‘Be powerful, be humble, & volunteer.’ Member Spotlight: Lisa Rose

Lisa Rose, Mediator and Training Consultant with  4Global based in Dublin and Belfast on the island of Ireland. She is responsible for the Council of Europe’s ROMED and ROMACT UK and Ireland programs. She is a member of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) and a current volunteer on the Kenya team. Originally from Northern Virginia, her route to living in Northern Ireland and being a mediator began very much by accident.

After studying French at George Mason University to work as the national marketing manager for a French food company, Lisa moved to Northern Ireland in 1993. She went to work at a vocational training center working with women who were returning to work after raising families as well as youth from tougher social realities. She later began assisting the Roma immigrants to Ireland as they attempted to navigate the new language, customs, and laws. “It’s difficult to find people who are willing to engage and work with this particular community due to considerable historical prejudice. But I loved the experience and it is where I first understood that I was often, without knowing it, mediating.” The human aspect of mediation compelled Lisa to receive mediation training and go on to make it her life’s work.

Lisa is more interested in people than in conflict. “Most people think mediation is about conflict, [but] mediation is about people, and conflict happens when people are together.” She has always been drawn to work with people who are ‘hard to reach’ or ‘marginalized’, though she doesn’t like any of those words. “Words such as ‘marginalized’ are distancing. We have to say these are community members full stop. Our language really matters.” She believes that it’s easy for a mediator to unintentionally promote separation despite the desire to help. “If you start with ‘harder to reach’ in your head, it instantly colors how you deal with any group.”

Her primary work within MBBI with the Kenya team is an ongoing effort to heal inter-tribal conflicts with the pastoralist society of rural Kenya. She described a tragic situation where, through the presence of guns, poverty, drought, and interference from political and economic elites, the traditional cultural practices of the pastoral communities can spiral into the killing, lethal retaliation, and deep rifts. For generations in these communities, young men proved their bravery and brought honor to their community by practicing cattle-raiding from neighboring communities, for the communities this was a way of life.  A balance was maintained, and people didn’t die. When weapons arrived many cattle raids became deadly, with community and family connections encouraging the young men to take acts of retaliation because of their grief.

As a key member of the Kenya team, Lisa works with the pastoralist community to help slow and interrupt the cycle of violence. The Kenya team delivered a United States Institute of Peace funded program called Warriors to Peace Guardians. Through deep dialogue, mapping, and historical reconciliation, the MBBI team sought to help the young warriors, including former warriors who became professionals in city centers, women, and elders transform how they engaged with the conflict. When the funding for the project ended, one of the most essential tools to continue to support the Kenyan work has been “bearing witness” to the team members and communities experiences in Baringo County.  Thanks to technology, Lisa and others based outside of Kenya have maintained contact via video calls, phone calls, and Facebook.

Sometimes, someone just needs to say, ‘It’s not being covered on the news, but this really bad thing just happened.’ They just need to feel like they aren’t alone.

While MBBI’s efforts in Kenya did leave their local partners feeling empowered, like ‘marginalized’ or ‘hard to reach’, ‘empowered’ is another word that Lisa feels mediators need to be careful with. “It’s more like recognizing what’s already there. Empowerment still makes it sound like you’re giving somebody something when really it’s just helping people to recognize what they already have.”

MBBI-Kenya Team, teaching group.

MBBI-Kenya Team, teaching group.

In Kenya and beyond, Lisa’s engagement with indigenous cultures continues to show her the importance of equality between external organizations and their local partners. It is too easy for both sides to revert to the post-colonial dynamic that assumes Westerners will arrive with all the answers when most of the answers are already there. Overcoming this dynamic requires a mutual effort. For Westerners, it is incredibly important to arrive with a quality of service and humility. We need to go out to learn from them. That will help us be better mediators and it will show our partners that what they are already doing is amazing, is valuable, and [it] works.”

The local partners need to approach an international partnership by asking ‘let us show you what we’re doing, what do you have that could complement it?’

Once the partnership can move past the post-colonial dynamic, what mutual learning is waiting? Lisa has seen time and again that indigenous peoples bring a strong sense of obligation and duty to their community, which stands in stark contrast to the higher degree of depersonalization in Western societies. “It becomes a great strength in their mediations. In general, they care more about the journey, about making the journey together towards solving the challenges rather than just solving the problem.”

A second important lesson we can learn is from the emphasis indigenous societies place on healing and reconciliation. Many Western models focus on solving the problem first, then circling back to the inner experience of conflict. “The experiences I’ve had,” she said, “are that [indigenous peoples] are dealing with the hurt first. They’re bravely staring into the pain people are carrying and not moving until they’ve got the community behind them.”What “Westerners” have is a wealth of analytic tools to map the complexity of political and economic modern-day conflicts. Offering these can help local partners see things from a new perspective and break through generational, entrenched conflicts, that is one area where our models and methods can complement other structures.

Outside of MBBI Lisa also works with youth in Ireland and Northern Ireland to navigate the long-standing conflict on the island. Much of her work with young people includes giving them historical perspective on the conflict to promote empathy, understanding, and community within the next generation of Irish and British people on the island.

For anyone looking to work in peace-building, Lisa offers three pieces of advice:

* Be powerful. “Mediation is not for wimps. It is about power because power only backs up in the face of power. Power is part of it, and that’s not a bad thing.”

* Be humble. “Being open to learning something from every single person in a situation. Go in with an attitude of I’m going to learn.”

* VolunteerBut before looking for internships overseas, look in your own backyard. “Learn about people that are different than you. Don’t look for a conflict, just look for a community experiencing challenges. Wherever there are people there will be conflict.”

Article by Byron Wild, MBBI Writer