A Letter from Our Founder, John Marks

Home / A Letter from Our Founder, John Marks
November 10, 2023

We began in 1982 at the height of the Cold War, and we focused on building bridges between East and West. Back then, we had two employees, a handful of supporters, and a minuscule budget. And we had the audacity to think we could change the world – from a win-lose, you-or-me environment, to a win-win, you-and-me place.

Today, that audacity still shapes our work.

But as global conflict has become more diffuse, so has our search for common ground. We currently work in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States, and have a staff of over 400. Thousands of people participate directly in our programs, and we reach millions more through media projects.

We do our work one step at a time, striving to be incrementally transformational. We appreciate that people and nations act in their perceived best interest. We believe, however, that everyone’s best interest is served by solutions that maximize the gain of those with a stake in the outcome. Current problems – whether ethnic, environmental, or economic – are simply too complex and interconnected to be settled on an adversarial basis. The earth is running out of space, resources, and recuperative capacity to deal with wasteful conflict.

The methods we use vary as greatly as the places where we work. Our methodology is based on one fundamental principle: Understand the differences; act on the commonalities.

Above all, we do our work because we believe it makes a difference. For example, our activities in Burundi have played a key role in breaking down ethnic fears and hatred. In Sierra Leone, we are helping the country emerge from a dark night of violence. In Macedonia, researchers have shown how our hugely popular children’s television series changed kids’ attitudes towards those of other ethnic groups. In the pages that follow, you will see descriptions of other successful programs.

Not surprisingly, we have also had our share of setbacks. We have worked for many years in the Middle East, and despite our best efforts, violence has soared. Still, we remain committed for the long term. We believe that our message represents hope for the future of countries in conflict. In the Middle East, as the death toll spiraled, we re-evaluated our activities and developed a new set of projects to try to help break the cycle of violence.

Although the world is overly polarized and violent behavior is much too prevalent, we remain essentially optimistic. Our view is that, on the whole, history is moving in positive directions. Failures in peacemaking do not cause us to give up. Rather, they convince us that we – and the world – must do much better in addressing conflict.

The challenge is extraordinary, and I consider myself immensely privileged to be able to do the work that I do. I am doubly blessed to have so many wonderful colleagues, funders, and friends. My gratitude is overwhelming.

John Marks
Founder and Senior Advisor

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