As part of a reintegration and reconciliation process after the historic signing of the 2016 Peace Accord in Colombia between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), five ex-FARC combatants and three members of community received rafting training from a Costa Rican outfitter to spearhead an ecotourism project in Miravalle, Colombia and formed the Rafting for Peace initiative. The Rafting for Peace team was formally recognized by the Colombian government and international community and was invited to participate in the World Rafting Championships on the Tully River in Queensland, Australia in May 2019.
During their time in Australia, the team visited the Rotary Peace Centre and the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) at the University of Queensland (UQ). At UQ, the team engaged in peacebuilding activities through a mix of intercultural dialogue exchange, education, and community building events - one of which was the Colombian Café.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, Dialogue Facilitator, and Mediator, I had the honor to design and facilitate the Colombian Café event. The objective of the Café was to provide an opportunity for rafting team members, United Nations staff, and the UQ community to engage in dialogue about reincorporation, reconciliation, and everyday peacebuilding. This enhanced student experience, skill building, and networking related to peace and international development. It also served as an opportunity for the rafting team to share their experiences and learn about Australian conflict, culture, and sport, and for the Colombian community to connect and learn together. Participants increased capacities to engage in intercultural exchange, understanding, and active listening. Through communicating, we strengthened relationships and resilience to build community. An unanticipated outcome was when real-time reconciliation occurred...
The reconciliation process was possible because the participants had the courage to be vulnerable to ask questions and share about their experiences. Many UQ participants were Colombian nationals who were impacted by the conflict. One participant pulled me aside and shared their experience, having lost family members due to violence perpetrated by former FARC-EP members. When they shared the story at the group table, tears were shed, hearts were opened, and human connection enabled real-time reconciliation. Throughout the event, there were many similar moments at each table where people shared stories, smiles, and tears. In the end, a sense of possibility and peace the emerged only because the participants moved through difficult feelings and memories and were able to share as part of the healing, reconciliation, and peacebuilding process.
While there are still challenges to building sustainable peace in Colombia, and personal and community healing and reconciliation is a process, the event was part of a larger process to build everyday peace one relationship at a time. This would not have been possible without the support of the Rafting for Peace team, the APR2P team and student coalition, Rotary Peace Fellow and my colleague and friend Isabella Sinisterra, Mauricio Artiñano and the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, UQ students and staff volunteers, UQ Latin American Student Association, Latin House, The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the The UQ School of Political Science and UQ School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
To learn about and support the Rafting for Peace team, check out this video on their Facebook page:
Learn about the UN Verification Mission’s work here:
About the APR2P Centre: https://r2pasiapacific.org/
What do UQ, John Lennon, and Brazil have in common? They converge at the intersection of peacebuilding, public policy, and creating agents of social change. Thanks to the generosity of the HASS team who awarded me a Globetrotters Grant, I was able to participate in the International Public Policy Association (IPPA) and National School of Public Administration (ENAP)’s 4th edition of the International Summer School on Public Policy in Brasilia, Brazil from December 10-14, 2018, and Lennon’s quote was at the center of the course.
The main objective of the International Summer School was to provide advice and knowledge on public policy theories, concepts, and methodologies in policy analysis. A mix of public policy practitioners, master’s and PhD level students attended the course. In total we represented twenty-seven countries! Each day, we attended morning lectures and afternoon workshops in small groups taught by internationally renowned scholars and policy experts. Professor M. Ramesh facilitated my group of policy practitioners and students from Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Australia & USA (both represented by me).
Our task for the week was to first understand, assess, and critique the policy process. We came to understand policy as the intention to make a difference in people’s lives by addressing a problem to solve. However, we discovered there are challenges in this problematization related to untapped capacity for innovation and limits regarding communication strategies. Ramesh urged us to think outside the box to improve the process of policy design, implementation, and evaluation. Rather than trying to merely solve a problem, we took time to understand the problem itself, using case studies from each of our countries, research, and experiences. Some emergent themes to improve policy processes included defining success, building trust, improving communication, and allowing space for reflection and creativity to imagine new possibilities and approaches. Throughout the week we considered Albert Einstein’s idea, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” With this in mind, we each created and presented a policy brief to a mock president and shared feedback with each other.
The policy brief I presented was in the form of a hands-on learning activity that encouraged increased communication and collaboration for policy makers. Five volunteers from the group were tasked to each fulfill a role in order to solve a problem and achieve a goal. One person was blindfolded and was allocated a ‘risk management’ support staff, one was the speaker, another could use only non-verbal communication, and one came to realize they were ‘marginalized’ and left out of the activity. The non-talker was given the task to communicate to the speaker who directed the blindfolded person to draw a circle on a piece of paper. While this seemingly simple task was eventually completed, the roles were confused, the non-talker accidentally spoke, and the marginalized volunteer felt really left out. We debriefed the activity and generated a better understanding of the complexity of the policy process. The participants and observers learned that creating policy is not just about solving problems. We reflected on the importance of understanding the problem before implementing solutions based on perceived urgency. This approach to engaging the ‘policy makers’ in an activity where they took the proverbial 55 minutes to understand the problem helped them tap into their own agency and abilities to more effectively engage in the policy process. In this case, learning by doing was a beneficial step to increase agency, improve creative thinking, and encourage collaborative teamwork for these real-life policy makers.
In addition to participating in and learning from the course in Brasilia, I made new international friends, developed an affinity for Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheesy bread), and attended a number of cultural activities including dancing to live samba bands. During a city-tour, a group of us happened to meet the Armenian Ambassador to Brazil and snapped a fun selfie with him. Additional outcomes of the course included mobilizing an international network, sharing and building upon experiences, and contributing to improve the quality of worldwide governance. After participating in the course, I now believe that John Lennon’s quote, “A dream that we dream together is reality,” is truly possible. Thanks again to HASS, the Globetrotters team, and especially to Dr. Prudence Brown from the UQ School of Political Science and International Studies for helping me make my dream of participating in the course and learning about public policy possible.
This article was originally published on 26 December 2018 at https://hass.uq.edu.au/public-policy-brazil-dream-we-dream-together-reality-john-lennon
Working with people can be both challenging and rewarding. You might find yourself waiting for your turn to talk rather than actively listening to what someone else is saying. This common human experience can happen in a variety of contexts from team meetings to negotiations or in discussions with family or friends. In order to make conversations productive and not escalate or generate conflict, it is important to consider the following:
ACTIVE LISTENING: Taking the time to listen to what the other person is saying can open pathways to collaboration and mutual understanding. A helpful acronym to add to your collection is WAIT: Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself this question and take a moment to reflect if what you want to say is actually useful or beneficial in this moment.
A work around for team meetings when time may be limited is to use the Parking Lot tool. This can be a piece of paper where someone notes the additional ideas not on the meeting agenda and is accountable for following up thereafter. This ensures that people have a space to share their ideas and that their voices are heard.
CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING: What you say may be different than what you mean. What you hear may be different from what the other person said or meant. Confusing? But, it doesn’t have to be. One way to check for understanding is to repeat back or summarize what the other person said. This builds upon active listening and creates not only understanding but TRUST as well. Checking for understanding allows you to be vulnerable and demonstrate your commitment to the person, conversation, and the project. Try it out:
It sounds like you are… Let me make sure I understand…
CLARIFY: Herein lies the Magic Question. When engaged in dialogue and practicing active listening and checking for understanding, a game-changing technique is to ask WHY. For example, someone is insistent upon changing a policy or that they are right, [insert your experience], you know you’ve been there. Arriving at this head-butting crossroads can often be frustrating. In order to problem solve collaboratively, ask WHY and be curious.
Why is that important to you? ... Can you tell me more about that?
We all work with other people, and your conversations can become easier and more productive by practicing these tools. By engaging in active listening, you can increase the positive outcomes of the conversation. By checking for understanding, you can build trust and move through difficulties. By clarifying and asking the Magic Question, you can step up your communication game and move though challenges, turning obstacle into opportunity. Give it a go and feel free to post a response to share success stories, challenges, or other tools you use.
Originally published November 9, 2018 on LinkedIn: