Skoll Foundation


Search for Common Ground

Skoll Awardee(s): John and Susan Collin Marks
Award Year: 2006
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Peace and Human Rights

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“To deal with conflict, it is necessary to promote societal healing. This requires developing concrete ways for diverse people to live together. Our basic strategy is to understand the differences and act on the commonalities. We do not believe in parachuting into other people’s conflicts, and as much as possible, we build local capacity so that each country can successfully manage its own differences.”

Sub-Issues: Human Rights; Peace

Worldwide, tens of millions of people are caught up in violent conflict that robs them of human rights, prevents development, and causes huge damage to the environment.

The Skoll Awardees: John Marks founded Search for Common Ground (SFCG) at the height of the Cold War to build bridges between East and West. Operating from the basic belief that the world is running out of space, resources, and recuperative capacity to deal with wasteful conflict, he has built SFCG into the largest nonprofit organization in the world working to defuse, prevent and transform conflict. Before joining her husband as Senior Vice President of SFCG, Susan Collin Marks served as a peacemaker during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, mediating bloody clashes, and helping formulate national policy on community policing. SFCG works across whole societies with conflict resolution techniques such as mediation, facilitation and back-channel dialogue; and through less traditional methods including community organizing, TV and radio soap opera, music-video, and sports. At the time of the Award, SFCG had established multi-pronged conflict resolution programs in Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and was poised to bring its media program to global scale. In 2014, John and Susan transitioned into new roles in the organization. Shamil Idriss, who formerly served as chief operating officer of SFCG, became its CEO.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2006:

  • Currently working in 30 countries, with four out of five staff recruited locally from the countries they serve.
  • The Team, a TV/radio soap opera that promotes win-win ways of solving problems, became the third-most-watched television program in Kenya. Adapted to address local conflicts and then broadcast in other countries, it won several major film awards.
  • Génération Grands Lacs, a multilingual radio show broadcast in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, reaches tens of thousands of listeners in the region.
  • A leadership program co-presented with Outward Bound for Israeli and Palestinian social entrepreneurs intended to develop the core of a Palestinian-Israeli network for positive social change has been expanded to include young political and religious leaders.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.