Local Partners

Andrea Strimling

Commissioner, International ADR, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; also a founder of ACRON (the Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network)

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

This has to do with working with local partners and sensitivity to relationship and dynamics. Again drawing on Indonesia because that's where I spent the most time, and had very intensive partnerships with local people, local colleagues. We made two mistakes, one bigger than the other. One was as simple as the following. We were in a meeting and we had some information that we had to share with one of our Indonesian colleagues and we passed her very visibly a note to share this information. She was sitting at the head of the table and we just wrote a little note, "Oh, I think it would be important to ask this question," or "Oh, I hope we can get this information," because we were partners in this process, and that kind of request or input was completely appropriate. We knew her very well at this point, and it's the kind of thing that we would do in the states without thinking. And afterwards she came up to us, and incredibly graciously, because she's worked and studied in the west, she understands, she said," Please be careful never to do that again because to all of the Indonesians in the room it looked as if the U.S. partners were giving us our instructions, our marching orders, it just looked really bad and undermined their credibility." So that was one lesson and thank goodness we had such an open and good relationship with her and she was willing to bring that up or we would never have known.

Another, which was a little bit more serious for us, but I think it's okay, it's smoothed over at this point. It was another woman, an Indonesian woman, with whom we had been working, who had been trained in conflict resolution in the States but didn't have nearly as much applied experiences as the Americans partners. We all, the Indonesians and Americans, agreed that we would jointly put on a training for about fifty representatives of NGO's and government from all over the country. Our working assumption was that we would probably have to do the bulk of the training because we had much more experience. We didn't check out this assumption. Consequently, this woman, who is a highly recognized activist and highly recognized scholar, you know, speaks, is well known because of the media coverage of her across the country, felt that she was put in a subservient position. We had no anticipation of this. We thought we working on the same base of assumptions and she was terribly offended. So there have been a number of really important lessons about working with partners and being sensitive and making sure we check out our assumptions that we have to be very careful about, especially as outsiders. And happily, just one concluding thought. These are people whom I respect enormously and one of the things I respect about them is the fact that over time we've been able to sort these things out, but they're good lessons.