Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Client Spotlight—Patrick Maxwell, Mennonite Central Committee

Patrick MaxwellHNMCP: How you first heard about HNMCP and become interested in being a client?

I first heard about the Clinic’s work from Heather Kulp, a family friend and clinical instructor at HNMCP. At the time, I was working in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo with Mennonite Central Committee, and part of my job was to work with Congolese peacebuilding organizations and support them in growing their capacity. Once I learned more about the Clinic’s work, it seemed like a perfect fit.

HNMCP: How did you imagine the Clinic’s work in negotiation might support your work in the Congo?

One of the organizations I worked with—a local faith-based organization called the Program for Peace and Reconciliation (or PPR), who wound up being the main beneficiary of the project with HNMCP—works as an outreach provider to armed militia groups in the eastern Congo. There are programs, run by the Congolese government and the United Nations, that help ex-combatants disarm and return to civilian life—but militia members, especially those who’ve previously fought against the government, often mistrust the process and view it with suspicion. Because PPR is an apolitical, church-based organization, they are positioned to build bridges of trust and convince rebel fighters that disarmament and civilian life is a better option than continuing to live as a member of a militia group.

PPR has been doing this work for some time, but after several meetings with the organization’s coordinator, we agreed that the field staff could benefit from more formal knowledge of negotiation techniques. Negotiating a disarmament with members of an armed rebel group can be a high-stakes affair, and we wanted to make sure that PPR’s field negotiators were as best equipped as we could make them.

HNMCP: What were the most important issues you wanted us to address in our projects with you?

I wanted to build PPR’s capacity to train and enrich the knowledge of its own staff, so instead of a simple one-off training from HNMCP, I requested that the students put together a train-the-trainers curriculum that they could then present to PPR’s senior staff. That way, new hires (or members of other partner organizations) could be trained on the same material, by the staff members who already knew the negotiation techniques that HNMCP taught.

HNMCP: What did you think might be the biggest challenge of the project before we started? What ended up being the biggest challenge?

There’s never a shortage of things that could potentially go wrong with a project like this. Internet and travel infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is sometimes unreliable, and we had a variety of hurdles to overcome during the project–from logistical details like visas, passports, and plane tickets to language and cultural barriers, to power outages and poor Skype connections as we planned the project.

In the end, Murphy’s Law thankfully didn’t take effect, and the project went smoothly. There were a few hiccups, of course—including some problems with the translation equipment and one mid-presentation power outage—but thankfully, the HNMCP students were able to roll with the difficulties that the context presented.

HNMCP: What was the most engaging/interesting/fun part of the project for you?

Working with engaged and motivated students has always been a pleasure, and this project was no exception—the HNMCP students were great to work with. I also enjoyed the opportunity to brush up on my own knowledge of negotiation during the project.

HNMCP: What were the attractions of working with students? What concerns did you have?

I confess that, starting out the process, I did have some doubts in the back of my mind about how a couple of students from an American Ivy League law school would land on their feet in the Congo—a country which consistently ranks as one of the 5 poorest countries in the world, and where water, electricity, Internet access, and road infrastructure can be spotty at best. But I was pleasantly surprised by the HNMCP team, who handled the hurdles of the project well.

HNMCP: What tangible results have you seen unfold for MCC?

Unfortunately, my term of service with MCC has ended and I’ve since returned to the US, so I haven’t had the opportunity to see the changes in the way field staff do negotiations. I have seen a few training manuals and documents that the trainees have produced since the end of the HNMCP project, though, and I was pleased to see that they are referencing the training and making use of terms and concepts that the HNMCP team taught.

Patrick Maxwell is a conflict resolution and peace building practitioner with several years of experience in active conflict zones. He has worked with civil society organizations, universities, and international NGOs on three continents. His work has focused on a range of issues including conflict analysis, child protection, nonviolent direct action training, community reconciliation, and militia demobilization. He specializes in the unique context of the Great Lakes Region of central Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. Patrick currently lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts.

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