Removing Obstacles in Situations that Seem Hopeless. Member Spotlight: Ruth Everard

Generally speaking, mediation can be related with the capacity of the mediator to resolve underlying and below-the-surface issues arising between individuals. Better, it is about the mediator’s capacity to lead the parties towards the resolution of their own problems, embarking on a guided (and sometimes constructed) problem-solving process. That is what relates mediation and problem solving so tightly, and such a link appears particularly clear in the person of Ruth Everard, mediator, social activist, and entrepreneur from Cambridge, United Kingdom. Having been born with a harsh genetic condition that hampered her muscle strength and mobility, Ruth grew up as a natural problem solver, which eventually consecrated her to the effective mediator she is today. Aside, she is a successful manager, leading her family business Dragonmobility, and helping thousands of disabled children to enjoy a more liberated life.

Ruth joined MBBI in late 2021, attracted by the broadness and inter-globality of its community. “I found it as a great way of networking, overcoming physical barriers and crossing jurisdictions, and bringing different and fresh perspectives to the table”, she says.

An early problem-solver.

Growing up with a severe physical disability is no easy thing, but thanks to the support of her parents, and especially her mother, Ruth learned how to cope with the problems her condition was generating and could conduct a quite normal existence. “You have to be a problem solver when you cannot lift your own arms” she says, “my mother was key in this process; as a counselor and social worker, she taught me a lot about problem solving, mediation and conflict resolution, that is how I had my first encounter with the field”. Besides, Ruth tells how fundamental the invention of a power wheelchair from her father was, allowing her to attend mainstream schools and enjoy a more ordinary childhood. Coming from such a background, Ruth early demonstrated a keen passion for making things work between people, together with a strong determination towards achieving her own goals. “When I was younger, I found any kind of fight really uncomfortable, I wanted to solve problems before they burst into a conflict”, Ruth recounts. These elements led her towards earning a degree in Law from the University of Oxford, thereafter starting working full-time as a lawyer. Nevertheless, mediation was not an immediate follow-up during the early steps of her career.

Social entrepreneurship and mediation.

Early on in her 20s, Ruth worked as corporate finance solicitor for both Clifford Chance and Lussan Law Firm. However, she soon gave up the corporate world to dedicate herself fully to her family business. Indeed, the engineering of a mechanical, handy-to-use power wheelchair that had eased her condition when she was younger had been successfully translated into a social enterprise by her parents. The team behind Dragonmobility has so far assembled and shipped more than 2000 power wheelchairs for disabled children all across the world, selling them at discount rates for the families in need the most.

She is particularly fond of this commitment, as she is able to infuse hope and comfort in the life of the families her social enterprise assists, bringing her own life experience as a powerful testimony.

Throughout this period, Ruth’s aspiration to learn more about conflict and its resolution grew stronger.

“Early on, I recognized I did not yet have the appropriate wisdom, nor enough life experience to be so presumtuous as to offer conflict resolution to others professionally”, she acknowledges. Without any formal education on the matter, she started slowly by applying mediation precepts and principles into informal situation, such as her day to day working life. “I think I have always had something of a natural mediator in me.” Ruth continues, “Even as a child with my friends, I had always been the person in the middle, the one trying to listen and understand others, and how others were feeling in a tense situation”. Despite such a natural predisposition, she soon realized she needed to follow a formal learning process in order to gain the skills and talent and become a professional mediator. Here, if the pandemic generated great issues to many, it was also the propellent for Ruth’s development as a mediator. Indeed, she would struggle to access week-long mediation training courses as they majorly take place onsite, but the lockdowns and home confinements shifted the whole teaching and training sector towards the digital sphere. Given the circumstances, she could attend a 5-days mediation training over Zoom from the Civil Mediation Council, obtaining a formal accreditation as civil and commercial mediator. “With the pandemic, I finally had the opportunity to build my formal mediation skills and become a accredited mediator”, she says.

Currently, Ruth splits her time between her social entrepreneurship, mainly done voluntarily, and the mediation practice. In 2021, she began offering mediation trading as Green Park Mediation, dealing mainly with contractual and commercial disputes. “I definitely found my place with mediation” she tells, “I never thorougly enjoyed what I was doing as a lawyer. Instead, now I love helping people and solving their needs. I thrive on seeing people thriving”.

Relationships and mediation.

“I love mediation because it is able to solve problems in a very lateral way” Ruth states, by describing what differentiates mediation from other conflict resolution practices. Especially, she puts a lot of emphasis on the re-building of the human connection prior to the rise of the conflict in question, which she finds to be fundamental to ensure a positive outcome of the conflict resolution practice. “What makes mediation so successful is the capacity to focus primarily on the existing relationship between the parties involved in the dispute” she continues, “because once the relationship is safe, the rest, the money, the material harm, all that won’t be so insurmountable, they all become secondary problems”. From here, she recounts basing her mediation sessions first and foremost on helping people re-discover what bonded them before the issue could disrupt their relationship. “Even if they will never speak with each other anymore, if you can restore the relationship and resolve the underlying issues, if they leave the room without those sentiments of hatred and bitterness, they can at least  find a solution to their conflict”, she describes. She concludes by outlining how this relationship-healing process is sometimes stumped and hampered by conducting online mediation sessions, rather than face-to-face sittings, in which individuals lack the same degree of attention to fully get over with the issue.

With talent, determination, and passionate commitment, Ruth managed to realize her ambitions and put her skills and life experience at the service of the people she helped over the course of the years both as a social entrepreneur and mediator. With MBBI, she hopes to develop even more as peacebuilder by propelling synergies throughout its global community of mediators and peace practitioners from across the world. Ruth’s busy schedule means that has not had the opportunity to take part in any working group or project yet, but she is eager get more active in the years to come. “I look forward to making those connections and learning even more about conflict resolution”, Ruth recognizes.

Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer