About CGS

Common Ground Solutions was founded in 2007 based on the basic well-established understanding the world needs a new model to address the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and those living in extreme poverty.  The traditional approach is dominated by the efforts of charity, though at times has been successful also carries with it the concern of causing harm to the beneficiary and non-profit organizations by creating dependency on donors.

There is now solid research indicating that the economically poor have progressed the most through: Business models that address social needs by creating opportunity for economic community development rather than extending charity.


CGS is dedicated to research and the endorsement of proven business models that provide opportunity for the poor to determine their own path leading toward financial independence and economic prosperity.  Increasing the community of informed donors to projects ultimately resulting in changed in behavior thereby having a positive impact on sustainable, resilient projects.


  • Increase awareness of businesses, non-profit organizations, foundations, institutions of learning, church groups, service clubs and individual donors that economic sustainability is the goal of community development projects; building dependency on donations causes harm to the beneficiary.
  • Develop the understanding and realization that the economically poor do have skills and abilities and the desire when appropriately nurtured through opportunity and education are empowered, leading them toward economic independence.
  • Include the poor on the grass root level as major stakeholders in any and all effort to change their circumstance.
  • Support a world understanding that a ‘hand-up’ rather than a ‘hand-out’ when partnered with microfinance and social business is a viable system to eradicate poverty.


CGS Founder Dr. Marilyn Fitzgerald has followed a singular passion – helping others help themselves – throughout her adult life, which has led to extensive involvement in both domestic and international humanitarian work.   Whether participating in community projects or traveling the world as a consultant and volunteer, she is driven by a relentless curiosity and creative imagination seeking to better understand and contribute to answers addressing the ever-present questions of “what-if?”

What if there were no wars?
  • What if there was world peace?
  • What if there were no hungry children?
  • What if there was so such thing as poverty?
  • What if all humans had an equal opportunity to prosper?

Ultimately, her experiences and education have led to pursuing the answer to one overriding question:

  •  What would it require of each of us to contribute toward a fair and equitable world?

To answer this question, Marilyn has focused her efforts to understand, pursue, and educate others on the positive and favorable impact of microfinance and social business. She believes they are integral to answering this critical question and the catalyst for bringing about a better tomorrow for those seeking a hand up toward sustainability.

As a humanitarian and in promotion of sound humanitarian practices, Marilyn has dedicated her education and utilized her listening skills as a psychologist to better understand the reality of the world.  She has combined empathy with an MBA to better integrate business concepts to the world of humanitarian aid.  To more fully understand the impact of humanitarian efforts, she conducted field research studies regarding the sustainability of humanitarian aid programs. The results of this research, addressing the unintended consequences of humanitarian aid, appear in The Relationship between Negotiation and Sustainability in Humanitarian Development Aid Projects.  The research and field experiences are further intertwined and elaborated on in her new book, If I Had a Water Buffalo; Microfinance as a Means to Sustainability. 

Dr. Fitzgerald is founder and president of Common Ground Solutions, LLC, a consulting firm excelling in program evaluation to determine the best practices used in effective, sustainable projects.

Dr. Stephen Tolley joins CGS as Managing Partner with additional responsibilities as Director of Organizational Excellence.

Dr. Steve Tolley

Steve brings to CGS an extensive background in various aspects of organizational management, a quality-driven approach to resolutions and improvements, and broad international experience. Collectively, his credentials compliment CGS’ platform and provide a synergistic impetus to accomplishing the organizational objectives.

Leadership and management are at the forefront of Dr. Tolley’s professional endeavors, first as a career military officer and subsequently in the private sector, both stateside and abroad.  Responsibilities in the Army included leadership of various organizations, piloting aeromedical evacuation aircraft, and healthcare administration. In the private sector, he has served as a corporate Director of Quality as well as held numerous management positions – ranging from human resources to business development – all related to defense contracting. Steve has over twelve years of experience in five Middle Eastern countries.

Dr. Tolley dissertation research and continuing interests relate to the responsibilities of business to society in general and specifically how the actions of businesses can contribute to eradicating poverty, enhancing social stability, and promoting peace.

Hand Logo

Common Ground Solutions, LLC (CGS) has adopted the logo of a child’s hand to represent the core philosophy of its mission of providing a Hand-Up rather than a Handout.

The hand contains the following critical words describing the methods and outcomes of projects that CGS builds and endorses.

We provide Opportunity that lead toward Prosperity, utilizing the methodologies of Microfinance and Social Business; our projects are Sustainable and Thrive while respecting the Voice, Choice and Dignity of all.