The Peacebuilding Podcast : From Conflict To Common Ground
Ep 46: Susan Coleman and Dean Foster - Culture, Gender and Negotiation

Ep 46: Susan Coleman and Dean Foster - Culture, Gender and Negotiation

July 7, 2020

As you know, I believe that empowering women, getting gender right on the planet, is the most impactful peacebuilding initiative we humans can undertake. Thus, one of my main initiatives these days focuses on building women's skill in negotiation. I'm super excited to say that I just completed my first online offering of what I call the mini-workshop series on women, negotiation and power. I had 14 participants, a great group from around the world that gathered weekly on zoom (thank God for zoom) for about a month. As always, I appreciated the diversity in the group. From national origin or current residence, folks were from the UK, South Sudan, Russia, Australia, Colombia, Morocco, Yangon, the United States (East and West Coast) and, notably to me, there was a lot of generational diversity.

For women, especially as we step into our leadership across the world, it feels to me critical that we are talking to each other across nation, tribe AND across age. We have a lot to learn from each other.

Most excitedly for me, I think participants got the connection between how we negotiate in our individual lives, in our families, in our workplaces, — and what is happening on the world stage. I can feel the power of a cohort of women who understand collaboration in the face of conflict, and how to use it for our own benefit and in our leadership in the world around us. If you or anyone you know is interested in staying tuned to this initiative, you can put your name on my Women, Negotiation and Power blog list here.

In this current episode, on negotiation, gender and culture, I talked with my colleague and return guest, Dean Foster of

Dean has extremely stellar credentials in the field of cross-cultural communication, has worked with most major Fortune 500 companies, pretty much every cultural group on Earth, national governments, the UN etc. He is an author, speaker, and I like this — a “cultural concierge”.

Dean and I go way back and cut our teeth together with Ellen Raider and Ellen Raider International who was one of the first to teach intercultural negotiation around the world. Dean went on to quote-unquote “major” in cross-cultural communication with a quote-unquote “minor” in negotiation, and I went on to “major” in negotiation and collaborative processes, with a “minor” in intercultural communication.

Negotiation is a very culture-bound concept: Indeed, you can't really think about negotiation without considering culture. And certainly for women in many cultures, cultural norms clamp our mouths shut — we just can't negotiate period. For example, I had a client — a young woman from China that I was with in Seoul — and she was saying, “I love this material.” (We were doing a collaborative negotiation skills course.) “But I can't negotiate at home: I just do what I'm told. And actually, all the money I earn from my job, it goes to my brother.”

What do I mean by culture? It's often commonly thought of as artifacts, music, etc. I'll call that “high culture”. What we're talking about here is what goes on below the iceberg, if you will, what's happening in the deep root system of the tree, what I'll call “worldview”. Geert Hofstede, who was a Dutch researcher in the area, and whose thinking I've used over the years, defined culture as the “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from another.” It’s like a group personality, if you will. Culture is to a group what personality is to an individual.

And culture is just the way that different humans on the planet have come up with the challenges and opportunities of living on our particular section of the globe.

In this episode, I wanted to explore with Dean a question that I started thinking about as I was writing my book on women and negotiation, which hopefully will be coming soon. He and I have shared with audiences for years the variables that research highlights as differentiating national cultural groups — like individualism, uncertainty, attitudes towards time, attitudes towards authority (often known as power distance), task versus quality of life orientation, things like that.

But how do these variables differ by gender within one cultural group?

If in one country, where the dominant cultural norm shows up as highly individualistic, does that mean that if the men and women were looked at as subgroups, they would be equally, highly individualistic?

So that's what we're going to talk about here. How does gender impact the cultural variables that research has identified? And we're going to do this just based on our own empirical evidence, our experience over the years of working in this area.

One other thing, this episode was recorded right at the beginning of the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, but before the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests about racial justice and police brutality which then rippled around the world. From working all over the globe, one of the things that I've learned about us humans is that we are much more alike than we are different. That's true of nations, tribes, genders, all of it. We have the same categories of needs — physical, security, belonging, etc., the same categories of feelings — mad, sad, glad, etc.

But how these manifest is impacted by culture.

It may seem simple to say, but simple stuff is often most worth saying, and ever more important to emphasize in our shrinking and contentious world, that when you create a climate that is collaborative across difference, that allows people to meet their basic needs, you don't need coercive and violent police, and you don't need a hyper-militarized planet either. When you build a collaborative climate in a family, a team, a group or a world, you do not get or you greatly minimize “groupo- centrism”, my elegant word for identity-group polarization. You do not need to dominate one cultural group with another. You do not need to put trillions into weapons especially when that money is so sorely needed to heal our declining planet.

But understanding cultural differences is super important and super rich, and makes life much more interesting. So, if you are someone who has followed the cross cultural literature, or even if you have not, I know you will enjoy this conversation, about culture and gender.

We believe we have raised more questions than we have answered but perhaps someone listening will get inspired and do some welcome research in the area.

If you have any thoughts on our conversation, we'd love to you to share them in the comment section of our podcast blog below.

Ep 45: Kristina Lunz: A Feminist Foreign Policy

Ep 45: Kristina Lunz: A Feminist Foreign Policy

April 28, 2020

If my country, the United States, were to adopt a feminist foreign policy, I believe there would be a major, positive shift on this planet. I tweeted that sentiment after interviewing my current guest, Kristina Lunz.  I was a little nervous about doing it. I’m not sure exactly why.  Speaking your truth is always a little scary, especially for us women. But I got a lot of likes on Twitter from men and women alike. That was interesting to see.

What is a feminist foreign policy? I will let Kristina mostly answer this question because she will do it much better than I. But I will say at the outset that, like this podcast, it supports processes and leadership that build common ground rather than dividing and polarizing people. It emphasizes more of the win-win, less win-lose to resolve differences.

Frankly, the egocentric “I want it now and it's your fault that I can't get it”, the “blame game”, is wearing super thin on me. This includes the drumming up of conflict and zero-sum thinking, and attacking people to get your interests met as a style. It’s not just developmentally juvenile, it’s plain dangerous, especially if the person using it has a lot of power. And its end-game is a homogeneous world where one dominant cultural group, often white straight men, are on top, with the rest of us supporting them and dependent on them for handouts and our survival.  I know I’m not interested in that, and I know so many others -- men, women, people  -- who are not either.

This podcast advocates empowering women, not just because it's an end in itself, which it is, but because it's the most powerful way to get to a more peaceful and sustainable planet for all of us.  To begin with, you can only have real democracy when you have real democracy starting at home — and better sex too, by the way.

I hope you've noticed that what the countries with the best coronavirus responses have in common is that they are run by women. This is not because there aren't many great men leaders out there, but because these women are probably more effortlessly bringing the quality of collaboration to the table which is so sorely needed on the planet right now.  My greatest wish for the silver lining of this pandemic is that it deeply underscores our interdependence and need to further develop our collaborative skills.  As Kurt Lewin, a grandfather of social psychology said long ago, everyone understands authority, but democracy is a learned behavior.

The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) was co- founded by my current guest, Kristina Lunz. It's an international research and advocacy organization, was established in 2016, and is dedicated to promoting feminist foreign policy across the globe. The problem CFFP addresses is outdated, patriarchal structures, and their vision is to create an intersectional approach to foreign policy globally.

Kristina tells me that research shows that…

"The most significant factor toward whether a country is peaceful within its own borders or towards other countries is the level of gender equality. So, if that's true, it's pretty easy. It just means that there won't be any peace without feminism."

Kristina is an award-winning human rights activist, co-founder and Germany Director of the Center for Feminist Foreign Policy and advisor to the German Federal Foreign Office. She was also recently named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. She graduated with distinction from University College London School of Public Policy, and did a second Masters at the Oxford Department of International Development in diplomacy. Her activism started at Oxford and has continued ever since.

I've learned so much from doing this episode and talking to Kristina. Here are a few of the many things that stand out:

  • I spent years traveling to The Hague to provide intercultural negotiation skills programs for ICTY, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia), but wasn't aware until now that 100 years ago, during the First World War, about 1500 women came to the Hague from many parts for the International Congress for Women. They called for an end to the First World War and to establish a set of resolutions to avoid another World War. These included, for example, the dismantling of the military-industrial complex, the prioritization of mediation for conflict resolution, and the democratization of foreign policy, reverberations of themes which have motivated me throughout my life.  History is always so interesting.

  • I found it deeply moving that Sweden describes its government as “feminist” and created the first feminist foreign policy (for modern times) in 2014. This was followed by Canada, followed by Mexico. Check out the CFFP website to see the history of feminist foreign policy. It shows what's possible.

  • I found it interesting to hear about the actor, Emma Watson's conversation with the academic Valerie Hudson, and the latter's new book called The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide. I can’t wait to read it and hope to get Hudson on the podcast soon. In reading the transcript of that conversation, I learned from Emma Thompson that I can refer to myself as “self-partnering” rather than “single”. I’ve enjoyed my journey of the last 10 years living without a partner, though I've dated some wonderful guys. Self-partnering somehow struck me as empowering because living without the protection of a guy can still feel frightening to so many women around the world, myself included.

So I'll stop there and let you listen to Kristina Lunz, a woman who is really on fire, and is going to do a lot to contribute to our common great future.

Ep 44: Deborah Heifetz and Martha Eddy: Reclaiming the Female Body for Power in Negotiation

Ep 44: Deborah Heifetz and Martha Eddy: Reclaiming the Female Body for Power in Negotiation

April 9, 2020

Wow, what strange, nerve-racking and global times we are living in. This pandemic certainly underscores for me how interdependent we all are and how important it is – MORE THAN EVER – that we pull together to create a more livable, humane, pleasurable and sustainable world.  There is great power in where we place our attention – and we can focus on the positive world we are trying to create – the diamonds that form under great pressure, the lotus flower than blooms out of the muck.  To quote a signature message of this podcast (Pete Drucker) “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

Our podcast today focuses on negotiation skills for women, and the body. This topic evokes a lot in me.  In fact, the night before I recorded it, I woke up at three in the morning and wrote down these thoughts. 

• First, that (as my last guest Thomas Hubl suggested), “the feminine” is the body;

• That my body didn't belong to me for a lot of my life;

• That my sexuality also didn't belong to me until I did a lot of work to reclaim it;

• Regarding the phrases “I want” and “I need”, which are so important in negotiation and conflict resolution -- I wasn't supposed to have wants, and I'm not sure about needs either. As a girl in my family, I was supposed to serve, and I was supposed to accommodate;

• It was hard for me to have a clear connection to my “yes” and particularly to my “no”. And, if not connected to your “no”, it can be difficult to walk away from a negotiation -- which is fundamental to power;

• I didn't feel safe claiming value, a popular negotiation concept, because I was taught so deeply that I was supposed to let a man do that; 

• Though, throughout the course of my life I have cleared out a lot of unhelpful acculturation, I'm aware of the depth with which these ideas still live in my body.

My two guests in this episode, Dr. Deborah Heifetz and Dr. Martha Eddy, are both dancers and embodiment conflict resolution experts. Among other cool things about Deborah, she served as a special advisor to the crisis management team of the Israeli police and acted in Track II Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. She currently lives in northern Italy where, with her husband and other Italian changemakers, they are working to have their geo- region become a prototype for human scale, community-based sustainable development.

Martha is an author, researcher and worldwide lecturer on somatics (i.e. the body as experienced from within), peace and violence prevention and the role of the body in negotiation. She lives with her family in New York City.

As I recounted my 3a.m. thoughts to the two of them, Martha shook her head in agreement. As someone who is so deeply experienced with the body, she affirmed that my reality is pretty universal to women. She’s not aware of many, if not any cultures that uplift the strength and value of the female, such that the female body, or our experience as females in the body, comes forth as power automatically. It's like “swimming upstream to find our power and reclaim it” she says.

For Deborah, the first trauma she experienced was being born female.  She had three older brothers, a very patriarchal father and mother, and felt inherently less valuable. She says, “ I was the whipped cream on the cake, but I didn't want to be the whipped cream, I wanted to be the cake. I wanted to be where the action was, where the real politic was.”

In talking about the inspiration for her work, Martha talks about the influence of her gender-fluid parents, her father who had sexual relations with men and liked gardening, her mother who liked to shoot out windows with her BB gun, and her very sensitive brother, who was not allowed to be the way he was in the very macho and rough climate of Spanish Harlem in New York City.

Deborah says “the body is the central location for social change -- that it all begins with the body.” Martha concretely observes that young women who literally can pull their own body weight up, have a different kind of agency, a different kind of ability to self protect. We women  “need to self-assert, without hiding, to step, forward to stand up. These words mean something” she says.

Please enjoy these two unique voices and share with us in the comments below “What is your experience of the body in negotiation?”

Ep 43: Thomas Hübl: Healing Collective Trauma

Ep 43: Thomas Hübl: Healing Collective Trauma

January 13, 2020
One of the things I love most about doing this podcast is I get to spend time with, and really "tune in" to some amazing people.

Thomas Hubl is one of them.

Thomas is a contemporary spiritual teacher – sometimes referred to as a modern mystic.

His teaching combines somatic awareness, advanced meditation and transformational practices that address both individual and collective trauma.

I was introduced to him through my friend and colleague Amy Fox and affiliation with Mobius Executive Leadership.  He was working with a group of us organizational consulting types bringing the wisdom traditions to the world of work.  I also participated in the online course he created with celebrated negotiation expert William Ury – Mediate and Mediate

Thomas’ presence is incredibly light, smart, and deep and always seems to elicit in me an inner smile. He’s never afraid to tackle the difficult stuff and does it by listening, as he says, with “eyes all over his body”.  It’s a whole body listening practice I have adopted from him.

In the short time I have known him, I have seen his visibility grow rapidly around the globe.

He is a master with:

  • Building community
  • Managing projection and his own authority in groups
  • Somatics
  • Epigenetics 
  • and the specifc topic of this podcast, Healing Collective Trauma
As my listeners know, I started this podcast because there is a “process crisis” in the world – we use too much win-lose, debate-based processes to deal with our differences, and the media just loves it. Win-lose processes are certainly better than use-of-force but, because they are win-lose, they can lead to use-of-force quickly -- as we can see from looking around the globe. They are not relational, they are patriarchal in origin and they dumb down us humans in terms of how incredibly capable we are of managing complexity and building common ground with each other given the right container and good facilitation.

I wanted to interview Thomas because of the large group processes he has designed -- for up to 1000 people at a time -- to heal collective trauma.

This kind of work truly excites me.

As Thomas says “we have all been born into a collectively traumatized field and collective trauma needs collective healing.”

While I have never personally experienced one of Thomas large group processes, I can tell how amazing they are because of how many large group process I have led and participated in.  He started this work about 15 years ago under the banner of what he calls the Pocket Project and has brought together thousands of Germans and Israelis to acknowledge, face and heal the cultural shadow left by the Holocaust. 

He has then gone on to do processes in other parts of the world addressing the various “scars” of humanity that exist everywhere.

The other day, I was talking to a very close friend who is now about 50, grew up in Germany and lives in the United States. I know her struggles well, her desire to break out and manifest what I call a culture-shifting entrepreneurial enterprise. Without knowing I was working on the post production of this episode with Thomas, she started sharing with me her heightened awareness that the only way she was going to move forward was to unfreeze the past – that there is an “absent”, “nowhere” feel to her and her entire generation of Germans, and how much she suspects now that WWII was a direct result of all the undigested trauma of WW1.  

I felt the same kind of absence in Beirut when I was there a few decades back, and a similar awareness in myself about how I have had to unfreeze and feel the sexual trauma from my past in order to heal it and stop it from recycling to the next generation.

To quote Thomas in this episode... 

"The past doesn’t just disappear. The past needs to be digested".
"Many of the conflicts we see in the world are actually wounds that break open again, that show up again in different forms” because they have not been processed or digested.

So Thomas' processes are about exactly that – digesting and processing those scars around the globe we humans have created so they do not need to recycle themselves. It’s like a chimney cleaning he says. The more you do it the cleaner it gets, the less reactivity people experience, the more they are able to come fully into the present no longer triggered by unseen ghosts in their beings.

This resonates with my gestalt training and specifically the "paradoxical theory of change" – that the only way to “change” is to integrate fully the “what is” -- to embrace the shadow and the alienated parts of the self or system.

And, Thomas recommends, to do this kind of work in community, with solid facilitation, and presence. 

Throughout the interview, we touched on patriarchy as a collective trauma, the thousands of years patriarchal structures have been in place, their connection to war, the woman’s holocaust in Europe where millions were burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft, the challenges for women to release our codependent conditioning and step fully into our leadership and power. “Yes”, Thomas agrees, “#metoo was a trauma eruption”. I am left with a desire to create a large group process with him to address it as I believe it is the core trauma of all the other "traumas of domination.

So please give a listen, share widely if you can, write a comment on our blog here and learn more about Thomas here

P.S. For great content on Women, Negotiation and Power,  join our list here or follow us on Facebook at for our latest updates.

P.P.S. Listen as Susan talks about the motivation behind starting this podcast.

Important References / Links
William Ury -
Amy Fox -
Mobius Executive Leadership -
Meditate and Mediate -

Ep 42: Riya Yuyada: Crown the Woman

Ep 42: Riya Yuyada: Crown the Woman

November 18, 2019

Some of the more interesting assignments I have had in recent years have been with the United Nations peacekeeping missions -- four times in S Sudan and once a few months ago in the Central African Republic. It’s hard not to notice that peacekeeping missions are often set up in countries that are plagued with what some call “the resource curse” – oil that brings with it conflict and often, in spite of its value, huge income disparities and violence.

But those of us who have worked with lots of conflict situations, also notice the phenomenon of "the lotus flower blooming out of the muck", or "diamonds being formed under great pressure".

In this episode, I am honored to bring you one of those diamonds, Riya Yuyada, a 28 year old bright and sassy woman who has known nothing but war and conflict in her native S. Sudan. Riya Yuyada fled S. Sudan as a baby and grew up in an IDP (internally displaced person) camp in nearby Uganda. In spite of the challenges of growing up in a refugee camp and then later living in the midst of a very “cold peace” in S Sudan with regular outbreaks of civil war, she has grown herself into an impressive young woman and built an organization called Crown the Woman.

Crown The Woman (CREW) is a “women founded and led nonprofit, non-governmental, non-political, humanitarian and national grassroots organization that aims at empowering girls and women to ensure they harness their potential and contribute to nation building economically, socially and politically. Established and registered in 2016 by concerned young South Sudanese women who realized the need to promote meaningful gender equality and equity as well as the need to recognize, appreciate, strengthen and empower women. CREW strives for realization and respect of women’s rights, enhancement of women’s security and the prioritization and provision of women’s basic needs. CREW has a special focus on investing in young women and children as the means of securing the future of South Sudan’s women in nation building and development.

Two themes that stand out to me from this episode.

The first is what I have concluded from doing this podcast for the last few years -- that the most impactful peacebuilding initiative we can undertake on this planet is to empower women – in our family, organizational and planetary systems. In the case of S Sudan and many countries like it that have been plagued by civil war, it means women equipping themselves to be part of the peace process – go Riya!! -- and men welcoming them in to sit alongside them at the negotiating table. For more on this, please go back to Ep 31 and my interview with Dr. Scilla Elworthy, A Business Plan for Peace. Peace agreements last longer by a lot when women are involved in the process.

The second theme is interdependence. From the affluent and island continent of the United States from where I write, it’s easy to think of S Sudan as a far off land. But, of course, as the famous environmentalist John Muir said, “when you pick up anything in the universe, you will find that it is connected to everything else". While I’m grateful for the oil that has heated my house and runs my car,  I’m also aware of its cost in the form of global conflict and its impact on the lives of people like Riya.  It’s felt good to move off of fossil fuels to solar and wind as much as I can. An important step not just create a cleaner world but a more peaceful one.

P.S. We are hard at work creating great on-line and live content on Women, Negotiation and Power,  join our list here or follow us on Facebook at for our latest updates.

P.P.S. Listen as Susan talks about the motivation behind starting this podcast.

Ep 41: Riane Eisler & Douglas P. Fry: Nurturing Our Humanity

Ep 41: Riane Eisler & Douglas P. Fry: Nurturing Our Humanity

October 16, 2019

Probably a deep reason I went into the field of conflict resolution long ago is that growing up as a girl in the heart of an affluent, male-dominated, Wall Street kind of culture meant that I had to reconcile deep love for the members of my family -- especially my powerful Dad -- and my resistance toward many of their views and behaviors.  In my fierce college days, I framed things as, my Dad was a “capitalist” whose clients supported the coup in Chile (they did), and  I --  deeply influenced by the raging American war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, my new awareness of the hundreds of times the U.S. had intervened militarily into Latin America, and women’s studies -- declared myself a “radical socialist feminist”.

Now after many years of growing, ripening and getting tossed around by the currents of our human existence -- seeing the contradictions in lots of things and people -- I am less interested in polarities and much more interested in finding common ground, deeper dialogue, genuine contact between people, in spite of difference.

So, I would say now that perhaps I am part “capitalist” – a lover of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, part “socialist”, a firm believer in taking care of people’s basic needs and our planet, and the rest of me, well just rogue goddess -- wanting to move beyond what my next guest calls models of domination to those of true partnership.

Riane Eisler is well into her later years and is still generating unsurpassed insight and contribution into how we can live well together on this planet. I interviewed her first in Episode 28 (please give a listen), and said then and repeat now that she is one of the brightest lights and most innovative social thinkers out there.

What I have always liked the most is that she transcends the polarities of right v. left, capitalist v. socialist, religious v. secular, north v. south, -- “it’s useless”, she says, “because there have been repressive violent regimes in every one of these categories.”

Instead, her frame is models of partnership v. domination and a special emphasis on how gender shows up in both.

In my 20’s, when I first read her book, The Chalice and the Blade, it was such eureka moment that was then reinforced by Harvard social anthropologist William Ury in his book, Getting to Peace to learn that humans have not always been in a state of war and violence -- that, in fact, the vast majority of human existence on earth is characterized much more by what Riane calls models of partnership v. domination, or what Ury articulated as  2,500,000 years of possible coexistence to 10,000 years of coercion.

So many smart people that I talk to believe humans have always been violent, and that there has always been war. But, there’s a lot of evidence that this is just not true. And there is also plenty of evidence that during those times, men and women lived together as equals and that, in many societies, the Divine was often a revered goddess, and maybe even a super sexy one.

What Riane so clearly adds to this discussion is that all domination systems, whether they are left or right, are always characterized by rigid gender stereotypes.

“It's not coincidental”, she says, “that whether it was Hitler in Germany, or ISIS in the Middle East today, secular Western, religious Eastern, or the rightist fundamentalist alliance in the US, that a top priority is always getting back to this quote, ‘traditional family’. It's a code isn't it?” she says, “for authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, and highly punitive family.”  

Impetus for this current episode is Riane’s new book, Nurturing our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape our Brains, Lives and Future which she has written with Douglas Fry. It’s a delight to get to know Doug through this episode. I knew of his work as an anthropologist, documenting earlier partnership societies and the gender balance within them.

Doug has a very special voice and perspective and I found his calm demeanor made me feel better and more hopeful about the world.

A couple of ideas they share that I especially like. . .

  • That gender is a key component to domination systems and is connected to the ranking of any human being over other groups whether it’s about  race, religion, sexual orientation. . . In other words, you get rid of gender ranking and you get rid of a lot of “isms”,

  • That as the status of women rises, men no longer find it such a threat to their status, masculinity or role to also embrace caring values like universal health care, generous paid parental leave and have the freedom to be more fully themselves . .

  • That in the partnership societies that Riane and Doug explore in the book:

    • there are the narrowest gender gaps

    • there is an investment in people starting from early childhood

    • there’s no homelessness

    • no violence (although certainly people lose is from time to time)

    • military budgets are just a few percentages of government spending (compared to $.57 on the dollar in the US)

    • they are always in the highest ranks of the global competitiveness indices

    • AND, perhaps the most important of all, people are the happiest!!

Go figure.

Hope you get a chance to listen to Riane and Doug. Tell us what you think below and please follow us on Podbean.

Ep 40: Saba Ismail: From Northwestern Pakistan to Global Leadership

Ep 40: Saba Ismail: From Northwestern Pakistan to Global Leadership

September 17, 2019

I like to think of myself as fairly courageous. In fact, one of my mottos (adopted from Barbara Stanny (Huson — an earlier guest on the show) is to “do something scary every day”. So, I readily take work assignments in war zones in Afghanistan, South Sudan and most recently the Central African Republic; I go backcountry skiing on glaciers in remote parts of Alaska; I try to be courageous with my own inner evolution — to keep growing as a human; to be honest with myself and others, speak truth to power and to keep doing what I can to create a more peaceful and sustainable planet.

But whatever courage I may have doesn't hold a candle to my current podcast guest, Saba Ismail, who grew up in Northwestern Pakistan, the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman. Saba and her sister, Gululai, and the well-known Malala, who comes from the same region (and was shot in the head simply for advocating for girls’ education), are speaking up in the face of many forces that would like to silence them and which would terrify me if I was confronted with the same. I'm glad I can give a platform on this podcast to young women like Saba, who now is 32.

Here are a few excerpts from her bio:
"Saba Ismail is a feminist, peace activist and is working for the empowerment of young women. At the age of 15, with other young women fellows, she co-founded “Aware Girls”, a young women-led organization working for empowering young women by strengthening their leadership. . .
The young women of Aware Girls engage in Countering Violent Extremism (or CVE) programs in which young people are persuaded to not join militant groups and instead create open spaces for dialogue, and promote nonviolence and pluralism in the community.

She was one of the first to convince the diplomatic community of the importance of including youth in building a more peaceful world.

Foreign Policy Magazine acknowledged her bravery and activism by recognizing her as one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013 and she has been acknowledged in the “30 under 30 Campaign by the “National Endowment for Democracy” for her long struggle for democracy, peace and women’s rights."

Here are some of my favorite "frames” of the episode:

  • She couldn't even talk -- First of all, a few months back when I first reached out to Saba, she didn't even feel she could talk to me because her sister was in hiding from the Pakistani military and things were just too dangerous to bring any more attention to the situation.
  • The Critical Role of Fathers -- Saba grew up in jihad, the influences were everywhere and as a young person she believed them. But when her father, a human rights activist, realized what she was bringing home from school, he intervened to make sure that all of his kids, especially his girls, were given information and education to counter the indoctrination. The critical role fathers play in the empowerment of their daughters is well-documented and I have experienced it personally:
    • when I was working with two factions of Kurds in northern Iraq and i suggested it might be good to have some women among the representatives, it was a father who insisted that his daughter join us even though her mother and grandmother were dead set against it;
    • when I had the privilege of working with the senior women leaders in the Afghan government, many of them shared with me that they would never be where they are without their father's support;
    • in Saba’s story, a father who really paved the way for her sister Gululai and her to make a real difference to their community and world;
      and finally, in my own life, my father who loved me a lot but was ambivalent about my professional success -- how much effort it has taken me to transcend his messages.
  • Advocating nonviolence in Madrassas -- Saba and Aware Girls going into the madrassas to convince young people that the Koran doesn’t support violence and jihad;
  • Pakistani Military -- the Pakistani military seem so hell bent on oppressing young women like Saba and her sister rather than recognizing them as the global peacebuilders that they are. I mean really!! What the heck!!
  • What Saba calls the #Metoo Movement of Pakistan -- the delegations of women, many illiterate, that traveled to the northwest of Pakistan in spite of great difficulty, to show solidarity with other women that were being harassed and defiled;
  • U.S. Supporting Military Solutions, not Aware Girls -- that my country so often supports authoritarian regimes like what currently exists in Pakistan rather than the development of young women and men like Saba. How our ‘war on terror”, rather than making the world safer, has led to way too many kids like Saba growing up in cultures of extremism, jihad and violence. Shame on us.

I hope you enjoy the episode.

Please share this episode to anyone you think it might interest, write a review wherever you get your podcasts -- they really help!!, and please stay tuned to our monthly releases of The Peacebuilding Podcast.

Ep. 039: Stephanie Savell: The Costs of War

Ep. 039: Stephanie Savell: The Costs of War

July 4, 2019

I've been looking for somebody who could talk credibly about money. Of course, this podcast isn’t really about that. This podcast is about focusing on processes and ideas that build common ground and complex systems. However, I’ve always believed that one of the things you need to look at is money.

I'm so excited to have found Stephanie Savell and The Cost of War project. There are three women who are doing an amazing job documenting what has been spent by the United States and to some extent, other countries, on what they call the post 9/11 wars.

Stephanie Savell is an anthropologist of militarism, security and political culture and has studied these topics in the United States and in Brazil. She co-directs Brown University’s Cost of War project. She was one of the younger members and I thought it was appropriate that one of the younger members of The Cost of War project speak because it sounds like we are really mortgaging our children’s future in the United States with the amount that is being spent on the military.

Let’s hear Stephanie talk about this more as she has done a lot of research and talks credibly and clearly about what exactly is going on.

