An Ombuds’ Unconventional Journey. Ombuds Spotlight: Yolanda W Collins

Yolanda Collins is a member of the three-person MBBI Ombuds Team. With over 15 years of experience as a mediator, Yolanda began her journey as a volunteer mediator and intake assistant with the Baltimore Community Mediation Program (CMP). With a solid conflict resolution foundation, she was selected as the first municipal Ombuds for the State of Maryland, City of Frederick Mayors’ Office, grant-funded by Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office and soon transitioned to be the first Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Advisor embedded in a national disaster for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Now, she works as an ADR Mediator in the United States Federal Sector, mediating employment discrimination charges. She and Ayo Ayoola-Amale (a second member of the Ombuds team) will also be at the IOA 2020 Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The Work of an Ombuds

An Ombudsman, Ombudsperson, or the gender-neutral Ombuds is an official charged with representing the interests of a group by investigating and addressing complaints reported by members. Ombuds are independent, impartial, and neutral in their review of facts and complaint investigation, but most importantly, they are Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practitioners.

The MBBI Ombuds Team has jurisdiction over issues regarding:

  • Actions carried (or the absence of) by MBBI, including the Board of Directors and management
  • Activities or behaviors you believe are unfair
  • Discrimination, particularly on the basis of race, gender, or disability
  • Bullying by someone in your team or your team leader

Please contact the Ombuds lead at, or if you prefer that the Ombuds lead to contacts you by phone, please send an email providing a number, date, and time where you may be reached.

Yolanda Collins has been a part of the MBBI Ombuds Team since its conception in 2016 but has been attuning to the specifics of mediation and ADR for the past 15 years. Through her career as an Ombuds for the State of Maryland and for FEMA, she became aware of the fortitude of mediation as a more effective method of problem-solving than traditional law settlements. And ever since, she has tried to continually incorporate self-determination and restorative justice practices as a way to focus on healing harms and resolving long-standing issues instead of solely coming to a consensus.

Three ‘Firsts’

While completing dual Master’s degrees in Human Service Administration and Negotiation and Conflict Management Studies at Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore, respectively, Yolanda became enthralled with the fluidity of applications and strategies of conflict resolution. “I felt this overwhelming desire once I settled on Negotiation and Conflict Management Studies to find a community to practice in, which meant as a volunteer” Soon after she did just that, and became a consistent volunteer at the CMP in Baltimore.

The CMP in Baltimore organized local events for familial-based disputes. This provided Yolanda the incredible opportunity to directly engage in the community she was living in by positively impacting the people that lived there. She utilized ADR practices often in her mediation efforts. As a result of this sustained volunteerism, the state of Maryland honored Yolanda with the title of the first municipal Ombuds. In this brand new role, she developed conflict training initiatives amongst local citizens, neighborhoods, and businesses providing municipal areas awareness of the effectiveness of ADR and Ombuds strategies.

Her success on this statewide platform attracted the attention of FEMA. She became one of the founding members of the elite ADR Cadre, as on-call ADR Disaster Assistance Employee (DAE) to help mediate and problem solve internally with those who found themselves in the midst of conflict and working the immediate fallout of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. She was stationed in the disaster zone itself, allowing for “direct engagement with the workforce. I was living in the regions most affected by Hurricane Katrina. I would bike to each disaster site to help keep the mission forward.” FEMA soon realized the immense power an Ombuds has in a disaster operation and promoted Yolanda to the position of ADR Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery Employees (CORE) serving as Division Chief. In this role, Yolanda helped further her work in the communities most affected by the hurricane with her mediation and negotiation prowess.

All in the span of two years, Yolanda jumped from Baltimore’s CMP to Maryland’s first municipal Ombuds to original membership of FEMA’s ADR Cadre of Advisors of DAEs and only Ombuds to the Cadre’s first ADR CORE, an embedded neutral in a national disaster. She characterized this rapid change as “the ability to be available and jumping in when the door of opportunity opens… even if you don’t know where you’re going to land. In a short time span, I had three ‘firsts’ Maryland Municipal Ombuds, FEMA ADR Advisor embedded neutral, and Mediators Beyond Borders International Ombuds.” 

A Career in Negotiation and Conflict Management

Yolanda’s volunteer experiences: CMP volunteer,  Volunteer Mediator for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and Consumer Complaint Mediator for the State of Maryland, Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division demonstrating the diversity of background and experiences propelled her into the current role, as an Alternative Dispute Resolution mediator facilitating, encouraging, and providing coordination within a Federal agency. 

As a mediator for a US Federal Agency, she receives charges deemed appropriate for mediation.  “I have successfully applied all the learning as an Intake Assistant to Ombuds to now contribute to the US Governmental Federal Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs. My ability to connect Respondents and Charging parties, having them agree to mediate (at an outstanding high rate of response), demonstrates grassroots practices are still the foundation of any successful ADR Program. It has really helped me to have an Ombuds background.”

As a mediator, Yolanda has been able to partner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS)’s Shared Neutrals Program. Shared Neutrals connects government offices as an interagency mediation program. 

Yolanda’s extensive career as an Ombuds began as a volunteer opportunity. As a final word of advice, “paid gigs are few and far between, but you have to be willing early on to do a lot of volunteerism, that gets you where you need to go and want to end up.” 

Article by Benjamin Lutz, MBBI Communications and Operations Manager