frequently asked questions
1. questions about conflict
What do you mean by conflict transformation? How is it different from conflict resolution?
Conflict transformation is the broader process that leads to sustainable peace. We don’t want to just solve the current problems. We aim to shift the attitudes of people involved in conflict and transform their relationships from mistrust and hatred to collaboration and partnership.
Learn more through our Core Principles and Why Violent Conflict?
2. how do you choose where to work?
Where do you work around the world?
Check out Where We Work for an up to date list and links to our work in each country.
How do you choose the countries you work in?
Usually we go where there’s a need and a request for our services, often in countries neighboring the ones we already work in. We prioritize these requests because they allow us to work on a regional basis. This is helpful since many violent conflicts span across borders, especially as refugees flee their homes.
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.
Here are the steps to start working in a new country:
Why do you work in countries where there’s no war, like the USA or Morocco?
Most of the countries where we work have experienced long-term, violent confrontation. However, we also work in countries where we’ve identified important tensions that could build up to violence if something does not change. Every country and society experiences conflict. In Morocco, for example, the current transition to a more open and inclusive political system is fraught with tension. We believe that everyone and every country needs the ability to facilitate change in a constructive and non-violent way.
Do you have program activities in the USA and Belgium, where your headquarters are located?
We’ve long been active in the United States of America, facilitating dialogues on highly divisive issues such as abortion and homosexuality. We also work consistently with Congress to help shift the current model of political decision-making to be more collaborative. To learn more about our different projects, go to our USA country pages.
In 2003, we started to work in Belgium because of increasing polarization between the Flemish and French-speaking communities. Our efforts have included partnerships with other NGOs on events that promote cross-linguistic dialogue and conflict resolution training in schools.
What is your policy on security in dangerous conditions?
While we sometimes intervene in situations of open violence and civil war, our work is most effective in preventing conflict from escalating to violence (e.g., Macedonia) or rebuilding a society post-conflict (e.g., Sierra Leone). At times, the countries where we work undergo upsurges of violence that threaten the security of our staff (e.g. Burundi).
In such circumstances, the Country Director will evaluate 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. More than 80% of our staff are working in their home country. We believe there is value in our expatriate staff sharing the hardships with our partners and local staff, but the final decision about whether to stay or go belongs to the individuals involved.
Do you have exit strategies in the countries where you work?
Conflict transformation at the societal level is a very long process, so our projects are designed to be long-term interventions. Ultimately we want to leave behind something sustainable. Each of our projects includes a five-year exit strategy to transfer ownership to local partners. We’ve been able to do that in Macedonia, for example. This can only be implemented, however, if the country’s political environment has sufficiently stabilized.
3. who works with and for search for common ground?
How many people work for Search for Common Ground?
We have approximately 500 employees as well as 100 consultants and interns. 80-90% of our staff work in their home country, meaning the vast majority of our staff are from the Global South.
Who do you work with? Are you affiliated with any other organizations?
We partner with roughly 1500 organizations. Most are local civic and non-governmental organizations. We are also founding members of the US-based Alliance of International Conflict Prevention and Resolution, the European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation, and the Washington Network on Children in Armed Conflict. These networks allow us to exchange information, collaborate on joint initiatives, and coordinate our efforts in specific regions.
Who runs your programs in overseas countries?
In the highly volatile and polarized environments where we work, foreigners are generally seen as impartial, 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, the majority of our Country Directors are expatriates, often from another country in the region. Our Country Directors must have an in-depth understanding of the region and prior knowledge of the main local language. In most cases, the remaining staff are representative of the country’s ethnic, religious, and regional diversity.