Macarena is a mediator born in Spain and living in London, with a degree in Biology, a Ph.D., 11 years of professional experience working in land-use conflict and sustainability and 15 years of practice in mediation and conflict resolution. From a young age, she always loved working with animals and nature and less so working with people; but during her studies in Biology she came to the realization that “Compassion and empathy for people, these are integral to protecting the planet and nature.”

From her late teens she had dreamed of working with the UN and other international organizations, bringing people and cultures together in a world without boundaries. At school in Barcelona, away from her hometown of Malaga, she was bullied as ‘the outsider’ and was told to go home, where you come from, you don’t belong here”. This has been a constant in her life, giving her a deeper understanding and empathy for what people go through when they are in conflict, yielding greater perception of stereotyping and discrimination. Macarena realized that most people feel fear and anxiety in the face of the unknown or anyone ‘different’ to them, and that home is found within oneself.

After completing her 5-year bachelor’s degree (Barcelona and Malaga), Macarena wanted to travel overseas and study human interactions with the environment. She enrolled in an MSc in Rural and Land Ecology Survey in the Netherlands, after which she worked within EU funded-projects on sustainability and desertification at Amsterdam (NL) and Cranfield (UK) Universities.  During this period, she was able to do fieldwork all over Europe as well as Thailand and Central America and do presentations at international conferences.

From Organic Farming to Organic Mediation

Macarena has been involved with the organic farming movement since the early 1990s. In 1997, she moved to the UK to finish her Ph.D. at the Complex Systems Research Centre, Cranfield University, where she focused on soil and social policy indicators for conversion to organic farming. She lamented the lack of action of decision-makers regarding carcinogenic agricultural products such as glyphosate, where studies showing their toxicity had been known for a long time but had been denied publicly. She explains that today, “We know about climate change, but still, people deny it. We know about sustainability and what needs doing, but still, people deny it. We know about was hatred causes, but still, people have hatred.” She continues with incredulity: “We live in a unique period in history where we have an oversaturation of information and knowledge about all these key issues, but an overall refusal to fully act upon them. We seem to be intent on becoming devolving rather than evolving humans.” 

After completing her PhD, she became a Research Associate at Imperial College London working on a project for sustainable transport policies. At that time, the UK had started implementing bullying and harassment policies at universities, and at Imperial they were looking for volunteers to train as contact points. One of the trainers was a mediator and up to that point Macarena didn’t realize that mediation was a potential career option and felt, “It was like seeing the light somehow!” So she enrolled in an MSc in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Birkbeck College, University of London. “I went to the first class and I felt that I’d come home. I fell in love with it from day one!” 

Macarena loves understanding the complexity of interactions and relations, so she wasn’t happy just specializing in a single area of mediation or conflict resolution practice. Instead, between 2005 and 2010 she trained and started practicing as a mediator in community, intergenerational, family, and workplace contexts, as well as a trainer and conflict coach. As she explains it, “I want to not only know about workplace conflict, for example, but also how the family environment affects conflicts at work. Which also then affects how you deal with your neighbors and conflicts with your children. I wanted to explore how the same mediation principles and skills interrelate and adapt to those different contexts. So, as a trainer of mediators, I draw from my mediation and conflict coaching experiences and vice-versa. Each facet is integrated and constantly changing, and this shapes each approach I take to working with conflict.”

Engaging in the Mediation Community

Macarena has been a long time member of different mediation associations, like the UK College of Mediators and the Association of Conflict Resolution (ACR). At the ACR conference in 2010, she became connected to MBBI and remembers thinking, “Oh my God, I would love to me part of this!” Macarena continued practicing as a mediator, trainer and conflict coach but knew something was lacking. She explains, “I was missing the international dimension in my professional work. For me, mediation is about being human and that is a global proposition.”

She joined MBBI in 2014 and attended the 7th MBBI Congress Romania, 2015.  She felt as if she was floating at the conference from the joy of meeting so many people with similar ideas and actively trying to improve communication and understanding… making the world a better place. After she joined MBBI, she became involved with MBBI projects in South America, being appointed Co-Leader of the MBBI Colombia project together with Catalina Chaux-Echeverri and Charlie Pillsbury. The team set out developing the project whilst branching into training with the International Peace Training Institute (IPTI) for Women which was held in Colombia for the Andean countries in 2017 and 2018. The aim of the program is to empower women in peacebuilding, from the community to the level of peace talks and accords which have a strong founding in UN Resolution 1325. Macarena explained that involving women is essential for the sustainability of potential and existing accords. IPTI trainings have happened in different parts of the world and are creating a network of women in mediation who are skilled and knowledgeable about conflict resolution processes.

“Mediation is the perfect field to learn, test, apply, and nurture our personal growth and evolve as a human spirit.” Presently, Macarena continues this journey through her company Ataraxy Mediation and with other professional organizations. She mediates and delivers accredited mediation training, offers conflict coaching, mentors mediators, develops projects and trains mediators with MBBI, collaborates with the Global Youth Development Initiative, advocates for organic farming and products, and fights to protect Earth and erase boundaries. In the end, this really means exploring the interaction between the home inside us, unique to each human, and the home that this planet is for all people to share.

Article by Kylea Shropshire, MBBI Writer