Career Memories and the Next Chapter

“I am passionate about the synergy that occurs when concerned citizens come together to wrestle with real world issues. Collaboration is possible when people are willing to listen deeply, tap into their innate knowing, evaluate options fairly, and maintain a sense of curiosity about the other perspectives at the table.” Kathleen Porter, BPE, PBDE, Chartered Mediator.

Early in my career, I arrived in Austria at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). My degree in physical education did not seem well suited to the scientific endeavours set up to initiate détente between the USA and the USSR.  As a child, I had been exposed to many cultures and experiences difficult to comprehend; child beggars in Panama City, Russian soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, and the tin roofs of our cab-driver’s home just out of sight beyond the pink walls of Jamaican mansions. None the less, the opportunity to watch high level negotiations with the likes of Howard Raiffa, a leading a decision theorist and Harvard professor and one of the founders of IIASSA; Vitali Kavtanov a Russian physicist known for his collaborative work between Russian and Swiss scientists, C.S. (Buzz) Holling, Emeritus Eminent Scholar and Professor in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida and one of the conceptual founders of ecological economics and; Stafford Beer, first to apply cybernetic theory to management regimes. I had been living in another world and the exposure to such leading thinkers was truly inspiring. I was fascinated by how people worked together on sports teams and in recreation activities but this was my first experience thinking about how groups of intellectual thinkers worked together. Out of my naiveté and youthful enthusiasm, I hosted collaborative games and introduced ‘play’ into this cohort of world renown thinkers. Imagine a group of wild-eye-browed and esteemed scientists holding hands in a game of Knots as they contorted themselves to address the challenge, “Don’t let go!”

 

Little did I realize that this international experience would lead me to a career in mediation. I landed at the Justice Institute of BC after exploring careers in an alternative elementary school and community development. Upon completion of the Conflict Resolution program I worked in the seafood processing industry with then General Counsel of the BC Seafood Sector Council (BCSSC), Professor Joseph Weiler (Allard School of Law, UBC). The struggles between labour and management were impacted by multiple factors: changes in processing techniques, access to skilled labour, the global market, and the shrinking of traditional fish stock levels. The parties: industry, government, First Nations, and labour faced  a complex web of change having a dramatic affect on business operations and local communities alike.

Politics intervened and the BCSSC closed its doors. For the next phase of my career, I moved to the North Okanagan Shuswap to build a house. I soon found myself working with a diverse group of members of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) in the Alberta Oil Sands. Again, multiple interests; Indigenous Peoples, government agencies, industry, and Non-governmental Organizations were at the table all with different ideas of what constituted environmental management. Eventually, the Government of Alberta accepted fifty of the over 70 consensus recommendations outlined in the Ecosystems Management Framework.

I continued building my house for a couple of years before accepting a position as Senior Facilitator, Decision Support with Summit Environmental, now a division of Associated Engineering.  For over four years, I had the pleasure of working with multi-disciplinary teams and multi-stakeholder groups to facilitate public involvement and decision-making for infrastructure and policy projects such as water, solid and liquid  waste, transportation, and land-use planning.

In 2014, I was introduced to the The Regenerative Practitioner™ course and added a new dimension to the various design and decision frameworks I had explored. I began to consider my experience. The sustainability paradigm, where the economic lens was the focus and environment and social considerations were considered after the priority given to the completion of a particular resource extraction or development project, did not, in fact, appear to be sustainable. No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, inspired me to look more closely at the principles of regenerative design.  I understood that where multi-party conflicts occur, each party could easily see the problem through an entirely different lens. In addition, the stakeholder groups I had worked with could often consist of members with an equal narrow focus, as though housing, mining, employment, endangered species, watershed management were separate and distinct problems to be consider apart from other considerations. There is evidence the dominant economic paradigm has misled us. Fossil fuel extraction and use is affecting the quality of our air. Our reliance on plastic is affecting the quality of our oceans. The current economic model serves the rich first. Inequities; access to health, education, and justice are damaging our culture and social fabric. Fortunately, there are other ways. Regenerative practice encourages looking forward towards the potential of place from many perspectives rather than a backwards to look at a single problem. This thinking is not new. Among the Earth’s peoples are those who still carry the ancient knowledge and wisdom of living in an integrated way with all life. We have skilled technicians and innovative thinkers. The internet, a massive neural network carries information and personal messages from those needing support to their allies and others with the means of support.

With humility, I have come to understand that our strength is in our difference. From nature, I recognize that in our diversity we are stronger. For ourselves and for our children we can take small steps not only to survive but to thrive. So in 2017, I once again turned in a new direction, to write a book based on the effects the changing climate had been having on my work for many years. I share my experience as a facilitator, change agent, mediator, and curious explorer and offer ideas for those who will join the many who value this, our shared planet. Beyond Climate Shock: A Passionate Approach to Saving Community Without Draining the Bank (ISBN:  978-1-77371-141-6) is to be published in late 2018.

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