Dr. Wendy Wood took on the role of a mediator from a very young age. As a young social activist in a small rural desert community, she recognized, the need to help “stray kids and animals”. She eventually began advocating in her community for the rights for women and girls, environmental and water issues along the Colorado River, and issues of social justice and politics. Today, Wendy still advocates for social change. Her two main parallel careers have been that of a conflict professional and as a social scientist focusing on social change and social systems transformation. Engaging in actions that can change systems has been a critical part of her career. She formally trained as a mediator in the early 2000s after attending a mediation class taught by Ken Cloke and continued to advance her practice. Her doctoral work was focused on trauma-informed transformative social change and women’s rights.
Through her experience working in child trauma, medicine, and social welfare, Wendy identified the need for trauma-informed practices in peacebuilding. She was at the forefront of bringing trauma to that realm. “It was clear that trauma has a major impact on the peacebuilding process and mediation itself,” she stated, yet not everyone knew how to manage trauma or fully understood it. Wendy continues to work with MBBI and other NGOs on trauma-informed projects
New Orleans and Rwanda
Wendy continued to examine how conflict professionals could aid in the peacebuilding process and supported the founding of MBBI. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, she worked with a team to provide trauma-informed practices and mediation training for communities in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In addition to working in North America, she has also traveled to other parts of the world, including Rwanda, building trauma literacy and peacebuilding. It was “A critical time in Rwanda. The perpetrators were starting to be reintegrated into communities where atrocities had occurred,” she recalled. Their team worked alongside the Rwandan communities and NGOs to build their skills in trauma-informed dialogue and peacebuilding. “Trauma has many, many arms that wrap around whole communities, not just individuals, but entire communities and entire nations. I think we need to be very sensitive to this reality. We also need to be very sensitive to the context in which the trauma has occurred. It is situational, it can also be historical, it can be generational, and cultural,” she affirmed.
During the course of her career, a recurring question appeared, “How do we engage mindfully and in ways that don’t harm others?” She became very curious about this and decided to pursue it further academically. Subsequently, this became a very important focus of her work and in turn, helped advance her practice in peacebuilding and conflict engagement over the years. It has since become weaved into all of the work that she does. Along with a colleague, she has written two books on the subject: Do No Harm: Mindful Engagement for a World in Crisis and What We Must Do: A Guide for Perilous Times.
2016 proved to be an important year for Wendy as she became more involved in politics after the national election. She realized early on that a great deal of conflict existed between political organizations and social movements. Unexpectedly, a request came from a social/political movement asking how to manage conflicts in the growing and prominent grassroots organizations. That initial interaction spiked her curiosity to start thinking about how conflict can impede the work of social movements and political organizations. The need was evident. Time and time again organizations lamented that they had limited skills or capacity to work with and build conflict resilience within their organizations and outwardly. Wendy built a small team to design a framework and roadmap for both social movements and political organizations to navigate conflict.
From this, the Democracy, Politics, and Conflict Engagement Initiative (DPACE) was born. DPACE was funded in part by the Conflict Transformation Fund and includes a section on Trauma-Informed Conflict Engagement and Mindful Engagement, authored by Wendy. Wendy co-leads this Initiative along with the DPACE Core Implementation team. They have completed the Conflict Literacy Framework and are planning on building a training around it with the main goal to “Bring conflict professionals into these spaces of social movements and political organizations in order to build their conflict capacities both internally and with other groups.”
Wendy is the co-founder of The Karuna Center for Mindful Engagement whose mission is to support a kind and just world and engage with others in ways that are intentional, responsible, and ethical. They work with individuals, organizations, and communities to build their capacity, knowledge, and skills while creating strategies and systems for sustainable solutions and compassionate action. They specialize in issues of social, economic, and environmental justice; community resilience and leadership; social movements; trauma-informed practices; and conflict engagement, transformation, and resolution. Wendy lives on a small ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California with her husband, where she is an avid gardener, traveler, enjoys her large family, and studies Tibetan Buddhism with her sangha in the U.S. and at the Gaden Monastery in Southern India.
Article by Kylea Shropshire, MBBI Writer