Scott Martin (SM), Mediator and Conflict Coach, was interviewed by Atreyi Bhattacharjee (AB), MBBI Writer, October 2017
Scott Martin, a landscape architect-turned-peacebuilder, is a former chapter president of MBBI-LA and former co-leader of MBBI’s Rwanda project. Scott has been engaged with MBBI for about a decade, and here’s his story:
AB: Scott, let’s dive right in, shall we? Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SM: I’m a landscape architect by trade, and I got into mediation about ten years ago. I started off by doing voluntary, community-based mediation, and eventually transitioned into volunteering with MBBI as a founding member. My first big role was working on the Rwanda project, and currently I’m involved with the Cambodian project.
AB: I can’t imagine peacebuilding is a fundamental feature of landscape architecture. I’m sure the readers would be interested to know how you made the shift from architecture to mediation? What was your motivation?
SM: As part of my education, I was offered a scholarship to spend a year studying architecture in Japan. I found that I was more interested in the social system aspect of the experience, as opposed to the design. If you have ever been to Japan, you would know that it’s …different place. As a 19 year-old, I found it fascinating. Meanwhile, in my senior year, I studied in Italy, which was on the opposite side of the spectrum. I was there when 9/11 happened. I was caught off-guard by my reaction to the tragedy was empathy for all the victims- including the people who had hijacked the planes and took their own lives to prove a point. I found myself in a unique position as an American. I saw people who felt gravely unheard and the lengths to which they were willing to go just to be heard. The idea that you would pass those people off as “crazy” or simply label them “terrorists” seems more dangerous than trying to understand where they were coming from.
The winter, I found myself on boats and trains through Sarajevo and the Balkans all the way to Turkey. I was in Istanbul during Ramazan and had the opportunity to engage local Muslims in dialogue on what had occurred. The whole cycle was an extremely transformative time for me. When I came back to the States, I still opened an office in design, however, I had a bifurcated career. I joined a school-board and became involved in mediation alongside architecture. Most recently, I was offered the 2017 Rotary Peace Fellowship to study peace and conflict resolution in Bangkok for three months and decided that I was finally going to close my design office and take up peacebuilding and mediation full time.
AB: So, how long have you been a member of MBBI, and what do you enjoy most about being part of it?
SM: I first signed up in 2007, I had heard about it at a conference from the founder, Ken Cloke, and I thought it was the perfect mix of international, multi-cultural, and the work I wanted to do. The following year, my design practice took me to Dubai, but I stayed in contact and continued to develop my skills. There is nothing like working with inspiring colleagues on teams with like-minded people- I love the community that MBBI creates.
AB: I understand that you started off with working on the Rwanda Project with MBBI, could you tell us a little bit about that experience? When did you start working on the project?
SM: I believe it was around 2010-2012. What was great about the Rwanda Team was bringing a trauma-informed lens to transformative mediation. Combining the two elements felt meaningful then and has become essential to me now. I continue to apply the lessons I learned from that team. For instance, are we modeling the work on our team that are training people in? So now within our teams, we emphasize trauma-awareness and facilitation. I believe that’s an important piece, moving forward, for how MBBI develops as well. Tying into the Cambodian Project, one of the unique aspects of that project is looking at the sustainability of mediation. We are not only training trainers of mediation in the country, but we are also assisting in the development of their own sustainable model of mediation. How do we support a market and an environment for meditative practices rather than conducting one-off trainings and then disappearing? Though moving slowly, we are looking to support the creation of long-term, sustainable mediation practices.
AB: Could you tell us what the reception to MBBI intervention has been like in Rwanda and now, in Cambodia? Do you think that – I’m sure it does to an extent – the rather grizzly history of the Rwandan genocide played a part in the positive or negative reception to mediation in the region? Conversely, is it any different in Cambodia, or do you find that reception is basically the same?