Ep. 038: Rob Fersh: Finding Common Ground in the Belly of the Beast

Ep. 038: Rob Fersh: Finding Common Ground in the Belly of the Beast

April 30, 2019

A main focus of this podcast is to explore the best process interventions that build common ground and consensus in diverse and often polarized groups. But the reality is -- unless you are a process person like me – eg. a facilitator, coach, mediator – you probably don’t pay attention to process. Process is a little bit like plumbing: if it’s working, you don’t notice it, but if it’s not, watch out!! I started this podcast because I know that HOW we come together to resolve our differences has everything to do with whether we will be successful. If you create the right “container” with the right ingredients -- including meeting conditions, stakeholders, design – I am confident that you can make significant progress in bridging divides that seem unbridgeable. So, that’s why, when Convergence and Rob Fersh came to my attention I got interested. A divide that currently seems intractable to many people, especially those living in the United States, is the one between the Democrats (the left) and Republicans (the right) in the US Government. Most Americans these days are pretty frustrated, and even despairing, at the tone in Washington, the level of polarization, the acrimony. Rob founded Convergence in 2009 “to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance”. Convergence has “mediated” or done creative problem solving around public policy issues where opposing sides agree on a goal but disagree, sometimes intensely about how to get there. The organization creates “containers” that allow opposing sides to build relationships and think together more clearly about creative ways forward. To date, it has worked on initiatives around health care, education, incarceration and is exploring other hot topics in the public policy arena such as gun safety and climate change. Rob came to Convergence after serving as the U.S. country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization, where he directed national policy consensus projects and health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S. Muslim relations. He is also a very seasoned Washingtonian after many years of public service prior to Search for Common Ground. What I think will stand out to you, as it has to me, is the commitment that Rob brings to creating a safe and neutral environment for opposing sides to come together and think constructively about ways forward. When you create a good climate, people stop the demonization, trust builds, and it’s even possible to create solid and lasting relationships though people may still disagree on a number of issues. In Rob's own words “ at a minimum, at a time when people don’t talk to each other well, the people that we get to come to our tables --who are very diverse politically and otherwise -- have an amazing experience of seeing and understanding people -- and at a minimum we are lowering temperatures of the most important people – and at the best end we are having a real impact on the issues we care about. So, I invite you to tune in and hear Rob’s stories. Get inspired. It will give you hope that we can find common ground in the belly of the beast.

Ep. 037: Melanie Greenberg: Making Peace in a Polarized World — And the US is No Exception…

Ep. 037: Melanie Greenberg: Making Peace in a Polarized World — And the US is No Exception…

April 11, 2019

When I travel outside of the US I often think that American citizens have no idea what a “war zone” we are actually living in. Guns are rampant every where. Military hardware comes back from global combat for use by our police departments further escalating violence. Since 2001, the US has spent $32M PER HOUR on war with each taxpayer paying a total of $24,000. US military spending far exceeds every other country on earth including China which comes in a distant second. Those of us in the conflict resolution field know all too well that when you create an adversarial climate, you get identity group polarization. Sure enough, racial tensions in the US are at an epic high and, while “the feminine” is rising, girls and the feminine are under harsh attack with man in our White House who brags of assaulting women and a Supreme Court majority that does not protect women by law from domestic violence. We in the US typically think of ourselves as the envy of the world to which certainly there is some truth. But we are numb to what it costs us — on every level — to dominate the planet.

So when I heard Melanie speak at the AfP annual conference about the Hands Across the Hills initiative which applies the same peacebuilding approaches used in the most deadly conflicts around the world to conflict in the US I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.

Melanie is one of those souls who exudes both integrity, kindness, high professionalism and intelligence. She is currently the Managing Director at Humanity United (HU) overseeing the peacebuilding and conflict transformation portfolio which develops, refines and implements strategies to build peace and counter violent conflict. She has helped design and facilitate public peace processes in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, the Caucuses and much more.

Because she is one of the most seasoned and respected practitioners in the peacebuilding field, I wanted to hear her definition of peacebuilding, how it has emerged as a field, and what she sees as the trends. “Peacebuilding” emerged in around 1990 and was first articulated by Boutros Boutros-Ghali from the United Nations. Melanie describes the various streams coming together (at least in the US) to form the peacebuilding river: the Vietnam anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement which required large scale consensus processes to resolve disputes around land, and the Alternative Dispute Resolution movement giving rise to mediation and other collaborative processes as an alternative to the adversarial American legal system. All of these movements, she says, inspired people to act for themselves and realize that building peace wasn't just the role of the government but could and should belong to citizens as well. She continues on with an excellent definition of peacebuilding which you can hear on the track.

She sees many exciting trends in peacebuilding — what we are learning about the connection between neuroscience and peacemaking, and how peacebuilding is becoming more systemically integrated into our institutions. Cool to know that many of the large peacebuilding organizations have come together to improve the “branding” of peacebuilding — to make peace enticing, and counter the news culture of “if it bleeds it leads”.

The most discouraging trend to her is that, among practitioners, the US is now generally seen as a “peacebuilding problem”. All of the criteria that are red flags for a peacebuilding initiative are present in this country — the level of gun violence, the tensions, the polarization, the number of deaths from violent conflict. In the Hands Across the Hills initiative, peacebuilder Paula Green is creating dialogue between people from a very conservative area from Eastern Kentucky and a very liberal area from Western Massachusetts. Please see show notes for more information.

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