Questions about Conflict
What do you mean by conflict transformation? How is this different conflict resolution?
While we often use the terms conflict resolution and conflict transformation interchangeably, we prefer the latter because it implies a broader process. Our objectives are not limited to solving problems. We aim to shift the attitudes of the parties involved and transform their relationship from mistrust and hatred to collaboration and partnership.
General Questions about Search for Common Ground
Where do you work around the world?
Search For Common Ground has programs in 24 different countries. The countries in which we operate are Angola, Belgium, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, D.R. Congo, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Jerusalem, Beirut, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ukraine, and the USA.
How do you choose the countries in which to work?
Usually we go where there is a need and a request for our services. Very often opportunities for the type of work we do arise in countries neighbouring the ones where we currently work. We give priorities to these requests as they allow us to work on a regional basis.
Most requests come from UN or government agencies and local civil society groups. We receive new requests every week and unfortunately have to turn down many for lack of financial resources.
Starting a new program requires that we:
establish that we can meet the needs identified in an assessment mission
find credible partners in the area
secure sufficient funding for the first year of activities
Why do you work in countries such as Ukraine where there is no conflict?
Most of the countries where we work have experienced open, violent confrontation over many years. However, we also have programs in countries where we have identified important tensions that could build up to violence if not managed proactively. In Ukraine, the coexistence between Ukrainians, Russians and Crimean Tatars is far from easy. In Morocco, the current transition to a more open and pluralistic political system is fraught with tension. Every country and society experiences conflict. We believe that programs like ours, that facilitate change in a non-violent way, are needed everywhere.
Do you have program activities in the US and Belgium where your headquarters are located?
From the early days of Search For Common Ground, we have been active in the United States. We have facilitated dialogue on highly divisive issues such as abortion and the separation of Church and State. We are also spearheading efforts to institute the US Consensus Council at the national legislative level to help shift the current model of political debate to a more collaborative approach. To learn more about our different projects, go to our US program pages.
In 2003 we started to work in Belgium because of increasing polarization between the Flemish and French-speaking communities. Early efforts have included partnerships with other NGOs on events that promote cross-linguistic dialogue and conflict resolution training in local schools and programs.
What is your policy on security in dangerous conditions?
We do not intervene in situations of open violence and civil war. Our work is most effective in preventing the escalation of a conflict into violence (e.g., Macedonia) or rebuilding a society post-conflict (e.g., Sierra Leone). However, sometimes the countries where we work undergo upsurges of violence that threaten the security of our staff. This happened on several occasions in Burundi.
In such circumstances, the Country Director evaluates the situation in consultation with the rest of the program staff and with the support of Senior Management. We do not automatically follow the security recommendations of the UN, but rather complement them with information provided by our own networks. Instead of evacuating expatriate staff, we believe there is value in sharing the hardship with our partners and local staff, even if it means suspending activities for a while. The final decision about whether to stay or go, however, belongs to the individuals involved.
Do you have exit strategies in the country where you work?
Conflict transformation at the societal level is a very long process. Our programs are designed to be long-term interventions. But ultimately our goal is to leave behind sustainable projects in the local society. We have been able to do that in Gaza, where the Conflict Resolution Centre we created now operates as an independent local NGO, employing 24 full-time staff and raising its own funds. In Macedonia, we have transferred the responsibility and ownership of our TV program Nashe Maalo to a local production company. At SFCG's strategic planning session in March 2004, we decided that every project should include a five-year exit strategy to transfer ownership of the program to local partners. However, such a strategy can only be implemented if the country's political environment has sufficiently stabilized.
Who works with and for SFCG?
How many people work for Search For Common Ground?
We currently have 376 full-time employees. 80% of our staff are local nationals, 10% are US citizens and 10% come from elsewhere. Indeed, 56% of our staff is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Note that these numbers refer to full time staff and do not include consultants or interns.
Who do you work with? Are you affiliated with any other organizations?
We are founding members of the US-based Alliance of International Conflict Prevention and Resolution (www.aicpr.org) and the European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation (www.conflict-prevention.net). Both are networks of organisations focusing on conflict. They allow us to exchange information, collaborate on joint initiatives and co-ordinate our efforts in specific regions. However, most of our direct partners are local civic and non-governmental organisations in the countries where we work (see a list of these organisations at http://www.sfcg.org/sfcg/sfcg_collaborating.html).
Who runs your programs in overseas countries?
In the highly volatile and polarized environments where we work, foreigners are generally seen as impartial and capable of objective analysis. They are also credible witnesses from the outside world who are able to give a voice to local issues. For this reason, and with the exception of Ukraine and Liberia where the staff is comprised entirely of locals, expatriates run our Country Programs. Our largest program, DRC (over 60 staff), currently has seven expatriates; however, most programs have only one. In each case, our Country Directors must have an in-depth understanding of the region and prior knowledge of the main local language. All of the remaining staff is local and representative of the country's ethnic, religious and regional groups.