Following the “Cookie Crumbs” on the Path to Success. Member Spotlight: Britt Sheinbaum

Born and raised overseas in a diplomatic family, it somehow seems only natural that Britt’s background would be steeped in peacebuilding. Prior to her flourishing career in mediation, Britt worked extensively as a liaison between water industry stakeholders, with a focus on creating forums for discussion and identifying technical developments. Reflecting on her career, Britt concludes that she was probably already mediating in some way, but just didn’t really have a name for it. It wasn’t until a conversation with a close friend of her father, who was working in community mediation, sparked an interest in the field. “I thought, that’s what I want to do, but out in the world, not just in my community.”


Her path forward remained uncertain until, in 2013, she took a trip to Israel. “Until that point, I had been working in the water industry and I had a Bachelors Degree in International Relations”, she explains, but this trip encouraged her to think about how she could use her unique knowledge and skills in new ways.

On a visit to the West Bank, Britt learned about some of the water issues experienced by the communities there. After explaining to her local guide that she worked in the water industry, he replied “oh good, you should come help us, because we have water problems: we don’t have a lot of it, and what we do have we sometimes aren’t good about sharing.” It was then that her passion for water conflict management was realised: “that’s it!”, she thought.

Upon her return to the U.S., Britt immediately began searching for opportunities for further study. She found the perfect course, at Tel Aviv University, in the form of an MA in International Conflict Resolution and Mediation. She continued her studies at Oregon State University, completing an MNR in Water Conflict Management and Transformation. Here, she was able to follow her unique passion, and from there, she developed her expertise.

“Following the cookie crumbs…”

Britt describes her success as a tale of “following the cookie crumbs”. To illustrate this idea, she explains how, upon graduating, her mentor advised her to start writing papers and speaking at conferences to gain experience and raise her profile.

Britt recalls the first conference she spoke at, where only two people attended. While many new graduates would find this discouraging, Britt kept going: “I sucked up my courage and I did it again.” This time, the room was full, and the talk was a success. Such a success, in fact, that just a few weeks later, Britt received a call to speak again. This time, it was to be a keynote address to the North Carolina State Water Association. Her reply: “Why? Why would you want me?” But they found her perspective interesting, and she had something unique to say.

This talk was where the University of North Carolina, where Britt is now Adjunct Professor, discovered her. And I begin to see how following the cookie crumbs becomes a fruitful endeavour.  Britt reassures me, and all aspiring mediators, to “keep practising”, even if you don’t think you’re no good or not getting anywhere, “because at some point it will come together.”

“If this is for you, keep going”

Now, Britt gets to both teach and practise her craft.

As an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina (Wilmington), Britt teaches graduate courses in conflict theory, intercultural dispute resolution, mediation, and water resource management as a tool for peacebuilding and economic development. She also facilitates an annual mediation workshop at Tel Aviv University, delivering instruction on the effective analysis and practical resolution of social conflict, as well as mentoring graduate students at both universities.

She works as a Mediator, both privately, with Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, and publicly, for the North Carolina State Superior Court. She enjoys practising, which she describes as being like detective work, because “you’re investigating, you’re trying to pick apart the layers and read the subtleties and understand how people work and how they can work together.”

With a passion to keep learning about her craft, Britt tells me that a PhD is on her horizon. She explains that this nexus between teaching, practicing and learning her craft feels like “a place where I belong.” This nexus is also something that interests her, and she will soon be hosting a roundtable as part of Mediator Network’s International Mediation Awareness Week (IMAW) 2022 which explores how the training and scholarly work we do as Mediators informs our practice.

When asked what wisdom she would impart to aspiring mediators, Britt emphasises a give-it-a-go approach. “Throw all of the darts at the dart board. Try everything. Definitely try everything. Don’t rule anything out because you think you might not be good at it; you’ll never know until you try. I heard someone say recently that ‘action beats strategy’ and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Do it. Even if you think you’re going to be awful and fail, and even if you do fail, just do it. There’s only one way to start and that’s by doing it. The fear of failure is never going to go away so you might as well get to work!”

Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer