From 1984 until 2004, around 900 grants totalling some US$160 million funded more than 300 mediation initiatives. The benefactor was the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a private philanthropic institution with current assets of about US$10 billion[ii].

The financial support came at a critical time, eight years after the 1976 Pound Conference, three years after Fisher & Ury’s Getting To Yes, and just months after Harvard Law School established the Program on Negotiation as a special research project that was part-funded by Hewlett Foundation grants. Mediation needed that thoughtful financial springboard.  Without Hewlett’s field-building strategy, its focus on investing in the development of theory and its operational grants over those formative years, mediation might not be where it is today.

The field has been unable to secure comparable long term, large scale, funding since 2004. Mediation providers worked hard to capitalize on the investment and kept on developing. Yet in many countries and many fields (e.g. investor-state) mediation is barely used. The helicopter view suggests the growth curve has flattened. Twenty years on, mediation is at another critical moment. The curve needs to flip up again, or risk levelling off permanently.

Hewlett’s funding was a smart strategic investment, not a series of blank check donations. It was based upon a clear vision, namely that mediation could be built into a distinct academic and practice field, enabling disputes of all kinds to be managed more effectively, ultimately leading to more stable societies and stronger economies. Hewlett’s funding undoubtedly helped mediation get established and prove itself.

Today, though, mediation needs to go further. It needs to articulate a new, mature, vision.  One that unlocks its Golden Age. The leading influencers, namely mediation institutions, mediators, users, scholars, skills trainers, professional bodies and Government agencies, nationally and internationally, can craft that vision, express their belief in it, commit to it, then embark on its implementation.

It is perfectly feasible for service providers to partner while simultaneously competing. Getting partnering right requires common goals, clear principles and shared energy. Leadership and partnership will drive the future of mediation.

The new vision can be inspirational, achievable and measurable—emphasising mediation as the universally natural, preferred, instinctive way for users both to avoid and resolve conflicts and to make deals in all areas—social, economic and political.

There are investors who fund goals that are both inspiring and realistic, where the fundamental objective is to gain wide public value and benefit. Investors who think that way are goal and results driven. They also seek convincing answers to basic questions, such as:

  • Do those who lead truly believe the vision and mission? What is their strategy over time? Is it transparent, specific, realistic and credible?
  • Are those who lead genuinely committed? Will they act as joint trustees for the long-term advancement of the global mediation field?
  • Do those who lead have a track record of delivering funded goals?
  • Will those who lead have personal and organizational “skin in the game” in terms of their time commitments, contributing toward funding, or in any other ways?
  • Is there a transparent, credible operating plan with detailed financials? Would investment funds be managed responsibly within a defined structure and adequate financial controls? Would funds be exempt from taxes? How credible are the priorities and phasing of the funds? Are the goals and commitments time-bound? How will achievements be objectively measured and reported?
  • What will be the payback both for others as well as those who lead, exactly who will benefit, and how will value be assessed?
  • Will additional investment be sought, and if so, from whom?
  • Are there any relevant conflicts of interest?
  • What mechanisms are in place for resolving disagreements?

The mediation field is not short of the extraordinary talent to address these issues. But viewed from a user perspective, it seems only rarely to advocate the field directly to potential users, the Global Pound Conference Series 2016-17 being a welcome exception. For example, TED.com, founded in 1984, groups its 3,000 plus talks into some 450 subject categories viewed 1.5 million times a day. Mediation is not yet a TED.com subject category.

With collective will and energy, the field can mobilize a new vision from the 22 preceding contributions to the Seven Keys, explaining why mediation can be far greater than the sum of its parts for everyone, including users. This requires mediative leadership, demonstrating qualities that lie at the heart and soul of mediation: maximizing the value of relationships; partnering among stakeholders; and achieving the outcomes that will benefit all.

Those who lead can together forge the vision into a compelling user-driven plan. A plan with a credible set of outcomes that delivers many times more value for societies and economies than the investment level required. A plan that also has the capacity to improve the prospects of geo-political agreements. A plan that can greatly improve and grow mediation globally. A plan that truly can convince major funders to invest in mediation’s Golden Age.

Michael Leathes[i]


[i] This article follows discussions Michael Leathes has had with a past donor of mediation projects, and a number of users of mediation services. The article also reflects his own experience raising funding in the mediation field. Michael is a former in-house counsel and in that capacity was a frequent user of mediation services. After retiring in 2007, Michael helped establish the International Mediation Institute (IMI) as a charitable institution, served in a pro bono capacity as the first Executive Director of the IMI, and participated in funding negotiations for the mission of the IMI with benefactors including the GE Foundation, Shell International, several major dispute resolution institutions and a number of other donors. He stepped down from the IMI Board in 2015. Michael is the author of Negotiation: Things corporate counsel need to know but were not taught (Wolters Kluwer, 2017).

[ii] David Kovick wrote a detailed and informative paper in 2005 entitled The Hewlett Foundation’s Conflict Resolution Program: Twenty Years of Field-Building which can be read here.


Originally published via Mediate.com on July 17 2020. Republished with permission.

Laura Skillen

Posted by Laura Skillen

Laura is part-time Executive Director at IMI. She is also a full-time PhD Researcher in International Relations, investigating political blame, emotions, and polarisation.

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