Creating Bridge-Builders in Divided Communities: Member Spotlight, Judith Van den Boogert

Judith van den Boogert is a certified mediator, senior research fellow, and trainer in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Judith currently works as a senior trainer and research fellow at The Clingendael Institute, training (insider) mediators and negotiators in conflict situations worldwide to “give them tools to be more effective and let them grasp the importance of a win-win mindset in peace processes”. Alongside working at The Clingendael Institute, Judith also holds her own independent mediation and conflict coaching practice named VandenBoogert Mediation. Training future mediators, Judith claims, “what I find most important is that people don’t just look at the issue from above, but how it looks from within, what does it mean to that person and what is their role in the conflict”. Previously to this work, she taught social sciences and conflict resolution at the University of Amsterdam

Escaping the hate

Judith was first exposed to mediation in Jerusalem, Israel. Her family moved there when she was a teen due to her father’s job, who was working in an interreligious dialogue between Christians and Jews. She recognized the importance of facilitative dialogue, in bridging different groups towards a similar cultural understanding, such as that of Israeli’s and Palestinians. “I had friends on both sides of the conflict, and being 17 I just could not comprehend why they would not like each other. I thought, ‘they could be friends when not being at different sides of the conflict because they have so much in common’ ’”, she recalls. From the hostile environment in which she was surrounded by Judith became interested in anthropology, and “the choices people make and how it amounts to the conflict”. At the University of Amsterdam, Judith completed her Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology and Non-western Sociology. She then went on to complete her Masters in Conflict Resolution and Governance. 

She wanted to humanize relationships again, to shift the focus from hate to acceptance. Through her studies, Judith recognized, “you cannot stay in the hate, even when you have lost loved ones”. Judith experienced this while conducting research on the Bereaved Parents (Israelis and Palestinians). Through her experience with complex layers in this well-known conflict and her extensive academic background, Judith chose to become a certified mediator through the Mediation Federation Netherlands and began performing voluntary mediation in neighborhoods facing intercultural conflict. After which she founded her mediation practice in 2011, focusing on intercultural and interreligious conflict and family mediation. Recently she also started using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in her conflict coaching in order to help people ‘stuck in conflict’ to augment the client’s psychological flexibility.

Building trust through communication

Soliya is an international platform that allows students to engage in intercultural dialogue. Judith worked with Soliya for over 6 years as an intercultural dialogue facilitator and university lecturer. She trained university students in different subjects and aided with their communication with one another. One subject they overviewed was the Iraqi War. Students from the U.S, Europe, and Iraq were all able to discuss the framing differentiation of the war in their respective countries. This program allowed students to see that “identity is layered”, it is formulated through experiences and narratives which shape how one sees the world and themselves. However, “if you build trust on similarities and by listening to one’s stories, you begin to understand each other”. This, in turn, fosters thoughtful learning and can shape our future decisions to shift towards peaceful reconciliation. 

Bridging commonalities between communities

For the Clingendael Institute, Judith works within the multi-annual project ‘Negotiation and Mediation Training as a Conflict Resolution Instrument’ as an international negotiation and mediation expert. Here, she engages with partners such as the United Nations Development Programme and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and complements their peace and security efforts with training and guidance. She foremost trains and coaches representatives of groups in conflict, (insider) mediators, and Mediation Support Units in the skills of conflict resolution and strategic policy planning, and currently runs a project on linking insider mediation to DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) processes. She notes how in current societies there is an over-emphasis on people’s dissimilarities, but Judith reiterates that mediators work towards assisting people in recognizing their similarities. “People have much more in common than they would think, mostly in their needs, and this creates openings for dialogue”. Using the example of children Judith explains that no matter which side of a conflict we are on, we all want our children to be safe, we both value life. By using formal and informal settings in a process to talk about what we value most, this might be a first step into humanizing the other and into futurizing what we wish to change”

Among others, Judith has provided mediation training and consultation online to Libyan and Yemeni women, coaching the women to become bridgebuilders in their society through (e-)mediation. The program helped women from different parts of the country to express which issues divide them, allowing them to share experiences. “You need to get to the root causes of what divides them, but this is challenging”, Judith says, and by involving hands-on community members in the mediation process, such as these women that are building bridges in many informal daily affairs, it paths the way to attaining peaceful relations between communities. The online training and consulting also helped Judith to comprehend the complexities of digital mediation prior to and during Covid-19 times. Nowadays, setting up these digital platforms is extremely important, as mediation swiftly moves to find ways to deal with increased mobility restrictions. 


Judith found MBBI after attending a meeting, arranged by board member Elodie van Sytzama. After several years, she met the President and CEO of MBBI, Prabha Sankaranarayan during Judith’s work for Clingendael and was inspired again by the organization. “It’s good to connect with others like you and have an international network of mediators for support”.  

Restricting impending conflict

Being from a country that experiences regular flooding, the Netherlands, Judith relates the importance of preventing flooding in preventing conflict before it arises. As many countries place the focus on rebuilding during the aftermath of disasters, Judith highlights the necessity of preventative methods that can avert the entire crisis. Pre-mediation is an example of averting the augmentation of conflict. “It’s like a puzzle”, she explains, understanding what each side of the conflict wants from the other. “It is important to be vulnerable in the pre-mediation and show you really feel the other’s underlying needs” in order to find a plausible solution to the dispute. Concluding, Judith remarks, “There’s not one mediation process, no conflict is the same. There is also no blueprint for a successful mediation. There are different people, different backgrounds. You never know what the outcome will be, you just need to guide them.”

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer