John Marks

Ashoka Fellow
Washington, DC, United States, North America
Fellow Since 2008
My work: Partnering with people globally to ignite solutions for destructive conflicts and build sustainable peace.

Citation

This profile was prepared when John Marks was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
John founded SFCG in 1982 in order to transform the way the world deals with conflict and, more specifically, to move away from adversarial approaches and toward cooperative solutions. Although SFCG has evolved throughout its existence, the organization’s path-breaking innovation remains the use of popular culture, including soap opera and other kinds of media programming, to build bridges and promote reconciliation between communities facing ethnic and religious tension and violence.

SFCG’s guiding principle is to “understand the differences, and act on the commonalities.” It works with local partners to find culturally appropriate ways to strengthen societies capacity to deal with conflicts, operating according to the philosophy that conflict is a natural part of life, and improving our ability to transform conflict into a source of growth and progress will have a profound impact on how effectively we deal with difficult issues in the future.

SFCG has developed a diverse toolbox, which includes such traditional techniques of conflict resolution as mediation, training, facilitation, and back-channel negotiations. Because violent conflict depends on stereotyping, demonizing, and dehumanizing, SFCG uses less conventional, mass communication tools to help reverse this process. Thus, it produces television and radio dramas that communicate messages of mutual respect, tolerance, nonviolence, and problem-solving, including a TV series in Nigeria (50-episodes), Egypt (29-episodes), Macedonia (51-episodes), Côte d’Ivoire (20-episodes), and Kenya (26-episodes); along with radio soap opera series in such places as Sierra Leone where over 2,000 episodes have been produced. In addition, SFCG makes music videos that have turned into theme songs for entire peace processes. It even produces reality TV—with good values. SFCG’s toolbox also includes street theater, comic books, sport, art, community organizing, and film festivals. In sum, SFCG is an organization of weavers who aim to knit together multiple strands to help mend countries that are torn and broken. It seeks to de-radicalize and encourage moderate voices. It works both top-down and bottom-up to promote societal healing across whole countries.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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