Jose Miguel Sokoloff: How we used Christmas lights to fight a war | TED | Summary and Q&A

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Jose Miguel Sokoloff: How we used Christmas lights to fight a war | TED


This content discusses how a unique communication strategy using Christmas lights and other methods helped facilitate the demobilization of guerrillas in Colombia.

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Key Insights

  • 🇨🇴 Colombia has faced decades of conflict due to the presence of guerrilla groups, including the FARC, resulting in a high number of displaced populations and fatalities.
  • 🌳 Using unconventional methods, such as lighting up Christmas trees in the jungle, helped to successfully demobilize a significant number of guerrillas and spread a message of peace.
  • 📻 Recording and broadcasting the personal stories of demobilized guerrillas allowed those still in the jungle to hear relatable experiences and inspire them to leave.
  • 💡 The strategy of talking to the human side of the guerrillas, appealing to universal values and humanity, proved more effective than traditional government-to-army communication.
  • 🌉 Guerrillas primarily used rivers as transportation, leading to the use of floating messages from river villages to encourage demobilization, resulting in frequent demobilizations.
  • 👪 In order to address fears of rejection upon demobilization, public campaigns featured mothers of guerrillas appealing to their children to come home, fostering a sense of acceptance.
  • ⚽ During the World Cup, campaigns highlighting unity and saving a place for demobilized guerrillas to converge and enjoy the event further encouraged demobilization.
  • 💼 Advertising played a significant role in the demobilization efforts, with over 17,000 guerrillas demobilizing since the initiative began, demonstrating the power of advertising as a tool for change and peacebuilding.


So, I thought a lot about the first word I'd say today, and I decided to say "Colombia." And the reason, I don't know how many of you have visited Colombia, but Colombia is just north of the border with Brazil. It's a beautiful country with extraordinary people, like me and others -- (Laughter) -- and it's populated with incredible fauna, flora. It... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the main problem in Colombia mentioned in the video?

The main problem in Colombia mentioned in the video is the presence of the oldest standing guerrilla in the world, the FARC guerrillas, who have been engaging in kidnapping, extortion, drug trade, illegal mining, terrorism, and random bomb attacks.

Q: How many guerrillas were demobilized through the use of Christmas lights?

Through the use of giant Christmas trees covered with lights in strategic jungle pathways, 331 guerrillas were demobilized, which accounted for approximately five percent of the guerrilla force at the time.

Q: How did the strategy of having demobilized guerrillas share their stories help in the demobilization process?

By recording and broadcasting stories of demobilized guerrillas on radio and television, the strategy aimed to have current guerrillas relate to these stories, potentially inspiring them to leave the guerrilla forces themselves. This approach primarily worked in the lower ranks of the guerrilla groups.

Q: What factor changed the mindset of guerrillas during the peace process?

The peace process shifted the mindset of guerrillas from fearing physical harm to fearing rejection upon leaving the guerrilla group. The video suggests that the peace process made them believe there was a possibility of life beyond guerrilla activities.

Q: How many guerrillas have demobilized since the start of this work?

Since starting this work a little over eight years ago, approximately 17,000 guerrillas have demobilized, highlighting the potential impact of advertising as a powerful tool for bringing about change and promoting peace.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Colombia is a beautiful country with a history of conflict, including guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

  • A communications strategy using Christmas lights and personal stories successfully prompted demobilization of guerrillas, particularly in the lower ranks.

  • Other strategies, such as messages from mothers and using the World Cup as a unifying moment, also encouraged demobilization, resulting in over 17,000 guerrillas demobilizing in the past eight years.

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