Inspiring Peace Initiatives: SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND

Search for Common Ground (or SFCG) is an international non-profit organization operating in 36 countries whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict away from adversarial approaches toward cooperative solutions. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, Belgium, with the majority of its 600 employees based in field offices around the world including in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. SFCG brought together numerous conflicting groups to find ways to peacefully resolve issues using independent media programming, track II diplomacy, and traditional peacebuilding tactics. John Marks, SFCG’s founder, and former President, received an award in 2006 from the Skoll Foundation for social entrepreneurship. In 2008, Search for Common Ground was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy by the United States Department of State. Shamil Idriss became President and CEO in September 2014. Prior to taking on his role with SFCG, Shamil was the CEO for Soliya, and served as Executive Director of the Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund which merged with Soliya in 2009. In 2005, he was appointed by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Deputy Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. He served on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and of the ASMA Society’s Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow.

SFCG was founded in 1982 by John Marks, a former State Department diplomat. He knew that conflict turns into violence when people focus on their differences rather than on their commonalities, and wanted a new way of connecting people across these differences. When SFCG was founded, it focused on facilitating cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The first project SFCG worked on was facilitating a U.S.‑Soviet task force on Lebanon. This task force developed a concept of a multilateral, regional approach to peace in the Middle East. Their idea was to bring together different ethnicities to create peace. This plan was later adopted, through SFCG’s help with negotiations, to end the Israeli-Jordanian war. Since its founding, the organization has expanded its work to 30 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Eastern Europe. SFCG’s first office in the Middle East was established in 1991. The organization started working in Europe in 1994, in Africa in 1995, and in Asia in 2002. It employs around 600 staff who represent more than 40 nationalities.

To achieve its mission, SFCG manages projects that use innovative tools and work at different levels of society to promote cooperation and non-adversarial solutions to problems. Its “toolbox” includes media production – radio, TV, film, and print – as well as mediation and facilitation, training, community organizing, sports, drama, and music. SFCG works in “peace media” focused on building ties between different groups. Their media programs span four continents and SFCG offers tools for the expansion of programs such as theirs. By focusing mostly on radio and television, they break down many of the traditional literacy barriers of print media. SFCG has over 600 staff operating in 36 countries around the world. The staff represents more than 40 nationalities. SFCG works in:

  • Africa – Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe
  • Asia – Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste (East Timor)
  • Europe – Belgium, Macedonia, United Kingdom
  • Middle East/Arab World – Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen
  • Others – United States

Members of the organization have worked for years to transform philanthropic decision-making processes by facilitating dialog between grant-makers and grantees. The process led to a youth program that bridges communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship. It also inspired a series of meetings at the United Nations on the idea of young philanthropy, and the Nexus Global Youth Summit. The Partners in Humanity (PiH) program aims to allay feelings of fear and suspicion based on perceived and real injustices, stereotypes, and inequalities. The mission of Partners in Humanity is to change the way individuals thank and feel about the issues, stereotypes and tensions that face Muslim-Western relations, which in turn will facilitate action. The program started in 2003 at a meeting of over 60 international NGOs, media professionals, governmental agencies and international organizations. The meeting was held in Jordan, and was hosted by SFCG and His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal. In addition to working with SFCG offices in the United States, Rabat, Jakarta, and Jerusalem, Partners in Humanity works with international organizations, including the World Economic Forum Council of 100, The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Soliya – The Connect Program, and The Institute for Interfaith Dialogue in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. PiH news. This program is supported by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The National Endowment for Democracy, His Royal Highness Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Kingdom Holdings, the United States Institute of Peace, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Compton Foundation and individual donors.

SFCG’s Children and Youth programs work directly with children in 26 programs in 14 countries aiming to transform children’s roles in conflict into alternatives to violence. The United Nations recognizes that over 2 million children have been killed during war, 6 million children have been permanently disabled and over 250,000 child soldiers are still serving as soldiers, despite plans to release child soldiers in countries such as Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The programs of SFCG Youth and Children include radio programming in all countries, news and journalism programs, mentoring programs between young girls and older women, Youth Parliaments, training youth as leaders in nonviolent projects, offering bilingual kindergartens to foster communication, training children and youth in nonviolent conflict resolution, and engaging youth in governmental creation. The Talking Drum Studios (radio) in Sierra Leone and Liberia provide children and youth with platforms for expression, through programs such as Sisi Lorpu and Golden Kids News. Credit: Wikipedia.

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