Beyond all work directly related to my thesis, I have been getting my feet wet in a number of other departmental projects. For instance, I recently volunteered at a week-long training program entitled “Trust, Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation.”
This program, put on by the ICCS (Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security), “focused on the role of mediation in managing and transforming political conflicts, ranging from regional territorial disputes to international diplomacy between global powers. (It also explored) how people can develop trust and empathy with their adversaries, and how this can transform conflicts at local, regional, or state levels.”
My role was essentially to help set/clear up for all speakers, as well as a number of other administrative and practical tasks. However, this was not a huge commitment, and meant that I was able to attend the conference free of charge.
I thought the week was very informative, and I took a lot away from lectures such as:
- Dialogue across cultures
- The role of guarantees in mediation
- Trust-building and global challenges
- Keynote Lecture: What is diplomacy, and why? (by Alan Charlton, former British Ambassador to Brazil)
- Emotional decision-making in crisis and conflict
- The role of empathy in mediation
Beyond different lectures, there were also a practical training component to this training. Specifically, we looked at two different types of mediation. First, “low-power” or small-scale mediation conducted by Joan McGregor, a mediation consultant who has decades of experience primarily in South Africa. Second, we completed a “Harvard Role Play” about the future of Hebron, specifically simulating a multi-issue facilitated negotiation among Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank city of Hebron to discuss land claims, security, and border control.
Both of these practical trainings, as well as the various lectures, were very informative. The participants were from mixed backgrounds, ranging from bachelor students and those who have been continuously in education to those having decades of practical experience. This provided incredible insight, as well as a consideration into the necessity of practical experience. While academia is undoubtably important, too often those of us who are “career academics” only focus on theory and policy, potentially disregarding the human element or reality of significant political crises such as Hebron. Learning with and from others who spend their lives mediating conflict was therefore very enlightening.
Even though this was not directly related to my thesis, I’m grateful for the opportunity provided. It was a great way to branch out and explore more academic life at Birmingham.