Participants in a Supporting Leaders course learning to counter extremism in their local communities


Supporting Leaders

Violent extremism is a global threat. Across sub-Saharan Africa, groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army have displaced millions and killed thousands. While the causes of conflict are many and varied, extremist groups use expressions of religious identity to recruit followers, spreading a distorted understanding of religion to justify their violence.

Any effective strategy to tackle religious extremism must start within the community. Requiring the support and initi­ative of influential and trusted religious and community leaders who often lack the training, resources and support to prevent the spread of extremist ideology. ‘Supporting Leaders’ equips, empowers and supports religious leaders to counter extremist narratives. Helping build social cohesion in their local communities.

Our pilot projects are designed to build up the skills and experience of religious and community leaders, increasing their capacity to identify and tackle religious extremism through counter-narratives and practical community action. Working with local and international institutions, to strengthen both individual and community resilience to extremist narratives. Since 2014 we have been supporting an effective network of religious leaders who are actively contributing to changing attitudes towards the ‘other’ in their communities. Creating stable societies by reducing religious violence and building mutual respect to enhance social cohesion.

Many religious leaders tell us that misunderstandings about religion, religious tensions and extremist narratives are the most significant obstacles to building social cohesion. With limited access to resources, a lack of adequate commitment and low educational levels exacerbating the problem. Our approach gives religious and community leaders the tools to strengthen intra- and inter-religious cohesion and counter violent extremist narratives.

CE_Supporting Leaders heading.JPG


Delivered bespoke ‘training the trainer’ packages for 34 trainers and facilitators from the Development Initiative of West Africa (DIWA)

We create small pilot programmes – currently in Nigeria and Kenya – that can be scaled up by governments and institutions. Working in collaboration with delivery partners such as local civil society organisations or leading international institutions, we give organisations the tools to train and support religious and community leaders to build resilience to extremist narratives.

Our 'train the trainer' model provides intensive, bespoke courses on designing training sessions, delivering training, conducting monitoring and evaluation, and developing resources to build institutional capability, including planning and proposal writing.  Course content includes Islamic studies and extremist narratives with associated counter-narratives, as well as conflict transformation skills such as dialogue, mediation, problem analysis, community mobilisation and communication. The courses provide a ‘safe space’ within which to build trust and mutual respect between leaders of the same faith and different faiths.

Our trained partners then deliver comprehensive, interactive training courses to religious and community leaders and provide ongoing support to a growing network of participants and their communities.  

Community Action

Community action lies at the heart of the ‘Supporting Leaders’ approach. Each session is followed by a period of community action during which participants put their new learning into practice in their communities. During the final workshop, participants develop inter-religious action plans to counter extremist narratives.

These plans have included training local community members, vocational and scriptural training for those at risk of radicalisation, outreach through social and mass media, and local humanitarian and infrastructure projects.

In association with the NGO CARE International, Supporting Leaders has introduced an innovative adaptation of CARE’s Community Score Card. This provides a yet more rigorous approach to an objective understanding of local problems and to the development by local community and religious leaders of Joint Community Action Plans. This approach helps to improve the evidence for sustainable impact, to enable more effective learning about what works best and to inform policy development at local and national levels.

In Kano, the programme revealed that the Community Score Card is needed for enhancing unity among Christians... [It] also revealed a lot of marginalisation and developmental challenges that could be surmounted when Christians resolve their internal differences and speak as one.  The Kukah Centre, Joint Community Action Plan (Community Score Card)

Since 2014, Supporting Leaders Nigeria, supported by the GHR Foundation, has:

  • Delivered UK-based residential workshops for 48 Muslim and Christian religious leaders from northeastern Nigeria;
  • Delivered bespoke ‘training the trainer’ packages for 88 trainers and facilitators from the Development Initiative of West Africa (DIWA) and the Kukah Centre, who have trained 80 Muslim leaders and 77 Christian leaders from Gombe, Kano, Yobe, Kogi, Sokoto and Niger States; and
  • Trained 24 female religious leaders in 2018-19 from similar communities to adopt a more inclusive and sustainable approach.

