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| March 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

The National Conflict Resolution Center Celebrates 30 Years of Peacemaker Awards

Steve Dinkin is CEO of the National Conflict Resolution Center.

Thirty years ago, with a cadre of attorneys, activists, civic-minded citizens, Liz O’Brien, CEO of the S. D. Mediation Center, launched the organization’s Peacemaker Awards. It was time. The group, wholly dedicated to the practice, nevertheless struggled – as non-profits often do – with funds, visibility, with community recognition. Would those early Peacemaker Awards help? Indeed. Even though the first few years of the Awards were a little luncheon-in-the-park-ish, by the time 15 years had passed, the community understood – even embraced – the merits of meditation. Under O’Brien’s leadership, Peacemaker had become a welcome San Diego event .

Today, O’Brien works out of Denver, continuing to be that region’s “go-to” expert on the subject. At the helm of the organization for the past 15 years is CEO Steve Dinkin, having hailed from the east to continue the organization’s impact. O’Brien and Dinkin gave us their perspectives on mediation – and the awards.

LW: Not that “no one” ever heard of mediation 30 years ago, but then, the practice still needed a definition, some inspiration for disputants to actually embrace it, vs. what folks were inclined to do – go to court?

O’Brien: 30 years ago it took most civil cases three years to get to the judge, and then the judge proceeded to order a settlement conference. Very few cases actually went to court. Satisfaction rates were very low for resolved disputes. There was also research that indicated that imposed settlements were not so successful; instead, disputants participating in the process led to better outcomes, greater satisfaction and more compliance.

LW: What led you and your team to launch a mediation program?

O’Brien: I’d been hired by the Law Center of the University of San Diego to manage mediation programs in Mira Mesa and Golden Hill. Our team agreed that this was too limiting. Instead, began providing services throughout the city. We named ourselves S. D. Mediation Center (SDMC), serving small claims, Superior Court, divorce, HOA, juvenile court, EEO, Army, Navy, etc., and continuing to undertake community cases. The team was so creative and competent. It all worked, and is still going strong.

LW: This is the 30th year of the Peacemaker Awards. How much credit do you give it for publicizing, growing the practice of mediation and of course, the growth of the organization?

O’Brien: Julie Mazo, a mediator, and I came up with Peacemaker. While our work was good, and we were busy, we were also cash poor, mediator rich – no one had ever heard of us. The event also got the attention of the judiciary; there were clearly cases that did not belong on an already overburdened docket. With the event’s publicity, we became the vehicle to get even more disputes into mediated agreement.

LW: What were your greatest challenges?

O’Brien: The greatest was convincing the courts, to take us seriously. Today, mediation is taught in most law schools. And, getting people to the table. It’s hard to sit across from an adversary, a niggling neighbor, someone who owes you money, your ex –wife, its harder than it sounds. In the beginning, lawyers ignored us. Then, they said only lawyers could be mediators. Today, most list mediation as one of their services.

We were trying to get disputes solved faster, more effectively and way more affordably. Also, our message was that people, given the opportunity and a skilled neutral mediator, are entirely capable of managing conflicts.

LW: By the time you left, the SDMC had grown, to say the least. How did you measure your success by then?

O’Brien: We’d earned darn near every award available. Kudos from People to Watch, League of Women Voters, Bar Association Best Org, Healers of Conflict Award, among others. We helped establish the Southern California Mediation Association and The California Dispute Resolution Council. We were the first to train in Germany, Austria and many of the Eastern European countries. Significantly, we had 250 trained and ready mediators.

LW: When you left, you’d put in 17 years at the helm. How are you presently involved in mediation?

O’Brien: I now set up mediation centers internationally, in Mexico, Peru and Eastern Europe. I also mediate EEO cases, and I’m busy as a conference speaker.

LW: What do you think of how your “baby” has grown up?

O’Brien: So pleased that its still going strong; both humbled and gratified at having laid the groundwork for a solid institution.

LW: Steve, by the time your took the helm of the organization, Peacemaker had been an annual event for 15 years. Since then, you’ve strengthened the scope and breadth of the organization. Importantly, you’d changed the name, to the National Conflict Resolution Center.

Dinkin: We changed the name to reflect the growth and outreach of the organization. By then, our work encapsulated all forms of conflict resolution. Although we’re based here, we’ve provided our services to all levels of society.

LW: What have been your greatest challenges?

Dinkin: Unfortunately, we now live in a world where incivility – conflict – is pervasive. While the challenge is greater, and conflicts exist throughout society – family, college, workplace, etc. – the task is to address it in all its contexts.

In the community, we’ve developed a series of trainings in communication, conflict resolution, inclusivity, etc. all grounded in the basic principles of mediation. We proactively address disputes before they escalate into the court system – this is how we can, hopefully, transform our culture into a more peaceful society.

LW: You’ve added a series of new initiatives, too? I assume these are training programs?

Dinkin: Importantly, yes. One is for at-risk youth, called, Avoiding the Pipeline to Prison, which we’ll feature at the Peacemaker dinner. We teach restorative justice with the San Diego Unified School District and our law enforcement.

Another. the Campus Civility Initiative, in which thirteen university campuses in California and Arizona instruct student leaders with tools and life skills, to be more inclusive.

We also conduct an empowerment program, for teaching life skills to at-risk homeless, veterans, foster youth, refugees, etc., helping them become effective members of society.

LW: Are there any sorts of disputes you don’t address in mediation?

Dinkin: By and large, we don’t handle domestic violence, in which a power imbalance usually exists, and where one individual might be coerced into an agreement. I want to emphasize that in mediation, the results we seek and mediate must be voluntary, free and fair.

LW: By now, its 30th year, what have you added to the Awards?

Dinkin: Ten years ago, realizing that incivility had become so pervasive, we felt that publicizing national Peacemakers could make a significant contribution to the practice. The first national award went to Judah and Ruth Pearl, who, responding to their son Daniel’s murder in Pakistan by Islamic extremists, created the Daniel Pearl Foundation, devoted to improving Muslim-Jewish relations. Another example is Representative John Lewis, who has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, and securing civil liberties.

We continue to seek creative solutions to disputes, determined to make strong contributions to effect positive societal change.

The 2018 KPBS and NCRC Community Heroes are Elizabeth Bustos for Racial Justice and Equity; Anne Wilson for Affordable Housing; Elizabeth Lopez for Immigration; and Diane Takvorian for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. No Labels receives the National Peacemaker award; Philanthropy in Peacemaking goes to San Diego Padres’ Peter Seidler and Dan Shea.

The 30th annual Peacemaker Awards takes place on Saturday, April 7, at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina. Tickets can be purchased online at www.NCRConline.com, or by phone: (619) 238-2400, ext. 222.


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