Mark Hanis is creating an engaged, proactive anti-genocide constituency.
The New Idea
Over a half-century ago, the international community pledged to “never again” allow genocide to occur. Repeated failure to keep that promise (in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Darfur) sparked Mark’s creation of the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET). Thousands in the international community are asking what they can do to stop genocide, and GI-NET is answering by empowering individuals and communities to hold governments accountable to contribute directly to protecting civilians around the world from genocide.
A longstanding key strategy of the human rights movement has been to publish shocking reports of abuses to raise awareness and ultimately move U.S. and international leaders to act. GI-NET is expanding on that work by providing global citizens with the tools to more effectively advocate and fundraise to prevent genocide, thus fulfilling their moral and civic duties as citizens of the world. This represents a significant shift in past practices as it distributes the power to affect change from a concentrated few to a much larger group of citizen activists. The tools that enable this distribution are an important part of the “newness” of Mark’s work—as many of them involve the innovative use of technology in advocacy.
Already, GI-NET’s efforts on Darfur have translated into revised thinking on the part of elected officials and policymakers about appropriate responses to this genocide and about prevention of current and future mass atrocities. Whether “grading” United States members of Congress on their voting records, or encouraging individual and institutional divestment from companies doing business in corrupt regions implicated in the atrocities, GI-NET’s national network has designed a comprehensive strategy that creates roles for citizens at all levels of engagement. GI-NET is an example of how organized citizens can pressure governments, raise resources, and ultimately protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities wherever they might occur in the world.
Defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group, genocide is estimated to have taken tens of millions of lives and displaced tens of millions more in the 20th century alone. Today, despite the fact that the world knows of its existence, genocide continues to occur. Though the public’s desire to intervene is strong, the lack of political will and the lack of effective mechanisms for citizen action have made the debate on intervention for human protection a largely academic one.
In the U.S. and abroad, genocide is typically addressed after the fact, on a case-by-case basis, once tens of thousands or even millions of lives have been lost. While genocide is in progress, however, there are few mechanisms for effective engagement at the individual and community level that can translate the will to act into results. In addition, efforts to convince institutions to strategically divest investments to stop genocide have been largely ineffective because of their adversarial character. Political pressure for U.S. leadership against genocide is nominal and weak and UN member states have repeatedly failed to contribute the resources needed to prevent and stop genocide. Without a system to support sustained international intervention, the global community will never be able to prevent or stop genocide.
Since its inception in 2004, Mark has grown GI-NET into a formidable force in human rights and advocacy movement comprised of a strong membership base of empowered supporters and equally committed staff working to support and unify the efforts of its members and to develop advocacy tools, campaigns, programs, and legislation. In the four years of operation, Mark and his board advanced GI-NET beyond seed funding to a robust budget funded by both individual and corporate donors.
Initially focused on the genocide in Darfur, Mark devised a strategy of “Three Ps”: Protection (working to directly protect communities), political will (working to ensure that active anti-genocide leadership will come from the U.S.), and permanency (a permanent, engaged constituency working to create global structures to respond to genocide) that he believes are core to preventing genocide.
Among its core strategic focus areas, GI-NET coordinates and trains a robust student movement consisting of more than 800 chapters in high schools and colleges—it also provides technical and organizational support to local genocide groups participating in GI-NET campaigns, with 50,000 online members to date. 1-800-GENOCIDE—the first-ever anti-genocide hotline—connects callers directly to their elected officials for free, provides talking points related to current legislation, suggests other actions elected officials can take to help end genocide, and even enables citizens to listen to genocide discussions taking place in Congress. In addition, GI-NET keeps scorecards that award a letter grade to each Member of Congress for his or her activity and position on genocide. Grades are posted on www.Darfurscores.org, a website Mark developed. It seems to be working: Members of Congress have called GI-NET to ask how to improve their scores, and 39 Senators who scored an “F” in 2006 raised their grade the following year. GI-NET also develops on-the-ground protection projects that private citizens can fund. These include efforts to protect women and girls in refugee camps in North Darfur and fill critical gaps in the training of incoming U.N. peacekeeping police units.
To promote targeted divestment GI-NET identified the 26 “worst offenders” among the Fortune 500, then hired and trained students to encourage selective divestment (e.g. by governments and universities) from those companies. The organization also introduced bills in 25 states (23 of which passed) to divest in targeted companies; convinced 61 colleges, 27 states, and 23 cities to divest their pension plans from those companies; and succeeded in having 12 companies make the changes required to be removed from the targeted list. GI-NET’s Divestment Director testified before the Senate Banking Committee in support of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act.
Finally, GI-NET is encouraging a new view of genocide not just as a humanitarian crisis, as it has been traditionally seen, but as a security crisis. GI-NET citizen activists are participating as advocates, fundraisers, and/or donors in the direct material support of security programs on the ground in Darfur, Burma, and expanding to other areas. Likewise, GI-NET is getting policymakers to see that, unlike natural disasters, genocide can be prevented and stopped, a view that is changing the way that they prioritize and address it. As Mark’s network develops in breadth and depth, citizens and policymakers will have early and reliable information, as well as a constituency of engaged citizens who support them and hold them accountable for acting to ensure human security around the globe.
Looking forward, Mark plans to continue developing tools to proactively avert impending genocide, and act swiftly and strategically when genocide occurs. To improve GI-NET’s sustainability and effectiveness, he has convened one national and six regional annual conferences for student members since 2006, and is increasing the capacity of the Carl Wilkens Fellows.
Mark’s long-term strategy includes developing a significant membership base in all 435 Congressional districts, and strengthening relationships between GI-NET members and elected officials. He will also create a coalition of institutional investors to ensure that corporations operating in conflict areas are not supporting the perpetrators of atrocities, called the Conflict Risk Network (link). GI-NET will promote the development of permanent systems in the U.S. government that can respond to genocide and improve relationships with international entities that are key actors in the prevention and halting of genocide.
GI-NET plans to expand its efforts beyond Darfur by building a broader movement that calls for a restoration of the moral and practical legitimacy of international leadership. In addition, GI-NET is expanding its areas of concern to include focus on conflicts in areas such as Burma. In the end, Mark’s biggest challenge is the transformation of the national and international narrative of anti-genocide work from “doing good” to fulfilling a binding moral and civic duty.
All four of Mark’s grandparents survived the Holocaust. He was born in the U.S. but raised in Ecuador in a community of about 100 Jewish families (all Holocaust survivors or the families of survivors). As Ecuador is culturally and religiously Catholic, Mark grew up an outsider. He often remembers anti-Semitic sentiment, and a fierce determination among the Jewish community that the Holocaust not be forgotten. Each family had “never again” emblazoned on its front door.
Mark went to a small international school in Quito that had a strong tradition of social action. Mark was involved in projects such as the building of a school and play yard for the children of families who scavenged on a landfill next door. His religious tradition to “repair the world” also influenced him heavily, as did the example that his parents set of helping others and always taking responsibility.
Several events in his life put him on a course of anti-genocide entrepreneurship, including work with Columbian asylum seekers and torture victims. Mark also spent seven months in Sierra Leone at the Office of the Prosecutor, during which time he worked alongside many refugees and undocumented workers, which opened his eyes further to the conditions of the underclass and left him resolved to spend his life helping others. Upon returning to Swarthmore, he was outraged to find that the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide was hardly being marked, so he organized a commemoration on campus, bringing in a recognized speaker who attracted a large crowd. Mark had thought that citizens’ failure to act to stop genocide was due to lack of awareness which led to an “aha” moment: Awareness alone does not translate into effective action.
Later, while Mark did work at Res Publica in New York City, with two social entrepreneurs as mentors, he created a tool kit for churches aimed at preparing clergy to register voters. He was energized by this hands-on approach to equipping citizens to make an impact. Soon after, he co-founded Darfurgenocide.org, the first website on Darfur, which eventually grew into GI-NET.
Finally, Mark read a column by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof that caused him to see the genocide in Darfur not just as a humanitarian situation, but also as a threat to security. He understood that food and blankets weren’t enough—the people needed liberation and security. That’s when Mark came up with his “Three P’s” formula, which still frames GI-NET’s work today.
Mark has been awarded several fellowships for social entrepreneurship, including Ashoka, Echoing Green, Draper Richards Kaplan, and Hunt Alternatives Prime Movers. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Mark and his work have been featured in various media outlets including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic, CNN Headline News, MSNBC and NPR. Hanis serves on the Board of Stakeholders of the University of Pacific's Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship and is a faculty member with Public Squared.
Mark was appointed by the President to serve as a White House Fellow and is currently placed at the Office of the Vice President. Mark is a serial social entrepreneur, and is also working to launch the Organ Alliance to address the unnecessary deaths due to a shortage of transplantable organs.