Dr Laura Zahra McDonald (PhD) is a founding director of ConnectFutures, an independent civil society organisation based in the UK, that works with young people, communities and professionals to prevent violence, extremism and exploitation. ConnectFutures applies learning from academic research and professional skills, to its practical, youth and community orientated programmes and training.
ConnectFutures programmes are delivered in a variety of contexts, from prisons to schools to places of worship, directly working with over 100 000 young people through educational and non-educational settings, and many thousands of professionals such as teachers, police officers and social workers, as well as members of the wider public.
With an early career in academia investigating state-community engagement in the context of security and conflict post 9/11, she highlighted the importance of community partnership with leadership from young people and women. Laura has extensive experience in innovative programme design, critical enquiry and evaluation for policy, practitioner and community-based organisations. She has worked to counter extremism, exploitation and inequality since 2003, engaging formally in understanding and developing preventative approaches to extremisms since 2005. This includes bringing young people together with the police for problem-solving in the community, and engaging ‘hard to-reach’ youth for dialogue and skills-building across diverse communities.
She has been a key developer – designing, testing and evaluating - in the OSCE’s Leaders Against Intolerance and Violent Extremism (LIVE) initiative, which is a long-term training and capacity building programme for young leaders in Western Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia to tackle extremism in their local contexts. Laura has also contributed to the development of an online course for UNITAR around countering violent extremism within a human rights framework.