A child to “two global citizens”, Gesa Harmston, executive coach centering on conflict resolution and mindfulness, has used her international footing to both grounds and guide her coaching and mediation path. Raised by her parents, who were both peace activists, Gesa’s international career and desire to facilitate sustainable peace had long driven her ability to adapt to multicultural settings. Understanding that the education gained from traveling was indispensable and could not compare with what was learned in a classroom, Gesa took to backpacking the globe. 

Ecotourism and Management

After returning to Canada, Gesa was enrolled in college, studying travel and tourism. Although Gesa was interested in adaptive solutions to the expansive tourism sector, she quickly realized that the career was more aligned with money solutions and development overseas than it was about building and sustaining the local communities. Conflicted, she asked herself, “how can I use this information to educate myself and find my place in it, using it to help the world?” Gesa did not let this education go to waste and instead enrolled herself in Fleming College, focusing on ecotourism and management. 

Opening a dialogue for peace

After obtaining her degree, Gesa went to South America. “I just felt drawn there, and some part of me said ‘you just need to go to this part of the world’ ”. With passion came uncertainty as Gesa discloses “I had a goal and purpose but I didn’t know what that was going to look like”. She began teaching English in Peru for a year but found herself increasingly wanting to organize discussions outside of the classroom. She heard many members speak about the pressing conflicts that arose in their communities and began grouping women together to hold an open space for women to talk. “At this point, I wasn’t aware I was creating this dialogue for peace, but I just knew I was inspired to bring people together”. This experience led her to work in Peru’s neighboring country, Bolivia, at the non-profit Nur University as an international program coordinator. 

Originally having gone to Peru without a plan, Gesa eventually helped to open an International Centre which brought people from overseas to create exchanges and perform community work in Bolivian indigenous communities. Individuals coming from the U.S., Europe, Canada, would travel to Bolivia to learn from their communities about sustainability, environmental impact, and cultural preservation. Continuing to explore the Latin America region, Gesa uprooted to Cuba to train Canadians and Cuban nationals on taking the TEFL exam.

Spreading peace through coaching

Once back in Canada, Gesa continued to work with Canadian indigenous youth, sending them overseas to other indigenous communities to learn youth development leadership. It encompassed “finding peace within themselves, and facilitating dialogue on the conflict they experienced, being in a country which doesn’t celebrate indigenous peoples”. Gesa visited those on exchange and would report back to the organization headquarters, analyzing their progress. “It was here I discovered coaching”, Gesa explains. Meeting with the volunteers one on one, Gesa “would oversee what their inner conflicts are and what they wanted to learn”. She wanted to empower them, “explaining how important their culture is and inspiring them to not lose it when they go back to their home country”. She took these inner-coaching skills and became a certified coach from Royal Roads University in Canada.  

After her certification in coaching, Gesa began working at Cuso International, a Canadian non-profit organization working to end poverty and inequality. Here, she was in charge of sending volunteers overseas for 2 to 3 years. Gesa would assess the prospective volunteers, locating and distinguishing their soft skills. “We had to unpack each person, seeing what dimensions their actions fell under and how to manage them”, she explains. 

With an expansive background in coaching in both national and international contexts, Gesa started her own coaching business. Most of her work revolved around coaching women who are in a conflict situation, focusing on what Gesa terms “compassionate communication”, helping them to find their voice while at the same time, creating inner-boundaries for themselves. “My innermost deep goal has always been to be a peace practitioner and bring peace to people together. I’ve always found this through the conflict work I do”. 

MBBI

Gesa’s global experience eventually paved the way for her introduction to MBBI. Working in Bolivia, she knew a colleague who worked within the Canadian indigenous internship program and was also a part of MBBI. From here “the seed was planted”. Gesa became involved in the MBB Canada Regional Group and would like to get more involved with women in mediation and dialogue.

A peaceful place together

When asked about her most rewarding experience in coaching, Gesa replies “in all of my experience the continuous theme is really seeing someone have that subtle shift within themself”. Working with women who are in a conflicted relationship where they feel so disempowered can be emotionally tolling, but remaining neutral and giving them the space to communicate can ignite perpetual change. “When you ask a question and you see them pause, noticing that you hit something”, Gesa begins, “there is an energy shift, and from that moment… it changes”. Waiting for that ah-ha moment, Gesa admits, “we are in this peaceful place together. That, to me, is what peace work entails; to create that change within someone and be able to help them get there through communication”. 

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer