“Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution”: John Marks ’61 Speaks about Career as Social Entrepreneur and Peacebuilder

In his talk titled “Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution,” John Marks ’61 spoke about his decades-long career as a social entrepreneur and peacebuilder, both locally and abroad, in the Freeman Room Wednesday night.

Throughout his career, Marks has become a best-selling, award-winning author, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, and a founder of Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a non-governmental organization that uses the media to mold social change.

Marks urged Andover students to take full advantage of opportunities to work internationally during their time at Andover.

“This is the time to start. All the programs where you go to China or Spain or whatever, do them! Take advantage of it,” said Marks in an interview with The Phillipian.

Marks’ talk was organized through the Tang Institute and the Office of Academic Resources (OAR). The OAR helps current members of the Andover community connect with alumni.

“[It is] a wonderful opportunity to bring an alum back to campus, who’s obviously been very engaged in our national affairs — in peace building and conflict resolution and bringing people together. Particularly given his areas of expertise around social entrepreneurship and a focus on global citizenship, we thought this would be a natural fit for students and also for adults on campus as well,” said Eric Roland, Precourt Director of Partnerships at the Tang Institute.

SFCG works in 36 countries around the world to resolve, prevent, and change the approach towards conflict resolution. According to Marks, one of the most valuable resources for conflict resolution is mass media.

“That’s always been a premise of mine — that popular culture and media can change attitudes and behavior. We’ve done very comprehensive evaluations where independent people have looked at the work, and they’ve marked attitude shifts,” said Marks during his talk.

Patrick Doheny ’18 was one of the Global Ambassadors who introduced Marks’ talk. Global Ambassadors, who represent Andover’s Learning in the World Programs (LitW) through the Tang Institute, work to recruit students for LitW programs.

“This is a perfect example of how students have been out in different places in the world — kind of out of the ‘Andover bubble.’ What John’s talking about totally applies to that idea of being a global citizen and kind of how we can make an impact in the world,” said Doheny.

He continued, “I think my biggest takeaway was… the optimism. So there’s so much negativity in the world today, and someone mentioned focusing on differences. There’s so much focus on the differences of countries and of cultures and of people, and to kind of see someone like John who has taken commonalities — taken similarities and brought people together successfully — to me is really inspiring, and it makes me really hopeful.”

Marks shared several anecdotes from his work in the Middle East and Africa, relating back to his idea of using media to encourage interpersonal and inter-demographic harmony. Specifically, Marks shared a study that SFCG did in Macedonia with children in 2002.

“We worked with Sesame Workshop, [the maker of] Sesame Street, in Macedonia. We did a children’s series, and after watching 13 issues of this series, which was about ethnic harmony. Before, only 30 percent of the kids in Macedonia would have invited home somebody from a different ethnic group to play after school… After watching 13 episodes, it went from 30 percent to 60 percent. And that was pretty significant behavior change,” said Marks.

According to attendee Neil Thorley ’19, Marks’ stories had the largest impact during the talk. In an interview with The Phillipian, Thorley explained how Marks’ sharing of his life’s work supported his message and inspired attendees.

“The very detailed stories about his own experiences really served to ground what he’s saying in reality. Like, this is not just an idea of what you should do… It’s something you can do yourself because if he can do it, you can do it as well. I think that’s really important to remember is this happens with real people,” said Thorley.