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[PODCAST] The JAMS Foundation and the National Association for Community Mediation: Resolving Differences and Conflicts in Local Communities

The JAMS Foundation is a proud partner of the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), which seeks to serve as a hub for those needing to resolve differences and conflicts in a constructive manner through its community mediation centers. Through the JAMS Foundation’s Mini-Grant Program, NAFCM has been able to help its local communities address issues such as police-community relations, aging and elder care, homelessness and housing insecurity, and issues of racial and economic marginalization.

In this special podcast from JAMS, David Brandon, Managing Director of the JAMS Foundation, D.G. Mawn, President of NAFCM, and Kabrina Bass, Co-Chair of NAFCM's board talk through how the partnership has been able to bring community mediation to cities throughout the United States and Canada and address the most important issues facing their communities today.

Moderator: [00:00:00] Welcome to another special podcast from JAMS. Today, we're going to be talking about the JAMS Foundation and its relationship with the National Association for Community Mediation, and that organization's important work.

Our three guests are David Brandon, who is the managing director of the JAMS Foundation, D.G. Mawn, president of NAFCM, and Kabrina Bass, co-chair of NAFCM's board.

We really appreciate you all for being here.

David, I'll start with you. Can you just first provide us some background on the JAMS Foundation?

David Brandon: [00:00:40] The JAMS Foundation is very closely related to JAMS, which is a successful for-profit dispute resolution company, providing mediation and arbitration, and just, you know, the full range of civil cases across the country and to some extent, internationally. JAMS is the largest company of its kind that does nothing but neutral dispute resolution. We have over 27 offices around the country, as well as international offices. So it's a very successful version of doing dispute resolution work, but over the years of doing that and having some generous souls associated with the company, there was some desire to create some company-based collective mechanism that would both help support the dispute resolution field, but also to bring some of the company's expertise, to bring some benefits to society more broadly as well.

So it began following 9/11 attacks. Our very first grant through the Foundation was to support pro bono mediation services to help resolve claims related to the 9/11 attacks. From that point, we became a funder specifically in the dispute resolution space. What began as sort of initial grants sort of coming in opportunistically over the last 18 years or so, the Foundation has been able to provide hundreds of grants to literally over a hundred separate nonprofit organizations that do work in the conflict prevention, dispute resolution area.

One of the proudest features, I'm glad to say of the Foundation is that we don't take any money from outside of the JAMS community. As a neutral provider, there was a real concern that even generous souls wanting to support the Foundation's work may be a party to a case that comes before JAMS, which happens frequently, and so we didn't want to raise any concerns about a conflict of interest. And so we created a mechanism where me and my colleagues provide, you know, a percentage of our own income that creates the funding basis for the work that we do, grants and fellowships that we provide. There are over 300 contributors just within JAMS that are generously contributing that have allowed the Foundation to do remarkable work for now 18 years and counting. With our most recent meeting, we just reached a $10 million funding mark to date of the funds that we've been able to provide to do work in this area.

Moderator: [00:02:53] Well, thank you, David. D.G., can you tell us a little more about the National Association for Community Mediation?

D.G. Mawn, President of NAFCM

D.G. Mawn: [00:02:59] Absolutely. NAFCM was established in October of 1994, to serve as the hub for those who work to create avenues and forums for conflict resolution in their communities, through community mediation centers.

These centers provide the processes and spaces for individuals, groups, and organizations to be brave and have the conversations they are able to have at that moment in time about points of conflict and contention. Today, our memberships include these community mediation centers, as well as community mediators, align institutions and partners, such as JAMS, who share the vision that community mediation is community mobilization.

We work to support our supporters, who through the aggregation of their wisdom, the advancement of their work and the advocacy for support for their work, they are able to create opportunities for transformative peace within the communities they serve.

Moderator: [00:03:55] Tell us how the JAMS Foundation discovered NAFCM.

David Brandon: [00:03:58] The Foundation has been doing this work for coming up on 20 years now. We have supported community mediation from the very earliest days. One of our very first grants was to an organization, Community Boards in San Francisco, which is one of the longest standing community mediation centers. And over the years, there have always been grants supporting a wide range of projects within the community mediation arena.

Our concern over the years as a funder is that, you know, these were all good, worthy projects. We were consistently wanting to support community mediation, but they were one off projects. They weren't part of a larger effort to develop a particular area or to maintain a program over time. So our concerns were about really wanting to leverage the relatively modest funding we had available and to sustain the programs that we were supporting.

And it's sort of led us into a conversation with NAFCM, which really is sort of the broad umbrella under which several hundred local centers are able to share information and sort of amplify their individual voices into something larger and more nationally based. And so through that conversation of really trying to want to make the most of our partnership with NAFCM to benefit both, you know, local communities, as well as the community mediation field, we created a very unique mini grant program that has a lot of detail to it, but in short, it provides four to five grants, relatively small grants, each year for two year funding cycles to several centers that are going to be working in a particular subject area. And so over the years we've really tried to target areas we were hearing from the local centers were the most compelling need that they were trying to fill, and that includes programs for returning veterans, around police-community relations, aging and elder care, homelessness and homeless insecurity, and most recently dealing with young adults in regard to issues of racial and economic marginalization. So really trying to find impactful programs relevant to the communities that are working with them. And those grantees, those several grantees working in these tracks are working in a very close-knit learning community, helping each other, providing meaningful feedback along the way, and really creating a community that both strengthens the individual programs, but also provides a voice and resources to the larger community of centers around the country.  Through this mini grant program, anything that is produced by these five grantees in these funding tracks is then shared with over 300 of NAFCM's member centers throughout the United States and in Canada as well.

We're now entering our seventh year of the mini grant program and in partnership with NAFCM, it just continues to just show amazing cohesion and progress and making the sort of impact that we would have hoped for.

Moderator: [00:06:47] And D.G., just so we're clear, can you just give us a definition of what community mediation is?

D.G. Mawn: [00:06:53] Our basic definition for community mediation is community mobilization, community mediation that we speak for and advocate for springs from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which focused on addressing racial, ethnic, class and gender inequities through the judicial system. NAFCM and our members accept the charge to aid communities and individuals from resolving disputes, disagreements with difficulties relating to practices that impair their rights in the community. If one person is in dispute with another, the whole community has a dispute. And so community mediation is about creating the space for those in dispute, to be able to sit, speak, hear, listen, learn. And at the end of the process, create their choice on how best they are able to move forward at that time.

Moderator: [00:07:51] That's a great, great definition. Thank you so much. Kabrina, can you talk a little bit about when the use of community mediation is effective in helping people resolve their disputes?

Kabrina Bass, Co-Chair of NAFCM's board

Kabrina Bass: [00:08:00] My first response to that question is now. Where we are in America, in the U.S., now is a great time for a community mediation center when our communities are in crisis.

So for me, I always felt the community mediation centers are the first responders to crisis. Regardless of what type of crisis it is, we have the ability to help individuals as D.G. has spoken, as self determination. We don't tell them what to do. They come up with their own solution. So imagine having the opportunity to make space for people to come and sit down and have a dialogue together where they can come up with their own solution.

I just recently heard somebody say conversation is expensive, and it's very expensive when you don't have access. So imagine a place where people can have access to have really difficult conversation and feel brave enough to have their voices be heard in those spaces.

Moderator: [00:08:55] And D.G., do your member community mediation centers offer services aside from mediation and what are those?

D.G. Mawn: [00:09:01] Yes, sir. We encourage our centers and support them to offer the services that their community members are most comfortable in that space, so they can be brave and be transparent and create the choices, as Cabrina mentioned, that they're able to live with and will be able to progress forward with. So some of those activities, this is not an exhaustive list, would be coaching, restorative justice practices, peer mediation, world cafe, facilitated dialogues, listening sessions, all in place to make sure that it is not an outside, foreign process, but a process that those involved already have a sense of comfort with, which makes it easier for them to be in their truth. And once they're in their truth, it's easier for the conversation to happen, to figure out what is this conflict? How can we sit with it? What do we want to and can do about it?

Moderator: [00:10:04] And Kabrina, I'll bring you into that same question.

You know, what, what opportunities or services are you providing and you've seen?

Kabrina Bass: [00:10:11] So I think D.G. wrapped it up real good, but I think the training part, a lot of times, community mediation centers are sought out once the conflict has happened, but many of our centers provide training beforehand. So just providing our community with the opportunity to learn how to listen, active listening skills, how to communicate more effectively to be positive senders of messages, and know how to reframe those messages are really important things that we help our members and individuals in our communities to understand better. And most of our centers provide some of those training opportunities at no cost to the community because we're there to help our community be stronger.

Moderator: [00:10:50] And earlier David mentioned the mini grant program JAMS Foundation has with NAFCM -- D.G., can you talk through where those mini grants have gone and the opportunities they've created?

D.G. Mawn: [00:11:00] Absolutely. If we had a lot of time, I could talk about all of them. David mentioned most of what we do. We also had a mini community that looked at the foster care system, another one that looked at immigrant rights, and one that we're still in, which is looking at the transition of formerly incarcerated adults into their communities. We, through JAMS' support, we have had programs, a variety of programs, in 23 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to date. So almost half of the states in our country have benefited from JAMS' support.

The process that happens at the end of the two years is not only does the community have a sustainable program that's owned by the community that the center supports. We also have, as David mentioned, national products from each of the centers. So they draft documents that are shared with all other members of NAFCM on how best to approach when you have community police disagreement concerns, how best to address issues of immigrants in your community, how best to make sure older adults are still connected and respected in the community. How best to make sure we are reducing the recidivism rate of former incarcerated adults, which are currently 70% return or more to much less by making sure those adults and the systems that touch them benefit from community mediation and the skills at centers like Kabrina offers. So looking at just the mini grant programs, it's had a tremendous impact in what our centers can provide their communities. JAMS is also, if I may just brag a little bit about them, supported us in the 2019 drafting of the State of Community Mediation report, which is a seminal look, snapshot at what is the state of community mediation in the United States and Canada? Where can it go? With that in mind, JAMS is supporting 10 centers, one in Canada, nine in the United States, to embed that report into the work they're doing, particularly with the upcoming election in our country and the disturbances going on in Canada, both of which are centered in historical racial oppression in both countries, as well as magnified by COVID. To help our centers with COVID, JAMS also stepped up and helped provide our centers with 200 Zoom accounts, which makes that financial transition online a bit easier for centers, where some have rather large budgets and others are less than $30,000 a year to provide these great services to their community.  Those Zoom accounts make that difference that they're able to get online and continue to provide these needed services while many of us are still at home or restricted in our activities.

Moderator: [00:14:08] Well, it's really great work. So great to hear the impact that the JAMS Foundation is having out there in community mediation. So Kabrina, D.G. just mentioned that NAFCM, the report on the state of community mediation that was funded by JAMS, I know that report has impacted your work. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Kabrina Bass: [00:14:26] Yes. Thank you so much. So NAFCM has these things called the hallmarks of a community mediation center, and there are nine of them. And the first five deal with the organization's capacity, the ability to adjust yourself to have sound management and strong governance so that you can deliver what's necessary to your community.

And then you look at hallmarks six and seven, it's about the systems. It is the ability as a mediation center to understand your surroundings and what are those systems that you need to have in place to help you do the work that you need to do in your community. So it's really looking to those community partners.

In other words, we know we can't do all the work that we need to do unless we have partners that work with us. And we have to understand who our allies are and who are the people that's in our course, those people that know what we do and support what we do. And then those people that know what we do, but don't know how they can support what we do. So bringing all that together to create this wonderful collaboration. And one of the things that I've learned as being part of this call to action is that when we understand the value of the holistic community, we can see ourselves in a bigger bubble. In other words, coming back to the concept of a village that we all have a responsibility for what we do in our society and in our communities.

