Treating People with Dignity & Respect
Through decades transforming conflicts from destructive to constructive, we’ve learned some lessons along the way.
Values are the cultural norms of Search for Common Ground. They are the guideposts for how we behave, treat each other, perform our work, and hold each other accountable. Read about our philosophy of conflict and why our approach works to end violent conflict.
- We are purposeful in creating a more diverse and inclusive culture at Search
- We know that no one succeeds alone, so we embrace courageous engagement and collaboration
- We listen deeply to new ideas, welcoming multiple and fresh perspectives
- We are hopeful and undaunted by what may seem insurmountable
- We imagine solutions for some of the most complex problems
- We are unafraid to try new things and to experiment
- We take on big challenges
- We are not discouraged by our failures, instead we learn from them
- We prefer action over perfection and we never give up
- We build relationships based on respect
- We seek to understand each others’ circumstances and experiences
- We encourage the potential in each person and celebrate their growth and success
- We each have a vital role in achieving the mission of Search
- We take pride in what we can accomplish together
- We are constantly learning, adapting and improving
CONFLICT IS NORMAL AND RESOLVABLE
Our differences – beliefs, values, and backgrounds – lead to conflict. These disagreements are natural. It’s when we respond with anger, fear, or even hatred that we’ve started down a destructive path. But violence is not inevitable. Disagreements are opportunities to learn new perspectives. Conflict is a chance to work together and find a solution that addresses everyone’s needs.
We’re not saying that it’s simple or easy to respond constructively. It takes courage. But everyone can do it.
COMMON GROUND IS NOT COMPROMISE
Often when people disagree, they eventually have to meet in the middle, where everyone gives up something that’s important to them. We don’t ask people to compromise. We propose a new vision of the future together, one that meets everyone’s deep-seated concerns and values. This is a common ground that people can aspire to and are willing to work towards. Finding it often takes creativity and a sense of basic safety, but we believe it leads to long-term solutions for the most people.
CONFLICT CAN BE TRANSFORMED
We are not trying to make people sign a piece of paper to stop fighting. Our goal is much broader. We want to transform conflict from violent to cooperative, to change the everyday interactions between people in conflict from destructive to constructive.
Transforming conflict can be as simple as “reframing” a situation – creating a new context in which people attack common problems, rather than each other. A win-lose, you-or-me mindset just perpetuates violence because it disregards the fact that the people involved still have to co-exist after someone “wins”.
PEACE IS A PROCESS
There’s no instant cure for violent or destructive conflict – it’s a process, not an event. To shift a conflict situation, we have to make a long-term commitment to work in partnership with local people from various sectors of their society. Read more about our process below, under “Why it Works.”
HUMANKIND IS INTERDEPENDENT
With rapid globalization, it’s clear how much we impact and depend on each other, from economic booms and busts to security threats. These days, it’s hard to buy a piece of fruit or a t-shirt without participating in a web of global relationships.
Whether we like it or not, we’re in this together. Our best hope is to solve our global problems together. To do so, we must approach each other and our differences with respect and a constructive mindset.
WHY IT WORKS
We make long-term commitments.
We use an integrated approach.
We get engaged to see the possibilities.
We are social entrepreneurs.
We are immersed in local cultures.
We practice cooperative action.
We avoid parachuting – dropping into a conflict for a short period to mediate or resolve it. Because peace is a process, we need a continuous presence to develop relationships on all sides of the conflict, understand the deep concerns of all parties, and gain the trust needed to enable a shift towards safe, constructive, and creative problem-solving.
For society-wide change, we work simultaneously on multiple levels – from leaders to grassroots – using multiple tools.
Conflicts are extraordinarily complex, and it takes profound engagement in order to understand them. Although we conduct assessment missions before undertaking any new program, we also adapt to the changing environments in which we operate.
We look for problem-solvers and creative thinkers who, from a shared vision, can develop finite and achievable projects. We continuously develop new tools and approaches.
We work with and build on individuals’ and communities’ knowledge, wisdom, and creativity. Partnering with local peace-builders is crucial to strengthen their ability to transform their own conflicts.
Dialogue is a necessary but insufficient means to change attitudes and behaviors. Wherever possible, we work with people in conflict to help them not only understand their differences, but also act on their common ground.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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.
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?
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 through our Common Ground USA initiative. To learn more about our work in the United States, visit the Common Ground USA page.
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., our work in Macedonia) or rebuilding a society post-conflict (e.g., our previous work in Sierra Leone). At times, the countries where we work undergo upsurges of violence that threaten the security of our staff (e.g. Burundi or Afghanistan).
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, Liberia, Nepal, Sierra-Leone, Guinea, Tunisia, among other countries. This can only be implemented, however, if the country’s political environment has sufficiently stabilized.
How many people work for Search for Common Ground?
We have approximately 800 employees as well as 100 consultants and interns. 89% 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 1000 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 manages your programs in countries around the world?
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.