Bulama Bukarti, a Muslim lawyer from Kano State in northern Nigeria, explains how our programme supporting leaders in Nigeria has helped him become an advocate for peace.

One thing we wanted from the [Institute] was to help us with better training methods, better project management, build the skills of the facilitators, not just to be able to deliver their message more effectively and impactfully, but to help them with even better content.

Nurudeen Lemu Development Initiative of West Africa

I think that looking at what [the Institute] is doing in Nigeria is unprecedented… There is no other group apart from the Tony Blair Institute doing this training.

Father Atta Barkindo The Kukah Centre

The course was an eye-opener. It empowered us with relevant skills and ideas on the contemporary challenges of our society. It also changed my mindset on the student-teacher relationship and, most importantly, on how to use dialogue for a better, peaceful coexistence.

Training-the-trainer course participant

I want to inform you that what I learned from these modules changed my perceptions and my life entirely. Not only that, I used these modules in changing perceptions of more than 700 people, both male and female.

Participating Muslim leader

CE_Supporting Leaders_03.JPG


UK-based residential workshops for 48 Muslim and Christian religious leaders from North-eastern Nigeria.


In collaboration with the World Association for Al-Azhar Graduates (WAAG), from 2015 and 2018 we worked to support 81 emerging Muslim leaders from 15 sub-Saharan African countries to attend a residential course delivered by leading experts from WAAG, whose mosque and university, Al-Azhar, lie at the heart of Sunni identity globally.

CE_Supporting Leaders body 02.JPG


Part of the 10-week residential course delivered by leading experts from the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates.

...when I go back I will integrate some of the imams and pastors… What is the first problem we face when we go back? Some of us will say ‘this one burned my house’ and ‘this one take my items from my house’ – this one, this problem, we will face it, I know it, so I will try to solve this problem before it happens.

Course Participant Egypt

Drawing on our experience from the cascade model developed for Supporting Leaders Nigeria and Egypt, in 2019 we launched a new pilot project in Kenya. The aim of this is to build more evidence across the region of how inter-religious action led by male and female leaders can counter extremism and improve social cohesion across selected mixed-faith communities.

We worked in partnership with ACT! (Act Change Transform), the Horn Institute, Womankind and the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics to co-design the pilot project, which will equip, train and support a network of 40 male and female religious and community leaders in Kwale and Garissa counties. You can hear what some of our partner organisations had to say during the project design stage in this video:

We design our training in close consultation with clients and partners founded on detailed and gender-sensitive conflict and needs analysis. Ongoing monitoring, evaluation and learning allows us to adapt our approach to appropriate and changing contexts.

We offer training in a range of complementary disciplines, including:

  • Action planning
  • Facilitation
  • Mediation
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Fundraising
  • Monitoring and evaluation (M&E)
  • Project management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Proposal writing
  • Dialogue
  • Management
  • Positive narratives
  • Strategic planning

We would be happy to explore with you how a bespoke package of training from us can meet your organisation’s needs.

Working with Religious Actors to Build Peaceful and Stable Societies

20-21 November 2019

Nairobi, Kenya

In November 2019 we will convene an Insights Forum for organisations working with religious actors in the preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) and peacebuilding sectors across the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa. Our aim is to meet challenges with practical solutions to better evidence the impact of working with religious actors to build peaceful and stable societies to practitioners and policy makers. The Institute is partnering with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, following on from the success of the Peacebuilding M&E Solutions Forum held in Washington, DC in October 2018, to ensure a strong focus on developing sector capacity for measuring programme impact and leveraging evidence for policy influence.

Would you be interested in participating in a panel session or delivering an M&E presentation? Our call for proposals is open! Click here for more information.

We continue to seek new partners across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond with whom we can collaborate to adapt this programme to address extremist narratives through intra- and inter-religious action. If your organisation is interested in collaborating with us, or if you would simply like more information, please contact us at: