Though fairly new to the practice, Anna Stoefen has been interested in mediation for quite some time. This interest was greatly sparked by her wish for healthy conflict resolution practices, and an early 2019, she became actively involved in the field. She views mediation as a transformative conflict resolution tool that addresses the root causes of problems while helping people get different perspectives of their disputes. To her, mediation ‘addresses the deeper problems,’ which is why it is relevant in every aspect of life.

Certifications and Connection to Mediation

Anna has a background in law and obtained her Juris Doctorate from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon where she practiced family law. Unlike law, she believes that mediation creates room for some degree of healing by allowing the parties involved to shift from a winning mindset to focusing on what is best for them all, while still taking into consideration the interests of those absent from the mediation table. 

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many of her plans, Anna was still determined to make strides in the field, and in 2020, she was able to obtain several certifications in dispute resolution and mediation. She has an Advanced Practice Certification in Co-Mediation from the International Mediation Institute, a Certificate in Family and Divorce Mediation from The Mediation Station, a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice as well as a Certificate in Virtual Dispute Resolution from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). Anna Stoefen also has a certificate in Mediation from the National Center for Dispute Resolution, and a Certificate in Victim-Offender Dialogue from the Restorative Justice Mediation Program. She is also a member of the Southern California Mediation Association and spends a lot of her time volunteering and networking with other mediators and peacebuilders.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is also an area that Anna is invested in and she works with the Restorative Justice Mediation Program in San Diego, offering trainings, especially on victim-offender dialogue. Another area that she believes needs great improvement is crisis first-responding, which lacks adequate de-escalation tactics, and feels that first responders should be replaced with conflict resolution specialists.

In addition to this, she collaborates with grieving individuals and believes that the often-vulnerable state and high-running emotions of grief-stricken parties can cause them to inadvertently raise tensions and further exacerbate the situation(s) they are attempting to resolve. This is because, “grief highlights all the cracks in everybody’s relationship”. Therefore, de-escalation and guidance are necessary for dispute settlement and mediators are even more relevant. She also works with families dealing with decisions during end-of-life care, palliative care, as well as hospice care.

MBBI Involvement

MBBI’s multifaceted approach to mediation as well as the availability of a plethora of invaluable resources really drew Anna to the organization and gave her a deeper insight into the world of mediation. According to her, the organization’s various working groups, such as those for climate change, children, etc, really highlight the versatility and importance of mediation. She is a member of the Children and Youth Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group which “supports MBBI’s mission to build local skills for peace and promote mediation worldwide by advocating for the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practices with children and youth.” 

Connecting Through Art

Apart from mediation, Anna also has an immense love for art and incorporates it into her work. She currently lives in California where she has a non-profit organization for foster children, Foster Expression, which she founded in 2015. The organization is located in San Diego and its goal is to support the “area’s foster youth by providing the means for artistic expression.” As an artist, she views art as a form of self-expression and encourages the kids that she works within her organization to utilize it as a means of communication, especially if they do not want to verbally express themselves. She has discovered that this approach makes them more comfortable to open up and more receptive to others. The artwork created by the children is also sold at special exhibitions, auctions, fundraisers, and art galleries, and the proceeds go towards college savings funds. This way, she teaches them self-sustainability and while encouraging them to empower themselves.

Looking Ahead

Anna Stoefen’s hope and vision for the future is that mediation gains traction as a more mainstream alternative to current modes of conflict resolution and that it can be used as a means to reform and transform outdated structures in criminal justice, and the law more broadly. She also sees the healing effects of mediation and wants to explore the potential benefits of mediation in areas of trauma and grief recovery.

Anna recognizes the importance of instilling healthy conflict resolution practices into children, so she is also currently creating a curriculum that teaches mediation principles in schools. This curriculum would be adaptable to different age groups and learning environments (either online or in-person) and would be modular. Her goal is that it would also be pitched to companies to serve as a team-building exercise.

Article by Jainaba Gaye, MBBI Writer