CEDR travels to Cuba (Part 1)

One of the pleasures and benefits of working for CEDR is getting involved with our not-for-profit mission.  At the core of what we do is the CEDR Foundation which undertakes projects dedicated to the public good, carrying out research into understanding conflict in all forms and methods of resolving it.  As my Foundation outreach project, I was asked to participate as a trainer in a summer school run by the Catholic Church of Santa Clara, in Cuba, targeted at 150 community leaders.

Along with an Irish mediator, Gerry O’Sullivan of O’Sullivan Solutions, I trained 30 Cuban English teachers in negotiation, mediation and conflict resolution skills.  The core objectives of the 5 day programme is of course, developing the participants language capabilities and their awareness of different ways of handling conflict and negotiation skills.   It was then hoped that this would allow the teachers to introduce their newly acquired knowledge to their students and the wider community.

The following journal is a collection of my reflections on working with this group in a fascinating environment.

Initial impressions
We had 3 days in Havana before heading to Santa Clara which is three hours inland and geographically in the middle of the island.  What immediately struck me was the general lack of commercial activity.  Recent changes in the law in Cuba now allow private businesses to operate but this has had many repercussions.  One of them is that general entrepreneurial activity is stifled and because of this there is currently a lack of practiced commercial negotiation skills.  Of course negotiation in wider contexts is used and therefore we have designed the course with this in mind, and have focused our examples and exercises around non-commercial negotiations.

Day 1
The participants are great!  All of the teachers have exceptional levels of English and are a real pleasure to work with.  They have a thirst for knowledge and interaction.  We spent the day working on the concept of conflict and preliminary introduction to approaches to negotiation (positional and interest based).  My learning from today was reminding myself that some of the most difficult conflicts to resolve are not those involving millions of pounds of a company’s money but those that revolve around basic human needs.  Here in Cuba the three most identified conflicts all come about due to the lack of the basics needs – shelter, transportation and food.  People are forced to live many to a house due to lack of housing and ability to afford it.  You have many different generations living in the same house all with different needs and perspectives.  Another source of conflict is the general lack of transport.  At times also, conflict arises between individuals due to the lack of basic food supplies which can often involve quite complicated negotiation through bartering.

Day 2
We have spent the day assisting participants to understand the value of exploring interests and the skills required to do this effectively. It is not often anymore that I have the luxury of taking things this slowly and really zeroing in on these concepts and working with the participants in detail to assist them to understand.  It was great to see the light bulbs going on inside their heads as we worked through the day and the buzz we had by the end of it!

To be continued…

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