With a constant thirst for knowledge and hunger for experience, Ron DePaola is an accredited mediator and fundraising specialist. Currently, he dedicates his time to both handling mediation processes through his own firm (Ron DePaola Mediator) and the position of Director of Development & Community Outreach at the Fondation Habilitas Foundation. A curious soul and indefatigable traveler, Ron has been a member of MBBI for 3 years, captured by the extraordinary element of globality of the organization. “I was particularly interested in MBBI because I see how they have the potential to work all over the globe and tackle issues that are affecting people and populations more widely around the world”, he recounts when describing his first contact with MBBI.
A dedication to the non-profit sector.
Like many other mediators, conflict resolution was not exactly the field at the top of Ron’s career aspirations when he was an undergraduate student. Eventually, his professional path would guide him to embrace what looked like a natural predisposition towards mediation. University-wise, Ron earned a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Political Science and a specialization in Business and Economics at Concordia University in Montréal. Here, Ron developed an interest in the field of psychology, which continues to fascinate him. “One of the reasons why I enjoy the work I do so much is that I have always had a large passion for the field of psychology; it is not so much about understanding people, but more understanding what drives them, or frustrates them”. After graduating, Ron dived immediately into the labour market. Today, however, he is thinking about getting back to the textbooks and completing his academic education with a master’s degree, which would give him the opportunity to teach. “I would love to be in the teaching profession, especially in the field of conflict resolution. My medium-term goal is to earn a master’s degree in Alternative Dispute Resolution and realize this desire of mine”.
After his studies, Ron worked for more than 20 years in the corporate sector, spanning various areas from the printing to the finance industry. Although he achieved a high level of success, Ron recounts not feeling fulfilled by his work as a senior development manager. This lack of fulfillment led him to a career change and transition into the fundraising and non-profit sector, where he has been working for 8 years now. “I am far happier in this industry than I was in the private sector, it is more personally satisfying and rewarding. I realized what was missing in the private sector, the low value placed on relationships and interconnectivity with people”. Ron goes on to explain how much more gratifying it is to know the work you do has a direct impact on people and that you are surrounded by personalities strongly committed to making a difference in somebody else’s life. His passion for this work has not faded.
He currently works full-time for Habilitas, a foundation that raises funds to support rehabilitation centres for people living with physical disabilities. The mission of the foundation is to “Create a world where disabilities are no longer disabling”. As the Director of Development & Community Outreach, Ron is the ‘liaison’ between donors and opportunities for investment, connecting people who are willing to support Habilitas’ cause with actual programs and places where the funds can be directed. He also works closely with communities across the city of Montreal, to promote accessibility and advocate for people living with disabilities. “That is why I love this field; it is all about collaborative relationship-building, it resonates with me, with who I am, working with people and for people. it is also very stimulating as every day brings about new challenges to deal with”.
Mediation is a natural development of the self.
Sometimes, mediation happens to be enshrined in one’s personality. Eventually, as in the case of Ron, those inherent abilities to positively navigate and guide others through conflict come to the surface. His entry into the field of mediation was a natural evolution over time, progressing gradually through life experiences that eventually led to a heightened level of self-awareness. As a first step, Ron recounts, years ago, while he was working in the print industry, he had the opportunity to meet, on a few occasions, with an industrial psychologist who later told him he felt Ron would fit perfectly into the field of mediation. At the time, Ron knew nothing about this type of work. A number of years later, when Ron moved from Montréal to Toronto, the words of the psychologist were still somehow resounding in his mind, hence he decided to act. He got into contact, out of pure curiosity, with a local community centre, the Warden Woods community Centre, and after receiving some basic training, joined their roster of volunteer mediators, dealing with local disputes in the city. The impact of that experience was life-changing, especially because Ron came to realize that he had already been playing the role of mediator in his own life. “When I started to think back on my personal life, I realized I had been doing this kind of work all along, with family, friends and even at work, all the time. I had always been the person other people would turn to with their problems, helping them figure out solutions. I had already been practicing some kind of mediation for years”.
After coming to this realization, Ron’s mediation career took off, not without some difficulties. “It is a tough business to break into; it is a lot about networking and your ability to create opportunities by speaking to and meeting people… lots of people!”. With his own mediation firm, Ron has provided mediation services and valuable coaching to individuals and families in many diverse areas, empowering them with the skills and confidence to deal with their challenges in a constructive manner. Currently, Ron is dedicating most of his time to mediation processes in the workplace, helping companies design and implement their own conflict management programs and structures to allow for the resolution of their internal disputes in a timely and constructive manner. “Nowadays, there exists a lot of pressure in the workplace, employees are hesitant to have difficult conversations. They need the confidence and conflict resolution skills and/or the appropriate platforms to address their grievances”.
An Environment of Trust.
For effective mediation, Ron is keen to underline two key elements. First and foremost, the mediator needs to create a safe and informal environment for an open and honest conversation. “Pretend you are having a conversation with a friend, mediation is a more “human approach” than litigation because it allows people, who are having a disagreement, to talk to each other, respectfully, with the goal of finding a solution they can both live with”. Creating genuine human connections, both between the parties as well as between the mediator and the parties is therefore fundamental. Secondly, mediators need to be good at asking the right questions. This will help identify the root cause of the problem, revealing the underlying interests of the parties, who might be clashing over something completely different. Once the superficial veil of resentment, miscommunication, and emotivity is removed, individuals can begin to have a constructive and authentic dialogue about what is truly driving the issue. “In today’s world, there is a tendency to use money as a tool for seeking a resolution to a grievance. However, in many circumstances it is never really about the money. Many who are awarded a financial settlement still feel a lack of closure. Usually, there is something deeper inside that needs to be talked about, what matters the most”, he adds. An essential ingredient to make these two pillars work? “Make sure to create an environment where you win the trust of all parties”, Ron wisely concludes.
Aside from his full-time work in the fundraising world and part-time dedication to mediation, Ron keeps on cultivating his passion for teaching, to pass on his knowledge to young minds and future mediators. In the past, he has worked with high school students, teaching them “Peer Mediation” so they can learn how to deal with conflict not only in the school environment but also at home. Over the past 4 years, he has coached and mentored second-year law students from Osgoode Hall Law School, in court mediation.
There is a motto Ron likes to repeat: “The quality of your thinking determines the quality of your life”. Certainly, Ron’s life has expressed much quality so far.
Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer