Glowing as an all-round peacebuilder. Member Spotlight: Philippa Brown

For some, becoming a peacebuilder is a necessity, in a world where conflict is increasingly affecting the lives of peoples, communities and individuals. For others, it is fate or just a natural predisposition towards shaping more harmonic and peaceful societies. For still others, it is a passion turning eventually into a profession, hence transforming itself in a life-longing dedication. It is no exaggeration to say that all these three aspects converge in the figure of Philippa Brown, senior conflict expert, security consultant and established mediator from the UK. Having spent a significant part of her life working overseas in different conflict-affected settings,(such as in Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan), she currently resides in Brighton, on the southern shores of England, where she established Conflict Insights, her personal mediation and conflict advisory service. “Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, but badly managed conflict can be terrible. I want to help people engage with conflict in a more positive and constructive way she likes to emphasize, outlining the necessity for an enhanced conflict savviness in our societies and her life-longing, all-round commitment in doing so. Philippa has joined the MBBI community only recently, moved by the strong desire to make part of such a lively global community of peacebuilders to join efforts in the mission of building a more “peace-able” 

Early academic achievements. 

With paternal origins in the Fiji Islands, Philippa had to get used to not having a fixed stance since an early age. Indeed, once her father moved from the Fijian to UK army stationed abroad, the whole family moved several times, every 18 months, during her childhood. This, eventually, would become a recurrent element a of Philippa’s life. With a degree in Politics and Public Administration at the University of Liverpool, she worked as a Civil Servant in various government offices for about 12 years. Gradually, a strong passion for the area of conflict, security, and international work mounted in. When the opportunity presented itself, she took it. In 2009, she left for Afghanistan, taking part to the civilian anti-narcotics team within the NATO headquarters in Helmand. When I got back from Afghanistan, I did not want to end up behind a desk, rather I was moved by a strong desire to expand my knowledge in the area of international relations and add academic elements to my portfolio”. Such a thirst for knowledge led Philippa to physically ‘broaden’ her horizons, earning a Master of Arts in International Relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of the Tufts University, Massachusetts. Interesting fact: Philippa graduated with a thesis reflecting on the intertwine between anti-narcotics efforts and peacebuilding in the Helmand region of Afghanistan. 

Working in conflict-affected countries. 

With such a renewed toolkit, Philippa’s unstoppable spirit brought her to work in Pakistan as a consultant for the UK government in the effort of building more solid criminal justice institutions and programmes in the country. Aside of the duty, Philippa loves to remember about her experience and contact with the Pakistani culture with a smiling face. “Pakistan is an incredibly fascinating country and the people… the people are so kind and motivated to improve the situation of injustice in their country”. After Islamabad, Philippa kept on moving untiringly for a couple of years more, working between Kenya and Somalia as the head of the counterterrorism team as well as stabilisation, and security adviser. Speaking of her encounter with the ‘only-apparently chaotic’ situation of Somalia, she likes to add “I have really enjoyed my job because Somalia really challenges you and you must approach it differently; it totally flips your expectations and assumptions about the systems in place. It is a multi-layered-conflict, and terrorism is just the tip of the iceberg, if we want to connect it to the famous iceberg of conflict much used by mediators. People often say that Somalia ‘is chaos’, I say it is not, it is just that we are not able to recognise the system. I find this extremely complex and fascinating.”

Mediation: empowerment and active listening.

Once back in the UK, Philippa felt the need to take a break from the turbulent life of the previous few years, to avoid the burnout. In Brighton, she met with the stability and quietness she needed, although now her work life looks everything but less busy. “From the UK, I am still working as a private international consultant for both the United Nationa in Pakistan and the UK government in East Africa”, she continues, adding up to her personal mediation business to manage and various longstanding volunteer commitments. One of these consists in volunteering for the Samaritans, a charity very active throughout the UK with hotlines to achieve one, simple but powerful, objective: listening to the problems, and fears, of the people. Just, listening. “the work I do for the Samaritans is just about listening to people in emotional distress, which sounds simple but I’ve found it to be very powerful. You establish this tangible connection with someone on an individual basis, and you can really see the power of listening, of feeling and being heard, of feeling respected. Such an empowerment has a tremendous impact”. ‘Empowerment’ resounds greatly in the words of Philippa, who could witness first-hand throughout her security-related work to the necessity to empower people to find their own solutions, and for them to be listened to, whereas the international community has not always taken such an approach to its international aid programmes. 

Within such fertile ground, the seed of mediation bloomed. “I wanted to do some work to have a positive impact on people, and since I have a deep passion for peacebuilding, I took the path of mediation, as it captures all these different areas of interests and expertise of mine, The more I was looking at it, the more it felt right. It was me.” To get on track with it, Philippa earned several mediation accreditations, from included the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution and Mediator Network. Beyond ‘empowerment’ as a fundamental concept of the mediation practice, Philippa holds another key element with a highly transformative power: active listening. When you practice actual active listening, and it is what I have been doing with the Samaritans for 20 years, you can immediately see the transformative effect on the nature of the issue for the person who is confronting it. It is not about changing anything directly, rather helping people processing their problems in a more constructive and helpful way”, she is keen to underline. In 2019, Philippa founded her own business, Conflict Insights, to manage both her mediation and consultancy work with major autonomy. Through it, she offers help to both workplaces and individuals to reduce the harm that conflict has on people. It would seem much work juggling among so many contracts, but Philippa demonstrates to enjoy every inch of what she daily commits to. “If you enjoy what you do, it will not feel like work all the time, plus, I manage to create synergies among the different duties I undertake in a way that one element learned from one side can help me taking on something else better; they are all connected in the end.”

Philippa, kind-hearted and tireless spirit, is eager to keep on building these synergies with the support of whole MBBI community and networks, and particularly, of the newly formed MBBI European Group

Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer