Growing up in Hong Kong, Roshan Melwani is of mixed origin. Born to an Indian father and Chinese mother, Roshan appreciated from an early age the importance of bridging the communication gap between both sides of his family. However, it was losing his father at 14 that caused Roshan to become familiar with the inequities of Hong Kong’s legal aid system and ADR processes. From his personal experience, Roshan witnessed the detrimental impacts of a non-inclusive approach to mediation. He stated, “the process was not mindful of power dynamics and too transactional – which pushed me to explore this field a little more. You can tell when a mediator is just there to get paid versus there to truly hear your concerns. Hence, mediation needs to be inclusive at every stage.”
Roshan therefore places relationship building at the heart of his mediation philosophy. For him, developing an authentic rapport with parties makes a huge difference. He stated, “You need to take yourself out of the equation to focus on helping others.”
Mediation in Hong Kong
Given its status as a financial hub, mediation in Hong Kong predominantly takes place in the context of commercial or civil disputes. Yet after studying law in London, Roshan found himself drawn to the field of human rights law. Working alongside refugees and other displaced communities in Hong Kong, Roshan noticed that principles of mediation were still equally pertinent to effective advocacy. He stated, “you need to approach many issues sensitively when taking instructions from clients – because building trust helps build your case.”
However, Roshan’s passion for human rights has now brought him to pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. His studies have helped him transition to focusing on climate displacement policy. He stated, “Realising the climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis was a game-changer”; as it has channelled his passion, lived experience and mediation skills towards addressing an urgent global problem.
In turn, Roshan aims to use his Masters training as a means to equip him to play a facilitative part in multilateral dialogues between government, civil society and policy-makers during humanitarian and climate-related negotiations. As part of this process, he stated, “I’m trained in facilitative and remedial mediation, but I have come to increasingly believe in the power of narrative. Setting the right narrative is important for parties to understand each other, be in the right mental space and address issues constructively. Asking the right questions to help parties establish the right narrative is therefore an important task for a mediator.” For him, story-telling is a potent tool to help parties connect, engage genuinely and achieve transformative outcomes.
Though there are many people at different stages, everyone has a valid experience. He stated, “I want to be in a position where I can be a mentor and mentee. Even when you have a lot of experience, you can still learn a lot. In particular, I really want to learn more about what it takes to be an effective mediator in multilateral settings, like UN negotiations.” His mediation background has given him the soft skills needed to think critically, and his legal training has provided him with a firm foundation in effective written and verbal communication. The MPP at Oxford has also taken his learning further by helping him step out of a law-oriented mental framework and think about negotiations through different lenses. He remarked, “My negotiation class has helped me realise that there is still a lot more learning to do to become an effective mediator in complex environments.”
Although mediation is becoming increasingly prevalent on virtual platforms, Roshan still believes in the importance of in-person dialogue. His training in reframing has been helpful in this process. He stated, “there are different levels of reframing. The more you can steer into that direction, the more you can help parties reach a solution.” Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) helped pave the way for an international community to think of these issues more holistically. He highlighted, “I liked the fact that MBBI has an international outlook. I joined during the pandemic, and I intend to continue engaging more with the organisation’s vital work.” Roshan is currently part of MBBI’s UN multilateral working group.
Roshan concluded with the following remarks: “Although we live in increasingly polarised times, I believe young people still admire the value of constructive communication.” He went on to further state, “take young mediators under your wing, as they need your guidance and will no doubt pay it forward with immense gratitude.”
Article by Elizabeth Gamarra, MBBI Writer