Spotlight on Search for Common Ground: The Common Ground Approach

You’ve reaffirmed the dignity of others with hygiene kits at the US Mexico border. You’ve revitalized Mosul’s Old City by investing in entrepreneurs’ small businesses. And you’ve stabilized indigenous communities in Colombia by tackling malnutrition and environmental challenges through a recycling for food program. Your hard work has made huge development gains in communities suffering from violence or economic devastation. 

Peacebuilding is essential to sustain the development impact you’ve made. That’s why we’re ecstatic to have joined Search for Common Ground, the world’s largest, dedicated peacebuilding organization. As part of Search, we’ll be able to scale our peacebuilding efforts globally while complementing our Community team’s efforts in the US. Best of all, we’ll be working alongside a partner that shares our core values of putting people first, working relationally and across dividing lines, and committing to communities for the long haul.

Search sees conflict as an opportunity to drive positive social change. That’s why Search defines common ground as the place where the interests of people, communities, or nations in conflict with one another overlap. Instead of each side giving up a part of what they want to meet in the middle (and not feel truly satisfied with the compromise), adversaries come together to identify what their common interests are. Their overlapping common interests become the North Star, guiding dialogue and action. 

By working to achieve their interests, each side is also helping the other get what they want, which fosters a spirit of collaboration as one-time adversaries attack the problem at hand instead of each other. Nothing breeds trust like a shared success, so as opposing sides make small gains in working towards their shared goals, they also build trust. Attitudes towards and perceptions of “the other” shift, relationships grow stronger, and adversaries collaborate more successfully. Because the ultimate solution satisfies both sides’ needs, both sides are more likely to maintain peace.

Search calls their proprietary methodology the Common Ground Approach. The underlying belief of this approach is that change is possible, that people can shift their attitudes, and they can build healthy relationships. Taken in aggregate, people can drive positive social change in their personal lives, communities, institutions, and societies. The Common Ground Approach was used in Jos, Nigeria, where Muslims from the north of Nigeria collided with Christians from the south, setting off cycles of violence. Both communities suffered as homes and businesses were set on fire, and everyone knew someone who had been burned to death. Each group blamed the other. Search for Common Ground’s local team in Nigeria set up a safe space where girls ages 12 to 15 could learn how to be leaders of peace in their communities. Young girls were chosen for this initiative because their voices often go unheard in conflict.

In total, 11 Muslim girls and 11 Christians girls were selected to be peace leaders. Working in pairs (one Muslim girl paired with one Christian girl), the peace leaders learned how conflict affects communities, how conflict can be resolved by finding shared common interests, and how to have empathy. Learning about peacebuilding together, the girls recognized their similarities. “I discovered they are just the way we are, no difference. Just that they pray on Friday and we pray on Sunday,” said one peace leader. As the girls started to know one another better, they lost their fear of being humiliated or killed. When the peace leadership initiative ended, the girls returned to their communities to share what they had learned and to teach their communities how to forgive.

Conflict is inevitable, but violence is not. Replacing fear with trust takes time, but we’re up for the challenge. As Search continues catalyzing systemic change in communities experiencing violence, we will be learning beside them.

This is the first post in a series highlighting the work of Search for Common Ground.