city in Afghanistan), afflicted by high unemployment rates and violence. Though the provincial government maintains control of Kandahar and neighboring districts, AOGs, such as the Taliban, still have a strong influence in the area.
For the purposes of their study, Mercy Corps implemented two interventions: a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) program and an Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT). These interventions were added to the existing INVEST program operating in Kandahar -- a US government funded project that helps Afghan youth develop skills applicable to the local labor market. Funded by Yale University’s Political Violence FieldLab, the one-time cash transfers were offered to a random subsample of participants. According to Amnesty International, the $75 UCT is approximately equal to four months worth of wages for an unskilled worker in Afghanistan.
By itself, vocational training helped improve economic outcomes after six-to-nine months, but had no impact on participants’ support for political violence.
In the short term, cash transfers reduced participants’ willingness to support political violence but there were no long-term recorded effects on either psychosocial outcomes or their perceptions of government.
However, the combination of vocational training and UCTs reduced youths willingness to support AOGs by 17 percent.
To better reduce the risk of political violence among youth, Mercy Corps recommends “multifaceted development approaches that concurrently address economic challenges and governance-related grievances”.