31 Jan 2019
Commercial Mediators could hold the key to International Peace
A new collaboration seeks to make a pioneering difference in peacemaking
By Susanne Schuler, Mediator and Director of Training and Consultancy
Current conflicts around the world, such as those in Syria, Crimea and Yemen, have huge challenges in finding a resolution, with the international ramifications of multiple states exerting influence and pressing their interests. In the world of peacemaking, the reality is that the flexibility of global business, which frequently has a local presence and connections, means that it can often move quicker and more effectively to set the stage for early negotiations and even facilitate initial dialogue. Contrast this with the difficulties faced by foreign governments or regional authorities who often have to take more formal channels and build formal consensus before starting discussions. There is therefore a real requirement - in order to improve peace around the world – that there be more people in the business community able and willing to step into early and strategic negotiations in those locations where conflict may be developing.
A conflict without a commercial mediator
In the book ‘How To Master Negotiation’ by CEDR (Bloomsbury Professional, 2015), in the chapter on teamwork Andy Rogers discusses the Northern Ireland Peace Accord. He notes that Khoi Tu, in his 2012 work ‘Superteams’, discusses a famous photograph of Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness shortly before the final piece agreement was signed. Ian Paisley has told a joke and everyone is laughing. This raises the question of how a negotiation with so many participants in such a fraught, adversarial situation managed to progress to the Good Friday agreement on 10 April 1998.
Although not by design, the Northern Ireland process worked in three phases:
- Neutralising phase - initially the conveners set out to neutralise the fears and paranoia of the parties. If these fears could not be mitigated the momentum would not be maintained.
- Humanising phase - building on the neutralising stage was the second phase to make the process more human. Participants stopped demonising the other side and started to see their opponents as people they might work with albeit with very different views.
- Functioning phase - the third phase grew organically from there - talking about common goals and transitioning from enemies into a group working together with a purpose.
One might reflect that this particular process was maybe easier to achieve than first thought. So why did it take so long? This was a dispute where politicians were expected to find a solution and it was eventually the successful intervention of neutral Americans who helped make the difference. Had people from the business community been able to take more of a role in starting informal discussions it might have been possible to circumvent some of the formal channels needed to begin talks.
Turning commercial mediators into International Peacemakers
The need to find mediators from business was the catalyst to getting two bodies established in their own fields - CEDR (Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution) and The Oxford Process - to collaborate on creating a programme to introduce the principles and practicalities of peacemaking to those who work in commercial mediation. There was also a specific goal to bring into the field of peacemaking, experienced mediators who are working in the commercial sector.
Each organisation brought its own special attributes to the collaboration:
- CEDR, the London-based non-profit Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre, is known internationally for its Mediator Skills Training, having trained over 9,000 individuals in over 70 countries. Its Commercial Services operation oversees the mediation of hundreds of high-value disputes every year.
- The Oxford Process facilitates a unique type of discreet high-level dialogue between the parties to some of the world’s most intractable conflicts. It uses the tools of geo-political insight, analysis, cultural savvy and human psychology to understand and manage the human relationships that underpin conflict.
Both organisations felt that the knowledge and skills each side could bring to this approach to peacemaking would be hugely useful. November 2018 saw the first advanced programme for commercial mediators in International Mediation and Peacemaking, run by CEDR in conjunction with The Oxford Process.
The programme they created focuses on how to analyse complex conflicts, methods of constructing and facilitating dialogue, mediating and negotiating in a peacemaking context and how individuals can contribute to current and future international peacemaking negotiations.
Learning to use the same skills in a different context
What became apparent during the running of the first five-day programme was the similarity between commercial mediation and the techniques used in peacemaking. In both types of negotiations, a facilitator must work adeptly with a flexible process to help build understanding between sides over their different world views and goals. A mediator will also work interchangeably both formally and informally - as necessary – in order to help the participants as respectfully as possible, whilst hopefully humanising each side to some extent. This synergy helped clarify for the commercial mediators that peacemaking is about learning the important subtleties of how to use their existing skills within a new context.
The group heard from a number of relevant speakers who led sessions, which included:
- A conflict resolved through a Commercial Mediator involved – South Africa: Spending time with Michael Young, a businessman who secretly organised the meetings between the South African government and the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) that led to the release of Nelson Mandela and contributed to the end of apartheid. Michael was accompanied by movie producer David Aukin who captured Michael’s story in the 2009 film ‘Endgame’ which dramatised the chronicle of events that led to the momentous change. These speakers gave real-life guidance of how business can, when it sees the need, move into peacemaking mode by working in small ways to increase dialogue and successfully hold informal meetings between warring interest groups.
- Working under pressure in places such as Libya, Iraq and Syria: Former international hostage negotiator, Phil Williams, took the delegates through the scenario of negotiating with terrorist groups and how to make progress in impossible circumstances. A key for the hostage negotiator is to recognise that you do not need to agree with an individual to understand them. Once you have a comprehension of their wants and needs then that person feel ‘heard’ and you can start looking at what the building blocks on an agreement might consist of.
- The importance of identity perception: The Swiss Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexandre Fasel, led a fascinating discussion on how perceived national characteristics have an influence on the preference for different nationalities in International Peacemaking. The lesson here was to understand how our own nationality and background will be colouring the opinions of others in a negotiation before we have even set foot in the room let alone before we have opened our mouths.
The programme was led by a combination of commercial mediators and international facilitators from both CEDR and the Oxford Process: Dr Andrzej Grossman, Susanne Schuler, Nita Yawanarajah, and Gabrielle Rifkind. Both CEDR and The Oxford Process look forward to repeating the programme again when it is scheduled to run in July 2019.
Both organisations are also keen to hear from others with thoughts in this area or experience of this work to help contribute to the important task of creating new building blocks for peace.
To learn more about the International Peacemaking Training, click here.
Photos from CEDR and The Oxford Process taining in November 2018 at Cats Abbey, Gloucestershire.