Making Mediation Climate Proof. Member Spotlight: Paddy Patton

Iain Patton (Paddy) is a mediator, leadership coach, international development and environmental professional from Northern Ireland. Paddy has dedicated decades of his career to promoting sustainability and environmental action, and though he is technically quite new to the official field of mediation, he feels like his whole life has been in this space as well. Over the years he has come to realize that in fact, the two fields are deeply interconnected. Paddy strongly believes that you can’t do effective mediation and conflict resolution without taking the climate into account. Today, he hopes to leverage his knowledge of sustainability and international development and join forces with other mediators at MBBI and beyond to address conflict, climate, develop communities, and coach future leaders and peace builders. 

Where People and Planet Meet

Paddy grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which is the term used to describe the roughly 30 years of conflict in the region. When he was a teenager, he was very influenced by the first Roman Catholic person he ever met, who practiced a good deal of behind-the-scenes mediation between the paramilitaries, and went on to found Mediation Northern Ireland. However, Paddy soon left his home in Northern Ireland to work in East Africa. There, he saw a more profound level of death, conflict, and suffering than he ever had before. Though he had left at the peak of the Troubles, his travels only convinced him more that the problems in Northern Ireland were solvable and could be dealt with through effective conflict management and reconciliation. Beyond this, his time in Kenya also deepened his interest in the interconnectedness of international development and environmental work.

“My world has always been where people and planet meet.”

From there, Paddy went on to pursue both an Environmental degree and a Youth and Community Development degree. As Paddy notes, the dual degrees reflected the fact that he had always loved these different worlds, and done his best to forge a path that connects them. He continued to do so after his studies. At the same time as working on sustainability, Paddy runs a non-profit in Uganda called Uganda Partnership-UP! that supports community enterprise. Further, he has just been appointed Ambassador to Europe for the NGO Rural Development Action Aid RDAA, in conflict and climate torn South Sudan. These organizations are two of his many efforts to show how communities can solve their own problems, while using enterprise instead of charity to lift them out of poverty. Paddy realized that building up resilient communities in this way can actually also serve as a significant step in the peacemaking process and a buffer against conflict. However, climate conscious conflict resolution is equally as important. Particularly in community-based mediation, Paddy recognizes that the climate will continuously drive more and more conflict, and it will also make standing agreements more unstable.

“The changing climate is going to be driving much, much more conflict… We have to make sure our mediation is climate proof.”

In order to contribute to conversation, innovation, and growth in the environmental space, Paddy co-founded a brilliant network which became the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. The association now works all over the UK and Ireland, and Paddy became the CEO for about 17 years. The idea of the network is to pioneer ways forward for students, professors, managers, and academics around the world who were grappling with the concept of sustainability and what it truly means and looks like. By bringing the concept to the life and teaching of universities, the association looks to build the skillsets that students and employees will need in the future.

After close to two decades as the head of the association, Paddy decided to step down to make room for new perspectives, ideas, and inspiration from the younger generation. This career change also freed him up to go deeper  into mediation and coaching. Over the past years as a CEO, he was doing a good deal of leadership coaching for other chief executives around the world. Building on his passion and skill for that work, he has recently launched his own company and website, called Iain Patton Coaching and Mediation. At the moment he is really focusing on growing this, while at the same time working for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi on the Environment, Youth, and Education team. As always, Paddy has found many creative ways to combine his “people and planet” passions.

Making Mediation Climate Proof

In his broad range of work, Paddy has come to appreciate the interconnected nature of peacebuilding, sustainability, community building, and education. However, he sometimes feels like the only one. He notes that typically people end up specializing in one field over time, and can become quite siloed in their approach. While specialization is valuable, it risks causing people to lose sight of the relationships and complex dependencies between different fields.

“We’ve got to get conflict mediators and environmental leaders together to understand each other’s worlds, and join forces.”

Paddy realizes that mediators can’t bring in their own agendas and should remain as neutral as possible. However, from what he’s seen particularly in Africa, climate change is completely ravaging ecosystems and communities. It is driving displaced people, food insecurity, water scarcity, and conflict. Today, Paddy is on a mission to support mediators to “climate proof” their mediated results. He believes that especially in community-based scenarios, mediators themselves should be trained to at least be aware of environmental issues. If they can’t be, then there should be an environmental expert there to advise and support in the mediation process. Paddy believes that it would be doing a disservice to clients if this perspective wasn’t there.

In order to make his own contribution to this agenda, Paddy is working on several projects. At the UN he’s leading a project between governments, employers, universities and other stakeholders to embrace the green transition. The project is aiming to give young people and employees the skillsets they need to deliver the low-emission economy. In the process, they are seeking global understanding and agreement on what the green-transition should look like, what skills will be required, and how to provide what the youth are demanding in terms of change and accountability.

“Whether it’s between governments and businesspeople, or just between community leaders, climate outcomes could easily undermine the mediated solution if they are not accounted for.”

As a very experienced leadership coach, Paddy has also offered at MBBI to coach 2 front-line mediators. This coaching would be pro-bono for 9 hours, six months’ worth of sessions. In this way Paddy is trying to both support mediators, learn more about front-line mediation, and promote interconnected and non-siloed thinking. Paddy sees that there is nothing bigger than the climate, and giving people context, background, and an environmental perspective could help mediators best leverage their skills in all their work going forward. As of now, the offer still stands and Paddy would be more than happy to be contacted about this idea. 

Advice to New Mediators

Building on his thoughts further, Paddy believes that an understanding of context is the most important thing that new leaders can have. He thinks that there needs to be more people who can look across disciplines and see the interconnectedness and interdependency of them all. The UN SDG’s have been invaluable here.

“It’s in between the disciplines that the really interesting stuff happens.”

To explain the well-recognized value of interdisciplinary studies, Paddy discusses the example of MIT. When he met her, the President of the university told Paddy that they had built a specific building in order to connect all of the life science departments. They designed it so that students from different disciplines would be crossing paths all the time, and get to know each other. Paddy thinks that it’s in the connections that creativity, new thinking, innovation and sustainability is born. Other examples in Living Labs or schools like the new London Interdisciplinary School have shown the value of interdisciplinary connection as well and reinforce the importance of getting students out of academic silos.

Beyond this, Paddy highly recommends two main courses. The first is from an organization that was born out of the Irish Troubles, and created by a Northern Irish mediator, called Dialogue for Peaceful Change. Paddy also highly recommends looking into trainings from Ken Cloke. Ken Cloke is a world-recognized mediator who is in fact a co-founder of MBBI. Paddy explains that Ken brings all sorts of different thinking into mediation, and those who take his trainings often come back to take them again, walking away with new insights each time.

The Future of Mediation

From his decades of career and life experience, Paddy has come to realize that society seems to prefer the risk of conflict over the investment in long-term stability or peace. He notes that there are so many vested interests in conflicts, and that people don’t seem to take the risk of conflict or its consequences seriously enough. He has seen that we don’t seem to have a collective value that says “hey, this is going to escalate and then we would all be losers”.

“Society seems quite happy to risk there being conflict, because there are so many vested interests and people who are out for their own self-interest.”

On top of this, Paddy sees that people tend to run away from conflict. We are programed to do so. However, he thinks there needs to be a whole re-thinking of this response. He believes that it can, at times, actually be a good thing to run towards conflict, because conflict can bring opportunity, communication, and learning. We need to change our mindset as a community and embrace conflict in order to manage it more effectively.

In Paddy’s work with environmental NGOs and other international organizations, he has seen that they can in fact just as riddled with conflict as any other community. The internal dynamics, hierarchies, egos, and power struggles in each of these organizations decreases their effectiveness, and poorly reflects the impact that they are looking to have externally. Further, this internal conflict prevents the collaboration and creativity that could be developed. A recent university study in the US showed recently that 25% of a typical managers week is spent managing conflict within the organization. Paddy believes that climate and other Impact Sector organizations are some of the worst with internal conflict, simply because they’re full of passionate people who are really worried and care deeply.

“The internal conflicts are compromising the impact they’re having, and we really can’t afford that.”

Paddy hopes to work in this exact field going forward by coaching professionals on embracing conflict inside of organizations and harnessing that energy to change for the better. Today, the typical organizational structure is meant to avoid conflict and to push it down, or off to someone else. However, Paddy says that we need to push conflict up and out instead. We have to learn from it and embrace it in order to find new space, understanding, and opportunities.

Final Notes

As a last note to other members of MBBI and beyond, Paddy would be delighted to get in contact with anyone who is interested in collaborating on environmental mediation. Whether it’s just a personal connection or in order to make a group within MBBI, Paddy is excited to see the awareness of the interconnection between the fields grow. For Paddy, coaching is about good listening, asking the right questions, and helping people believe in themselves and their own knowledge. As a coach or a collaborator on these issues, Paddy would surely bring inspiration, passion, and a wealth of knowledge to the table. 

Article by Elise Webster, MBBI Writer