Search for Common Ground

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Search for Common Ground (SFCG)
Motto Understanding Differences, Acting on Commonalities
Formation 1982
Type international non-profit organization
Headquarters Washington, D.C., United States
Official language
English, French
President & CEO
Shamil Idriss
600 working in 35 field offices in 34 countries, representing 41 nationalities

Search for Common Ground (or SFCG) is an international non-profit organization operating in 34 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., 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. To date, SFCG has created independent radio programming, developed a newsletter which features articles on relations between the West and the Muslim world, and brought together numerous conflicting groups to find ways to peacefully resolve issues. John Marks, SFCG's founder and former president, received an award in 2006 from the Skoll Foundation for social entrepreneurship.[1] In 2008 Search for Common Ground was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy by the U.S. Department of State.[2] The 2012 Intercultural Innovation Award was awarded to the SFCG Morocco office, on behalf of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW Group, which recognizes, next to 9 other projects, this SFCG project in Morocco on Multimedia and intercultural relations, bringing Moroccan and Sub-Saharan youth together and creating video and short movies, emphasizing positive and constructive messages.[3] Shamil Idriss took the reins as the new President and CEO in September 2014 which coincided with the announcement of a merger between Search for Common Ground and Soliya.[4] Prior to taking on his role with Search, 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 has 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.[5]


SFCG was founded in 1982 by John Marks, a former State Department diplomat.[6] 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 Search's help with negotiations, to end the Israeli-Jordanian war.[7]

Since its founding, the organization has expanded its work to 30 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Eastern Europe. It employs 450 staff who represent 41 nationalities.

SFCG’s mission[edit]

SFCG’s mission of transforming the way the world deals with conflict is best captured by their motto “understanding the differences, acting on commonalities”. According to their guiding philosophy, conflict is a natural part of life, and improving the ability to transform conflict into a source of growth and progress will have a profound impact on how well people are able to deal with each issue they face.

SFCG believes "peace is a process, not an event". They work with long-term commitments in each country they serve and become immersed into local cultures.[8]

Search for Common Ground's goal is to make finding common ground the common thing. According to their founding principles, common ground does not show weakness, it actually shows a willingness to understand a different perspective, leading to a more peaceful future.[9]


SFCG has over 450 staff operating in 35 offices in 24 countries around the world. The staff represents 41 nationalities.

SFCG works in:

  • Africa - Angola, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe
  • Asia - Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan
  • Europe - Kosovo, Macedonia, Ukraine
  • Middle East / Arab World - Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen
  • Others - United States, Timor-Leste

About 25% of the staff works in the Washington, D.C. office, while most of the rest of the staff are from the countries in which they work.[10]


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.[11]

Common Ground Productions[edit]

An internal arm of SFCG is Common Ground Productions, or CG Productions. This arm is responsible for the media production of SFCG, including radio, television, and internet programming.

Programming includes[12][13]


Common Ground Productions helped create Burundi's independent radio studio, Studio Ijambo, in 1995, after fears that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 would spread to neighboring countries. A 2000 poll of listeners found that 82% of people in Burundi thought that Studio Ijambo "helped reconciliation a lot". The studio employs an ethically mixed staff of Hutus and Tutsis, who present an ethnically united front to an otherwise divided country.[14] Studio Ijambo has been credited with playing a key role in decentralizing the media in Burundi and building local capacity for news coverage.[14]

  • Radio soap operas

Next to the BBC, SFCG is the largest producer of radio soap operas in the world, and in countries like Sierra Leone – which recently emerged from a civil war - its programming is listened to by over 90% of the population that has access to a radio. The radio was the most important form of mass communication after the civil war in Sierra Leone because there were three functioning radio stations in the country.[15]

  • The Talking Drum Studios

The radio studios in Sierra Leone and Liberia not only promote peace, but also HIV/AIDS prevention. TDS-Liberia has released several public service announcements, created billboards and handed out T‑shirts and condoms at events.[16] They also provide children and youth with platforms for expression, through programs such as Sisi Lorpu and Golden Kids News


Programming for CG Productions include:

  • Africa: The Search For Common Ground

It was produced in the late 1990s as a 13‑part series on the conflicts and struggles facing the African continent. It specifically highlights issues in 16 countries. The series, co‑produced by Ubuntu TV and Film Productions/Media Peace Centre and the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC), was broadcast by TV and radio in English, French and Portuguese. The series has been broadcast in 22 countries in 40 local dialects, as well as the three languages it was produced in.

  • The Academy (Nigeria)
  • Africa: SFCG
  • The Bridge (Egypt)
  • Gimme6 (Cyprus)
  • Kilna Bil Hayy

In Lebanon, CG Productions released Kilna Bil Hayy (translation: “All of us in the Neighborhood”). This soap opera, targeting children, works to promote tolerance between the different ethnic and religious groups in Lebanon. Featuring six children, one from each of Armenian, Christian, Druze, Palestinian, Shiite, and Sunni backgrounds, the show calls attention to the interactions between the different ethnic groups and shows different means of nonviolent conflict resolution.[17] A second season is being filmed in 2010.[18]

In Jerusalem, Search for Common Ground and Ma'an Network produced a new reality television program called The President. Aired in 2013, this program tasked viewers and a panel of expert judges with selecting the show candidate that they hoped to see become the next Palestinian President. The program was designed to promote democratic values and procedures to a Palestinian audience and engage citizens in democratic processes.[19]

  • Nashe Maalo (Macedonia)

In Macedonia, a joint effort between the producers of Sesame Street[20] and CG Productions produced a children's show called Nashe Maalo (translation: Our Neighborhood). The show aired in the early 2000s, and it promoted mutual tolerance and respect between the different ethnic and religious groups in Macedonia.[21]

  • Naaya Baato, Naaya Paila (Nepal)

Nepal's ongoing soap opera Naaya Baato, Naaya Paila targets youth in the formerly violence-ridden society of Nepal. It integrates the relationships between youth and adults, while showing how both can peacefully become involved in their communities. It also shows the growing role of women in Nepalese culture and how rising feminism helps, rather than hurts, society as a whole.[22]

  • Our Neighbors, Ourselves (Burundi)

In Burundi, SFCG produced Our Neighbors, Ourselves. The show, produced by both Hutus and Tutsis, was an attempt to avoid the ethnic conflict that led to the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.[22]

  • Peace Songs
  • PSAs (Macedonia and Burundi)
  • The Shape of the Future (Israel/Palestine)
  • The Station (Egypt and Nigeria)
  • The Team (local series in many countries) (see separate section below)

The Team TV series[edit]

Main article: The Team (TV series)

An ongoing project of CG Productions is The Team (L'Equipe). Using the popularity of football (called soccer in America), the show uses sports as a metaphor to unification while addressing local, deep-rooted conflict. The show follows specific characters on a football team who must learn to work together to overcome their differences and win the game. The show is specifically tailored to the country in which it airs.[23] Each country has different issues it faces, and the scripts represent these differences. The cast, writers and production crews are, whenever possible, all indigenous to the country. In the DRC, The Team deals specifically with women's rights.[24] Part of the success of The Team is that the audience can relate to the characters. The characters portrayed on the soap opera are from varied ethnic, religious, educational, and economic backgrounds.[25]

Radio For PeaceBuilding, Africa[edit]

Radio is the most accessible form of mass communication in Africa.[26] Due to this fact, SFCG created Radio for PeaceBuilding Africa, which aims to broaden the skills of broadcasters working in Africa. RFPA supports youth radio broadcasters and encourages the diversifying of viewpoints on the air.

RFPA works with politicians to increase the flow of communications between governments and the civil society, as well as encouraging the SFCG mission of acting on the commonalities between societies and ethnicities.[27]

The countries served by RFPA are Angola, Burundi, DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Niger, Liberia, Kenya, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Cameroon. Specifically, RFPA targets broadcasters, governmental officials and members of the civil society in each state.

To address their mission, RFPA developed a multilingual training guide and module for broadcasters and journalists. They also organize forums and regional conferences to discuss challenges and issues facing projects. They organize two competitions to reward the top programs structured around the themes in the training guides.[28]

Of the countries in which RFPA has programs or participating stations, Burundi, Central African Republic, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda have "Partially Free" status under Freedom House's 2010 Freedom in the World classification, published on January 12, 2010. Cameroon, Chad, Congo–Brazzaville, DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe have "not free" status under the same ranking systems. This system ranks the degree of democracy and political freedom in each country in the world. Levels of political freedom and civil rights are ranked on a scale of 1 through 7, and each country is assigned a status of "free", "partially free", or "not free".[29]

RFPA was created by SFCG and is supported in part by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. It was previously supported by the UK's Department of International Development.[30]

Mobile cinema[edit]

In many countries in Africa, SFCG has introduced mobile cinema. These programs bring CG Production works into rural villages and expose more people to topics and discussion.

In the DRC, SFCG has introduced mobile cinema dealing specifically with women's rights. Women in the DRC have been the victims of a brutal sexual assault war that has increased in intensity over the last few years. According to UN estimates, close to "3,500 females were raped by soldiers, militiamen, and civilians during the first six months" of 2009, compared to 4,800 rapes for the whole of 2008.[31]

SFCG also used Mobile Cinema in places like Kenya as a tool to broadcast The Team to a large audience who would otherwise not be exposed to it.[32]

Social media[edit]

In February 2010, SFCG hosted a three-day conference for bloggers in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. The conference focused on finding ways for cross-cultural communication and discussion of shared issues in the region.[33]

Common Ground News Service[edit]

The Common Ground News Service also known as CGNews was launched in 2000 as an arm of SFCG. CGNews publishes articles from local and international experts working on current Middle East issues and the relationship between the West and Muslim communities. The ten articles published per week come out in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Bahasa Indonesia, French, and Urdu. 34,000 people subscribe to CGNews. The editorial board is based around the world, with editors in Amman, Beirut, Geneva, Jakarta, Jerusalem, Islamabad, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.

The articles published are chosen because they provide constructive and solution oriented perspectives, encourage peaceful means of resolving conflicts, offer constructive self-criticism, offer hope, and interpret information in a way that encourages rational thinking.[34]

One section of CGNews is Partners in Humanity News, although PiH is a separate department within SFCG.

CGNews is funded by Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Commission, the British, Canadian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and U.S. governments, the Arca Foundation of Washington, D.C., the United States Institute of Peace, the National Endowment for Democracy, Rational Games and private donors.[35]

Philanthropic influence[edit]

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,[36] and the Nexus Global Youth Summit.

Partners in Humanity[edit]

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.[37]

Children and Youth programs[edit]

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.[38]

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.[39]

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.[40]

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.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Skoll Foundation Webpage,
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND AND SOLIYA TO JOIN TOGETHER". Search for Common Ground. Search for Common Ground. Retrieved 9/03/15.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ "SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND ANNOUNCES LEADERSHIP TRANSITION". Search for Common Ground. Search for Common Ground. Retrieved 09/03/15.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  6. ^ American Foreign Service Association, "From Diplomat to Dissident: A Foreign Service Odyssy"
  7. ^ The New Humanitarians, ed. Chris E Stout, p193
  8. ^ The New Humanitarians
  9. ^ Chicago Tribune Editorial, John Marks, Common Ground Means Lasting Solutions, Not Weakness:,0,5261355.story
  10. ^ SFCG, About, Washington Staff:
  11. ^ Huffington Post, Elise Crane, 6/13/10
  12. ^ Search for Common Ground website, Program Section
  13. ^ Common Ground Productions Website;
  14. ^ a b The Global Communications Initiative Network, "Studio Ijambo"
  15. ^ Rutgers University, Radio Waves Spread Peace in Africa
  16. ^ The Global Communications Initiative Network, "Talking Drum Studio, Liberia"
  17. ^ The Lebanon Daily Star, TV series strives to topple sectarian, ethnic animosity, August 26, 2010
  18. ^ The Lebanon Daily Star, 'Youth drama tackles religious tolerance in Lebanon', Friday, October 01, 2010,
  19. ^ "Search for Common Ground Jerusalem Media Projects". Search for Common Ground. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  20. ^ Impact is the Mantra: The ‘Common Ground' Approach to Media, Track Two, vol. 7 No. 4, December 1998. Track Two is a publication of the Centre for Conflict Resolution (South Africa)
  21. ^ Macedonian Programmes,
  22. ^ a b Life Positive Magazine, "Love and Wisdom in Nepal" May 2009
  23. ^ Planet Green, "'The Team' Promotes Nonviolent Conflict Resolution Through Soccer"
  24. ^
  25. ^ Agencies take soap operas into life messaging:
  26. ^ World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters. "Radio and Development in Africa: A Concept Paper" page 8.,_a_concept_paper.pdf
  27. ^ The Peace Media Clearinghouse, "Radio for PeaceBuilding Africa"
  28. ^ The Global Communication Initiative "Radio for PeaceBuilding Africa"
  29. ^ Freedom House "Freedom in the World 2010" January 2010, 2010
  30. ^ Radio for PeaceBuilding Africa,
  31. ^ 16 Days of Activism: The forgotten victims of Conflict in the Congo,
  32. ^
  33. ^ Global Voices Online Blog, "Morocco: Maghreb Bloggers Search for Common Ground"
  34. ^ Common Ground News "About Us"
  35. ^ Common Ground News Website,
  36. ^ Meeting on Youth Led Social Development and Young Philanthropy held at the United Nations on February 8, 2011,, Nexus: Global Youth Summit - July 26–29, 2011,
  37. ^ Search for Common Ground "Partners in Humanity"
  38. ^ Search for Common Ground, "Children in Youth"
  39. ^ United Nations, "Situations of Concern"
  40. ^ Search for Common Ground "Children and Youth: What We Do"
  41. ^ The Global Communications Network "Talking Drum Studion"

External links[edit]