And the last two hallmarks that are there is the community capacity. It's that in our community, we basically have everything we need in order to address the issues that have caused our communities harm. And so when we look at these nine hallmarks, it is a foundation on which community mediation centers stand.

So out of the call to action, one of the areas that we are hearing a lot about is voting. People are really struggling with this thing called voting. And so looking at the Voting Rights Act, which is something that came out a long time ago, 1964, and people were disenfranchised from the vote. And now we're seeing some people talking about voter suppression and all these things.

Isn't this a good time to come together and start talking about voting? And so our call to action is to really call people to look at this thing called voting. How do we do it? How do we educate ourselves on it and how we can see voting as a nonviolent, peaceful act of community? When a community comes together and really sees the importance of this democracy and how valuable this gift of voting is to our community.

And so that's something that we here in Columbia, South Carolina are looking at and trying to get our arms around is the importance of voting and getting people prepared and having a conversation on why we vote and why we don't vote and how do we get to know our, our balance better and all those kinds of things.

So we're excited about the conversations that are coming forth and the work that we're doing in the roadmap.

Moderator: [00:17:17] For those lawyers, listening to this podcast, maybe in search of pro bono opportunities, I assume there are plenty in the field of community mediation?

D.G. Mawn: [00:17:28] Yes, sir, you are absolutely correct. The centers could not survive without volunteers.

It is how the services are generally offered. It is how the centers are maintained. That any attorney that really wants to make a difference with their skillset can easily find that opportunity by knocking on the door or calling the community mediation center and offering their talent and skills. There's a whole array of needs that every center would have.

And what we have found is so many times people don't even know they have a center in their community. They don't know what's happening because many of the centers are working with populations that generally cannot afford full legal counsel. And so they may not be folks that they encounter, however, they can make such a huge difference in the lives of communities if they're in dispute, in the lives of individuals if they're in dispute, in lives of institutions who are trying their darndest right now to really take a look at themselves, hold up that mirror and say, how can we live out the mission of our institution better and more equitably? So I would encourage anyone who's listening, who feels inspired, if you cannot find a community mediation center in your neighborhood, to please reach out to me at NAFCM. I will find the one closest to you and make sure that connection happens.

Moderator: [00:18:55] And David, where do you see the future of this relationship going? It's been so successful so far.

David Brandon: [00:19:00] Thank you for the question. Several answers to it, but you know, really one of the things that is sort of the proudest and most effective aspects of this partnership with NAFCM and the JAMS Foundation and the mini grant program structure is that most of these centers -- and I was trained initially as a community mediator, that's how I entered this field 30 years ago and have been working in and around that ever since. And you know, what I know about most local centers is that they're generally under resourced and populated by just remarkably capable volunteers that simply want to help their neighbors work through the issues they face as well as possible, but they generally toil in relative solitude and through NAFCM, through this partnership, through the mini grant program, the network of these individual centers has become so much stronger and cohesive and so much more connected through NAFCM to be able to share information, to be able to provide types of support and guidance to one another that when I was first trained really wasn't available, but now is becoming stronger and stronger as an affiliated group of likeminded centers doing similar work. And so really, I hope to see that partnership strengthened. I hope to see that cohesion among centers continue to strengthen and stay interconnected in the ways that it has because it really is to their benefit, to the benefit of the communities they serve and to the ongoing pride of the JAMS Foundation, to be able to help support those infrastructures in communities across the country. So I remain enthusiastic and pleased and proud of what may yet to come and thanks to NAFCM for being such an extraordinary partner in this.

Moderator: [00:20:40] Well, on that very optimistic note, we'll leave it there.

And again, thank you to all my guests.

Kabrina Bass: [00:20:44] Thank you!

David Brandon: [00:20:45] Thank you all.

Moderator: [00:20:47] You've been listening to a special podcast from JAMS, the world's largest private alternative dispute resolution provider. Our guests have been David Brandon, Managing Director of the JAMS Foundation, D.G. Mawn, President of NAFCM, and Kabrina Bass, Co-Chair of NAFCM's board.

For more information about JAMS and the JAMS Foundation, please visit


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