As things stand today, the world we are living in faces unprecedented challenges. Climate change, social disruption, and economic inequalities are only a few of the problems scourging communities and disrupting the lives of thousands of individuals in any part of the globe. Kathleen Porter, an experienced mediator and facilitator of complex environmental, economic, and social issues, believes in the power of the collective. Together when people commit to listening deeply and taking the time to understand even wildly different worldviews, transformation can occur. Two elements are key within this process: collaboration and regenerative thinking.
Kathy Porter has more than 35 years of experience as a mediator and dialogue facilitator, having taken part in a vast number of multi-stakeholder processes. She currently holds the position of Senior Mediator at Sequoia Mediation with a key focus on climate and social justice conflicts. She will present an MBBI webinar on Climate Justice with her colleague David Savage on November 4th.
Playing together, from the sporting world to the negotiation tables.
Kathy’s entrance into the field of mediation is rather interesting, and it is revelatory of very early interest in collaboration, which would accompany her throughout her career. Although she graduated from the University of British Columbia with a bachelor’s in physical education, her keen interest during these studies was directed to collaborative games and collaborative play, and towards understanding ways in which collaboration could enhance teams’ performance. After an enriching working experience at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, she came back to Canada to be trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. “In this way, I could finally fulfill my dream of becoming involved in conflict resolution”, Kathy says. She describes how this latter passion probably stemmed from the experience she lived as a child living in various European countries, first as a child due to her father’s academic job and later in life to study and work. “Through my living in Europe, I was exposed to different cultures and worldviews. I remember walking through the Checkpoint Charlie in the divided Berlin and thinking “Why cannot we all just get along?”.
Soon, the passion for collaboration and conflict resolution marked Kathy’s transition from the world of sport to the non-profit field, teaching people how to work effectively together. Since her accreditation, Kathy became increasingly involved in mediation and facilitation processes, intervening in many different business contexts such as healthcare, education, environment, and transportation sectors. She usually engaged with multi-stakeholder processes bringing together different actors seeking collaborative solutions. “It is exciting to help people to see each other, to acknowledge their differences. I think we need to give space to acknowledge those differences”.
Art to support mediation.
Despite her record as a mediator, Kathy is not done with learning yet. At the moment, she is composing her final paper for the Master of Design, Strategic Foresight and Innovation at the OCAD University. In her thesis, she is looking at social justice mediation and how art-based techniques can be used to enhance mediation proceedings. “I see that we tend to focus excessively on verbal and written communication, while I am interested in seeing how different techniques for communicating ideas can be helpful to manage the power dynamics in social justice mediation”. With such research, Kathy aims to pioneer innovative ways to use art in order to create meaning among different and non-dominant voices that can be marginalized or silenced at negotiation tables. She is exploring Indigenous and Feminist theories and perspectives where the well-being of the group takes precedence over the more individual-centered of many colonial and patriarchal cultures. Kathy is presently looking for interviewees for her research. If you are interested in participating feel free to be in touch!
Buzzwords: collaboration and regeneration.
Collaboration exists everywhere in the natural world. For Kathy, there is an urgent need to recognize that the challenges to our global ecosystem – climate change, racism, the disease must be faced. There are incredible advantages that can evolve out of the mediated synergy of working together. This is often difficult as centuries of entrenched positions impede the path. Through our differences, we might learn that “there is no one solution to complex problems such as climate change. Dealing effectively with these problems requires us to be comfortable with ambiguity, to live with our differences and to find smaller place-based rather than one big solution”. She acknowledges that those most impacted must be at the table bringing both tacit and explicit knowledge. Words carry layers of meaning which must be examined for impact. Long-held solutions unpacked and examined for their unknown effect. We can only see the world in which we live when viewed through the eyes of the other.
In her view, such a collaborative mindset has to go hand in hand with another revolution, concerning the way we envision the systems that compose our global society. For decades, the word ‘sustainability’ has been resounding, albeit with scarce results, within the environmental, economic, and social spheres. Regenerative thinking “reminds us that to be sustaining for the long term we must give back for what we have taken”. Clearly, such an approach can find countless applications in several fields. With regards to the climate change problem, which Kathy keeps particularly at her heart, regenerative thinking invites us all to ask, “what we can do to protect the planet and all living beings who inhabit her?” Reflecting on her long career, she maintains an excitement for the many just and regenerative futures being birthed around the world every day.
Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer