Come Together Right Now. Guest: Shamil Idriss

April 1, 2021

Shamil Idriss, CEO of the organization Search for Common Ground, shares the lessons of peacebuilding from his work in  Niger, the Balkans, and Rwanda. Technology and social media are creating patterns and pathways of conflict that few people anticipated or even imagined just a decade ago. And we need to act quickly to contain the effects, but we don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are people like Shamil who have been training for years to understand human beings and learn how to help them connect and begin healing processes. These experts can share their insights and help us figure out how to apply them to our new digital habitats. “Peace moves at the speed of trust, and trust can’t be fast-tracked,” says Shamil. Real change is possible, but as he explains, it takes patience, care, and creativity to get there.


Shamil Idriss

Shamil Idriss is CEO of Search for Common Ground, leading around 900 staff in 31 countries to end violent conflict. At Search for Common Ground, he has previously served as President, Chief Operating Officer, and Burundi Country Director at a time of high-stakes peace talks. As CEO of Soliya from 2008 to 2014, Idriss oversaw a public-private coalition to establish the field of virtual exchange, pioneering interactive media as a tool for cross-cultural trust. In 2005, Idriss was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Deputy Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, seeking to improve relations between Western and Muslim-majority countries. Previously, Idriss had helped establish and served on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders. Since 2018, Idriss has worked with peer leaders to establish +Peace, a campaign platform to broaden public support of peacebuilding. Idriss has spoken widely on peace and conflict, social impact entertainment, and West-Muslim World relations, with TIGER-21 chapters across North America and Europe requesting Idriss more than any other speaker in that organization’s 20-year history. A graduate of Swarthmore College with degrees in Economics and Philosophy, Idriss lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a leading expert on the rise of radical right-wing extremism, and their two daughters.

Twitter: @ShamilIdriss

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • When we reduce other people to a single “identity” caricature, it’s much harder to connect with them. Storytelling can help people see others through a variety of identity lenses, like being a parent, or struggling with illness. This builds trust and opens lines of communication, allowing us to hear and respect each other even while disagreeing.
  • Peace moves at the speed of trust and takes years to build. Yet trust can also be destroyed in an instant.
  • Though dialogue is an important starting point, people establish deeper trust by cooperating with each other to build something meaningful together.
  • Security, dignity, and hope are the three ingredients of a healthy society. Luckily, all three are public goods, not zero-sum resources – if one group has security, dignity and hope, it doesn't mean another group has to have less.
  • Security doesn’t come from financial wealth; it’s a psychological construct. When people have what they need to feel safe, they feel secure. Likewise, don’t assume societies like the U.S. are stable just because they’re wealthy – they may be more precarious than you think.
  • When resolving ingrained, long-standing conflicts, it’s important to take a complex-systems approach. There’s no easy, deterministic sequence of steps to follow. Instead, an iterative approach is needed: Make informed choices but plan to be curious and to constantly adapt to what you encounter.

Take Action

Join Shamil Idriss in discussion with David Jay, Head of Mobilization at the Center for Humane Technology, for our conversation series Let’s Talk on Friday, April 9th at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT. RSVP here.

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