by Florence de Vesvrotte, MBBI Writer
Over the past few weeks, I have been in a remote but ongoing conversation with Jeffrey, about his experience and relationship with mediation and MBBI. He has lots of insight into our practice as mediators— and tips for young mediators too! Here is what he says …
What is MBBC and how does it work with MBBI?
“MBB Consulting is the advisory division of MBBI. MBBC and MBBI vary in that MBBI’s clients are communities, its service practitioners are volunteer members, its business model is to provide pro bono services, and MBBI service programming tends to be longer in duration. MBBC’s clients however are organisations, companies and Governments, its service providers are consultants and its business model is a fee for service business model.
Both MBBI and MBBC provide alternative dispute resolution services, MBBC being focused on four core services (dispute resolution system design, training, mediation/facilitation, and situation assessments).
Most importantly: while they are both their own entities, MBBC’s creation rests entirely on MBBI. The later gave it a solid network of organisations and a solid reputation for quality and driven work as a base to start from and without which MBBC would not have been possible.”
And how did you become involved with MBBI?
“I went to graduate school in Boston and got a Master’s in public affairs and international relations with a specialisation in conflict— after which I got involved with a USAID project on the rule of law in China. Thanks to this first job I got to tour various justice systems around the world, and learn about best practices in this area. One of the pillars on which we exchanged a lot of information was mediation. I then came across MBBI and saw that they were having a congress in UCLA, California and so I went and met a lot of people. I came across the team running the MBBI Ecuador project, which was all about taking professionals that worked in ancillary industries – like law or business development –and providing them with skillsets and tools of mediation— as well as some of the best practices for creating a mediation practice. A lot of the work they were doing was pretty close to what we were doing with the USAID project with China. I eventually became co-director of Phase 2 of the Ecuador project and that is when I really for the first time started to work for MBBI.”
How did you get involved with ADR and what is your experience in the field?
“There is a quote from Steve Jobs that I like, that says ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards’. The point being that even if we don’t recognise it we often times take decisions that slowly drive us to one bigger objective. In many ways that is how my life has been when it comes to dispute resolution.
As a kid, I would read advice columns religiously and looking back what I saw were people in conflict, and people looking for ideas on how they could use communication skills. I didn’t see it then but I was drawn into these conflicts and the creative nature of problem solving needed. When I got into college a lot of my studies were directly related to conflict too (I went into political science and international relations).
After I graduated I went to Venezuela and worked for a think tank which was using architecture to solve public interest problems, the way they would get buy in from all groups was to look at their interests to find common ground.
In sum, I developed an expertise and interest in dispute resolution without really at the beginning doing any formal training for it. It is only after when I returned to college that I started to take negotiation courses and mediation trainings, after which I went on to this work with China.
My next move and first big step into the professional world was with CDR Associates in Colorado where I became a consultant and started to build more expertise in what CDR is known for: facilitation and consensus building around environmental public policy work. I also did a lot of community mediation on a voluntary basis and worked for a firm called ResoLogics, working especially with technologies.
Finally, I did a lot of international work, for example with the Forum for Cities in Transition from Conflict and the other project I mentioned before in Guatemala, China, Venezuela, Kosovo etc.
And now here I am with MBBC.”
What makes MBBC panel of experts unique?
“What is really unique about this panel is that there such a broad diversity of skills and experiences, which I think is rare for a small organisation. For example, we currently have a roster of 41 consultants from 20 countries delivering services all across the world, speaking 29 languages in total! It is such a remarkable combined set of diversity and experience. Our consultants have served clients such as Quantas Airlines to various governments in passing by Google and the Carnegie Centre, and we deliver to industries spanning from health to oil, energy, and a whole other variety of sectors.
This is unique. But more extraordinary is what brings them together as a group: their belief in MBBI’s mission. We all operate from a value/mission based foundation, and it is that we should all be making a positive impact in our world, and our belief in the localisation of our work.”
What type of clients do you usually engage with?
“We talked about our four core services earlier: dispute system design, assessments, mediation/facilitation, and training. We deliver those services to different types of clients in different practice areas, which we divide into three broad buckets: between companies and communities, where a companies operations can impact the communities in which they work; inside organizations, where we can improve conflict management and communication to improve organizational effectiveness; and among governments and societies, where we can deliver ADR services to support government-related initiatives such as peaceful elections and public dialogues to address community conflict.
So those are our three broad practice areas and we work with all types of clients: government entities, for-profit and non-profit—our largest at the moment being a private sector development company which does international development work.”
What has MBBC accomplished in 2016?
“MBBC launched formally in January 2016. The first year of business consisted in a series of operational activities to get us up and running. We also wanted to bring in new roster members to fill some of the gaps we had identified (we went from 25 to 41 consultants) and we created dynamic relationships with our consultants for them to be real engines of growth in a way that is mutually beneficial.
Finally, we also wanted to build a number of strategic partnerships with organisations that have high credibility because of their good work, that could complement the work we do and with whom we could learn, grow and develop. We have been lucky enough to find and contract with many.”
What are your objectives for 2017?
“We are thinking to double our revenues, learn from some of our lessons from 2016 – many of them being business development related, and finally we have identified areas of opportunities and potential:
- Trauma-informed peacebuilding development assistance
- Law enforcement and community engagement
- Organisational conflict management
- Environmental conflict management
These are all areas in which we have expertise but in which we could easily step things up.”
What is the role of MBBC in the current political climate?
“We have thought a lot about this. We have been discussing this with governors and lawmakers and are toying with the idea of providing conflict resolution trainings to future senators or developing facilitation skills for public dialogues in divided communities—cases that allow us to remain apolitical. We can also provide collaborative communication skills and help prevent the escalation of everyday dealings in law enforcement actions for instance. But our red line has to be to remain fully neutral and impartial actors.”