In September, the JAMS Foundation announced its 2020-2022 class of the Weinstein JAMS International Fellowship Program. The combined class included those selected this year and those selected in 2020 who could not travel due to the pandemic. In September, the cohort of 14 Fellows met in San Francisco for in-person training.
Two Fellows—Victor Baba Emmanuel Aligo, an attorney and ordained minister from South Sudan who now lives in Kenya, and Patricia Zghibarta, a policy consultant in dispute resolution with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development based in Moldova—recently spoke about their experiences.
What motivated you to apply for the fellowship?
Patricia: I work in policy for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And just like other development banks, one of the things we do is support legal reform in various jurisdictions to improve their investment climate.
I work mainly on projects aimed at improving the ADR market in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We train judges and mediators, work to build the capacity of governing bodies responsible for mediation, improve regulatory and legislative frameworks, and incorporate best international practices, like helping governments join the Singapore Convention on Mediation.
All that kind of work requires you to grasp how things run in other jurisdictions where mediation and ADR are well established. So here in the U.S., I’m trying to understand how the ADR market developed and what factors contributed to its development.
Victor: Throughout my childhood, conflict was all I knew, so I fell in love with the concept of reconciliation. And after concluding my studies at law school, I heard of this concept called mediation. At the time, I wasn’t getting the kind of gratification that I thought I would get out of litigation. So I started to do mediation, beginning with community mediation. My work was primarily to resolve disputes between refugees and host communities, but it has since expanded into other areas.
I viewed this as an opportunity to develop professionally and spotlight the situation in South Sudan. My story is interwoven with the story of South Sudan and, of course, many other countries in Africa where the concept of access to justice is a luxury that not many people can afford. Mediation can help bridge the gap to justice. And so that’s why I applied for the fellowship program.
In September, all the JAMS Fellows convened in San Francisco for in-person training. What were some of the highlights?
Victor: It was a cutting-edge experience. We had Fellows of all different backgrounds, nationalities and, most importantly, expertise. We also had a diverse group professionally. We had individuals who were at the pinnacle of their professional careers. And we had some of us who were just at the starting line.
But you could feel that we all came from the same village. And that’s just in one week. The camaraderie that people had formed over that short period was remarkable. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be around such brilliant legal minds and to cross-pollinate on various issues. I can’t wait to see what the other Fellows will do in their countries.
Patricia: It was an intensive and exciting program. We met practicing mediators, the leadership and driving forces behind JAMS; case managers; and board members of JAMS and the JAMS Foundation. We also had a couple of sessions where we discussed developing frameworks for dispute resolution and introducing IT innovations in dispute resolution with some of the most well-known experts from Stanford University.
We also had trainers who had previously worked in ADR centers in courts and access-to-mediation programs. That has been extremely useful because many Fellows have this experience of either working in or establishing a court access program. We also met with the ADR Center’s current leader in San Francisco from the Ninth Circuit Court [of Appeals]. We learned about its history and what kinds of reforms they’ve outlined for the future. That helps us understand what we could do better or differently in the programs we run or are familiar with in our countries.
What did you learn from the other Fellows?
Patricia: Our special guests from Zambia delivered an excellent presentation. I learned that we’ve been facing the same kinds of issues. For instance, we’ve legislated a lot in our jurisdictions, and we expected the new legislation would open the doors and bring more cases, which did not happen. We are both considering implementing some opt-out models for mediation temporarily to artificially increase the demand. And so that is an example where you think, Hmmm, Eastern Europe and Zambia. What do they have in common? Well, many things.
Shadowing ADR professionals is often a key component of the fellowship. What’s that been like for you?
Patricia: Practice exercises and simulations in training programs are excellent. But it’s an entirely different experience when you’re observing everything that is happening in real mediations. You can deconstruct the process, look at why it has evolved in a certain manner and understand what the next steps should be in the mediation.
You can also learn from different styles of mediators and pick up on transferable skills. Because a good mediator can be a good mediator almost everywhere, right? So you can see how they engage with the parties, warm them up and set the scene. You can also better appreciate the communication techniques and active listening skills they use and how they balance pure negotiation skills with legal knowledge.
Victor: The opportunity to shadow some of the best in the game has been an incredible experience. And I must say that it was wonderful to shadow neutrals who are women and people of color. I think it’s important to highlight that JAMS has done tremendously in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. You can see it in its corporate leadership and amongst the neutrals.
How do you plan to use what you learned when you return home?
Victor: When I travel back to Kenya, I want to plant the seeds and watch them grow all over Africa. I hope our firm will become the most sought-after in East Africa. We will collaborate with firms in the U.S. and, of course, expand our territory as well. Also, I’ll be pioneering a program that brings together mediation and diplomacy in January. It’s become crystal clear that traditional diplomacy isn’t working well. So I have the opportunity, courtesy of the United States International University Africa, to pioneer a program that brings together mediation and diplomacy.
Patricia: When I get home, my first task will be to deliver a presentation to my colleagues so that I can share the knowledge with everyone there. I have to synthesize everything because there are so many things I need to tell them. But secondly, I’m going to review the ongoing initiatives that we have and the upcoming ones and see whether we need to redesign them based on these lessons learned from here.
Any final thoughts on the fellowship?
Victor: I want to thank Judge Daniel Weinstein and the JAMS Foundation for their generosity. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if they did not invest in such a noble task. And then, I’d like to thank Americans for the time that I’ve been here. Their generosity shifted my paradigm of who Americans are.
Patricia: I would add that we met people here who made it clear that they, too, have ongoing struggles and issues to deal with, which is a refreshing way of seeing a reform process. It reinforces the message in our jurisdiction that it’s okay to have challenges. It’s more important to focus on how to solve them. Even jurisdictions with a robust ADR market have their struggles. We also witnessed how open seasoned practitioners are to continuous training. It’s a message to send to the practitioners in our home countries--you should never stop learning.
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