SM: Yes, definitely, in both contexts they have suffered tremendously. Both Rwanda and Cambodia have grizzly pasts marred with genocide. In Rwanda, however, I perceived there was a bit more openness to the idea of mediation- both because of historical tradition and the Gacaca- locally run community courts who tried perpetrators and because their government has officially adopted mediation and reconciliation as a practice. That has not been the case necessarily in Cambodia. Our partners have been strong advocates for mediation, but it has not been adopted or accepted across the board. There have been overtures from the government to support the idea, but not at the same wholesale level found in Rwanda.
AB: Are there any best practices to mediation that you’d like to share with the readers?
SM: I would impress upon the need to sustain peace through mediation- migrating from a one-off training model. What can participants undergoing training with us do moving forward? How can they carry on mediating and building a peaceable future independently of outside aid? Travelling to a third world country to deliver a training may feel good, but it goes away without an effective forethought or an effective monitoring and evaluation plan follow-up. Fortunately, it is occurring. Sustainability is a big focus for MBBI and the shift is already positive. The strictly volunteer practitioner dependent on donations model is not sustainable, neither for the people we are working with nor MBBI professionals. We must create value for all sides and monetize that value effectively.
AB: Turning back to your own journey, you mentioned earlier that you received the Rotary Peace Fellowship. What was the defining moment when you determined that you were going to leave landscape architecture and go into peacebuilding full time?
SM: Well, the first was simply being at the ACR [Association for Conflict Resolution] Conference in Baltimore with a few colleagues from MBBI. The rich opportunities to have meaningful discussions about where we could be taking mediation as a field and applying it on a community level- make my heart sing. The very next day, I sat through a planning commission hearing. Spending my time getting a project approved, rebutting petty issues, arguing over the placement of palm trees… just didn’t feel like a good use of my gifts any longer. I hit a wall and I knew my previous design work would not fulfill me in the same way just one weekend with my MBBI colleagues did. The Fellowship and spending three months away, gave me an excuse to tell my clients that I would be pursuing this full time now. I told my employees that we would be transitioning out over the next three months. We closed the office and it allowed me to dive fully into the work. Being in Thailand gave me the head space to ask myself difficult questions and challenge myself on a personal level to figure out what steps to take next.
AB: I’m sure that will encourage many of the readers to follow their passions. What do you think are some of the key characteristics of effective mediators?
SM: I think most crucially, the ability to be present, to listen on a deeper level, and come from a place of curiosity and questions that people have been dying to be asked their whole life. Essentially, to know that mediation is not about coming from a place of intellect and methodic interrogation. It is about listening and assisting others to hear.
AB: How do you think peacebuilding has evolved over the past decade?
SM: Speaking for myself, I’ve seen a value towards trauma awareness and self-care. Originally, I thought being a diplomat or a peacebuilder meant you came into the situation dutifully to help others. I was not as aware of what effects of working in vulnerable environments might have on you or the people you are working with. Instead of coming with answers, I have learned that being in service means asking questions. I have greater sense of responsibility amongst teams to practice self-care and be aware of the trauma that you are experiencing.
AB: How do the people on the ground receive you? As you said, trauma awareness was given less importance which tells us that is has been built up and developed. For instance, when you started with the Rwanda Project, what were people’s reactions towards you, a “Western” man?
SM: The important part to know is that […]we don’t do mediation in foreign countries, we only train the trainers. But, to your point, we were received warmly- like family. It exciting having a Western organization coming in and giving their organization clout. Any sort of international exposure is welcome. The danger is that they agree to just about anything you offer. If you suggest trauma-informed training, they say yes. If you want to spend the time learning soccer together, they say yes. This is why asking the right questions and having those questions come from them, is essential. That only comes from meeting them, sitting with them, hearing the questions they ask first, and get to a meaningful discussion about needs.
AB: Finally, who do you think should join MBBI, and why?
SM: I would like to see a greater range of professions identifying themselves as mediators. I would like to see doctors, teachers, engineers, architects like myself, and many others. In reality, you are mediating all the time- regardless of your field. To the extent that MBBI can invite non-traditional professions to move towards mediation through dialogue, facilitation, I strongly believe that MBBI and positive peace can grow exponentially rather than incrementally.