Mediating with Eyes Towards the East. Member Spotlight: Ilan Bass

Influenced from an early age by foreign cultures, especially of China, Japan, and Korea, Ilan Bass has continued to cultivate his deep interest throughout his fruitful and successful career in the field of conflict resolution. Born in Israel and raised in London, UK, Ilan is an experienced mediator, facilitator, and intercultural conflict coach currently based in Brighton, England. His portfolio includes cases completed in a diverse range of contexts – civil, community, and workplace mediation; distinctive cultural contexts; and a tailored approach in both in-person and online formats. Already familiar with Ken Cloke, Ilan recently joined MBBI with the desire to support the mission of the organization to make the world a more ‘peace-able’ place by rendering mediation tools accessible to anyone. “I want the world to be a place where diverse people trained in mediation use their skills to help others in need. I want to help make it much easier for people to do the work of mediation, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding as a full-time profession, especially those from under-represented backgrounds”. Since his joining, Ilan contributed to the work of different MBBI’s working groups, including the newly born MBBI Europe Regional Group.  

A growing commitment to Asia. 

Born in Tel Aviv to parents from London, Ilan was raised and educated in the UK. He first enrolled in an undergraduate economics course at the University of Sheffield, jointly with Japanese studies. Ilan recounts how a trip he had taken just before undertaking a gap year sparked his interest in Asia; it was an interest that became a passion, and eventually, a profession. “The trip I took to Japan at the age of 18 had a profound influence on me. The modernity, beauty, and efficiency of Japan were a pleasant surprise and left me asking questions about certain aspects of British society, for instance about the stark difference in railway infrastructure between the two countries. Some years later, after living in China I found that characterisations of the West and the East in terms of ‘development’ were not true in many cases”, Ilan tells. Following more travel in the region during his gap year, and after sitting in on a class in the first few weeks of his university experience on ‘Imperialism in East Asia’, he decided to switch his major to East Asian Studies to learn more about the history, political economy, and culture of those places that had left a deep impression on him while travelling. “I remember feeling quite shocked to learn about British involvement in the Opium Wars in China and was concerned that such history was not being taught in the British school curriculum. I was also intrigued by the economic miracle that Japan achieved after the devastation the Japanese people experienced in the Second World War, All this certainly influenced my life a great deal”. Later, while working for a bank in London, he decided to pursue a course in the Chinese language on the weekends at SOAS.

Ilan traces his respect for East Asian cultures to an even earlier age when he was in primary school. “I remember we had a Chinese head of the school and one of my earliest memories is of her giving a red envelope to me; it is a custom for older people in Chinese culture to give young people such envelopes containing money during the Chinese New Year festival. I later became interested in Hong Kong kung fu films, and I even practiced martial arts at a community centre in Golders Green, north London”.

A rich and diversified curriculum.

Despite his keen interest in Asian cultures, Ilan started his career working for the Bank of New York in London. However, “when the 2008 financial crisis hit, I resigned because I found the financial industry did not fulfill my need to find purpose in my life and it was a good opportunity to leave both the industry and the UK”, Ilan describes. Realizing that the financial field did not suit him, Ilan finally achieved his ambition to work and live in Asia in 2009, finding a job working as an English teacher in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. During his time in Beijing, he studied Mandarin at Tsinghua University, which today he speaks fluently and is now applying to his mediation work. While in Beijing, Ilan also spent two years working at the British Embassy as an Entry Clearance Officer and Customer Liaison Officer. 

However, despite enjoying his career and life in Beijing, Ilan recalls his enthusiasm for learning was not fully fulfilled during his time in China. That is why he decided to resume his academic studies by undertaking a master’s degree in Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, with a specific focus on Conflict Resolution and Mediation. “It was not an easy choice to leave behind a good career in the public sector and move to Israel to study a master’s degree, but I loved the course and I met some wonderful people passionate about the field of conflict resolution”. As a clear sign of the strong bond Ilan still holds with the university, he has returned to the university each year since he graduated to help deliver a 50-hour mediation skills workshop for the new cohort of conflict resolution and mediation students as a member of the Middle East training team of the Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution at Salisbury University. He is grateful for the opportunity to work for an institution that helped him realize where he could contribute most to the world and to inspire the next generation of mediators and peacebuilders.

Embracing mediation.

The master’s degree Ilan studied in Israel represented a new beginning for him: “It really put me on the path of becoming a conflict resolution practitioner, and I finally discovered my calling”. Indeed, Ilan seems to have always been destined for the field of conflict resolution. “I am the youngest in my family and I have at times attempted to get in between my siblings, albeit with mixed results. I think that’s normal for family relations, though!”, he explains.

However, his entry in the field was not immediate. “After graduating, I did not consider a career as a mediator. Conflict resolution is not like other degrees where you finish and have a straightforward path to do that kind of work. Instead, you have to re-invent yourself by finding your niche”. While living in Israel, Ilan got involved in some peacebuilding projects, notably at YaLa Young Leaders, where he participated in a MENA region-wide peace conference held on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. “It was a really magical experience and I am still in touch with the people I met from all over the Middle East at the conference, including Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and many other places. This is why I believe grassroots peacebuilding programs work because they change your perception forever.” Although inspired by such experiences, Ilan found it difficult to sustain a living doing such work in Israel. While figuring out how he could carry forward his newly discovered passion for peacebuilding, and make some money from it to survive, Ilan moved back and forth between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, including an interesting posting at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing. While he was in Brighton staying with his sister, who suggested he do some volunteer work in the local community, he discovered the Brighton & Hove Independent Mediation Service, an independent charity offering mediation services, and thus started doing community mediation for neighbours in dispute. This experience was transformative for Ilan, who recognized that being a mediator was something he found not only extremely meaningful, but also that he had a talent for and, with some effort and persistence, could be turned into a full-time career.

Since 2018, Ilan has partnered and worked with various organisations as a conflict resolution specialist, mediator, and trainer. Among these, he is working with Pollack Peacebuilding Systems in the USA, the Utatuzi Center in Kenya, and the Shanghai International Arbitration Center in China. Due to the pandemic, Ilan was essentially forced to leave Shanghai and become self-employed, remotely conducting online mediation, training, and coaching for individuals, communities, and businesses. In that time, he has also been working with the Mediation Clinic at the University of Strathclyde as a board member and mediator, and recently he joined the TCM Group and UK Mediation, both well-known companies that are transforming conflict in the workplace and beyond. With such a rich background living and exploring other cultures, Ilan intends to bring such cross-cultural sensitivity to the mediation table and to “act as a bridge between people of different cultures and languages, with a focus on the Chinese speaking world”. Towards this objective, he is perfecting his Mandarin at the London School of Economics and Political Science and he has recently established his own mediation, training and consulting firm, Orchid Mediation 义兰调解, which aims to facilitate dialogue, build understanding, and enhance relationships between people of different cultural backgrounds, with a focus on the East Asia region.

Ilan has just started a role helping senior executives develop themselves and their leadership teams with a company based in London and Hong Kong, and he continues to support the development of the field of conflict resolution in his role as a UNESCO Senior Research Fellow at the Bosserman Center. Despite these commitments, he regularly offers his spare time to help resolve community, civil and personal disputes in the UK and internationally.

Ilan loves to finish with a quote from Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, which in turn may have inspired the legendary peace activist Mahatma Gandhi: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

If you would like to know more about Ilan, he welcomes you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer