Susan Collin Marks & John Marks, Search for Common Ground

Dr. Kevin Kearns, director of the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership, presented John Marks, founder of Search for Common Ground (SFCG), and his wife, Susan Collin Marks, peace ambassador for Search, with the Exemplary Leadership Award on April 21. SFCG is a peacebuilding NGO founded in 1982 that has grown to 600 staff with offices in 36 countries. “For the past seven years, the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership has recognized leaders who have achieved remarkable things in public service,” noted Kearns. “Past winners have been people who have not only distinguished themselves through effective leadership and strategic vision, but who are committed to community engagement, inclusion, building trust and the highest standards of ethical behavior and accountability.”

“We couldn’t be more honored,” said SUSAN COLLIN MARKS on receipt of the Johnson Institute award. “The Johnson Institute is the gold standard — the blueprint for the kind of leadership we aspire to. Thank you for bringing us into this lineage of recipients.” During their acceptance speech, the Markses highlighted four projects they felt exemplified the scope and mission of Search for Common Ground and encouraged audience discussion and feedback. Each of the projects — encouraging participatory theater in Congo, promoting interethnic cooperation in Burundi, supporting conflict resolution in Morocco and funding a Nepalese television show about a female prime minister — prompted dialogue on the necessary principles of leadership and peacebuilding, and challenged the audience to think about which qualities of leadership were necessary for each situation and why they were successful. “We work to take these leadership principles out into the world,” she added. “Now let’s go out and do it!” “The Markses were honored for their innovative and highly effective work that promotes a creative approach to conflict resolution,” said Kearns.

“They have played a significant role in teaming with people of various professional disciplines to help mediate and resolve significant conflicts at the level of communities, regions, nations and even globally. SUSAN COLLIN MARKS is an internationally renowned peacemaker and peacebuilder. For nearly three decades, she has worked in some of the most conflictual places on the planet, including mediating in the heart of her native South Africa during its transition from apartheid, facilitating ongoing dialogue in the Middle East and establishing peacebuilding programs throughout Africa. In recent years, she has focused on coaching high-level political, institutional and civil society leaders worldwide, encouraging them to find common humanity with their opponents. In September 2014, she stepped aside after 20 years as senior vice president of Search for Common Ground and now serves in an advisory capacity. She was a Jennings Randolph Peace Fellow at the United States Institute for Peace. Her book, Watching the Wind: Conflict Resolution During South Africa’s Transition to Democracy, USIP 2000, captures the compelling story of how peace can be achieved even in the most intractable conflict.

She holds a master’s in international relations from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and a bachelor’s in social anthropology from the University of Cape Town. She speaks, teaches, coaches, mentors, writes, facilitates and supports peace processes and conflict resolution programs internationally. She holds a vision of a world of peace and dignity for all. She believes that our common humanity binds us together more than our differences divide us. She works to make it so.  

JOHN MARKS was, until September 2014, the president of SFGC. He also founded and headed Common Ground Productions and he remains a senior advisor to both organizations. He wrote and produced a four part TV documentary series, called “The Shape of the Future,” that was simulcast in 2005 on Israeli and Palestinian TV, and he has executive produced a wide variety of TV and film productions, including “Under the Same Sun,” an Israeli-Palestinian feature film, and 327 episodes in 19 countries of “The Team,” a dramatic TV series. He also is a best-selling, award-winning author, and was a U.S. foreign service officer and executive assistant for foreign policy to U.S. Senator Clifford Case. A graduate of Cornell University, he was a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School. He is an Ashoka Senior Fellow.

John and Susan’s honors include honorary doctorates from the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica, Skoll Awards in Social Entrepreneurship, President Jimmy Carter’s Waging Peace Award and the Institute for Noetic Science’s Creative Altruism Award.

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