International agreements cap School of Conflict Management opening

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 21, 2018

Official launch event also features panel of global scholars and activists

As part of its official opening last week, Kennesaw State University’s School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development (SCMPD) expanded its reach with the signing of two memoranda of understanding that will widen the scope of its conflict resolution education and provide mediation training throughout Mexico.

An agreement between the University and the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, government-funded organization designed to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflict around the world, will give Kennesaw State access to USIP’s Global Campus online curriculum. Kennesaw State will be listed as one of USIP’s official academic partners.

A second agreement between SCMPD and Bi-National Group, a nonprofit that promotes collaborations and provides legal support services, will help train and support thousands of mediators, judges and attorneys across Mexico. The agreement follows constitutional changes there that require the use of restorative justice practices like mediation and related processes for all criminal and civil cases.

“We celebrate the official opening as well as the growing impact of the School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development, and the expansion of its ability to transform the methods, practice, and impact of resolving conflict across the globe through education and training,” said Robin Dorff, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which houses the SCMPD.

USIP Partnership

USIP's Carla Koppell sings agreement with Dean Robin Dorff, left, and Joe Bock.

Through the new USIP partnership, the University will offer two certificate programs for students, faculty, staff and/or alumni. The Certificate in the Foundations of Conflict Management and Peacebuilding provides an introduction to peacebuilding, conflict analysis, and strategic peacebuilding. The Certificate in Critical Skills covers negotiation, arbitration, mediation, as well as principles and guidelines for good governance, civil resistance and nonviolent movements, elections and electoral systems, disarmament, post-agreement reconstruction and peacebuilding assessment. The catalog includes about eight self-paced courses that will be available in an online, on-demand format.

SCMPD faculty will provide feedback to help improve USIP courses and help integrate them into the school’s academic programs and participate in the organization’s virtual events, live-streamed webinars and onsite events designed to build global communities of practice in the field of conflict management and peacebuilding.

“This agreement represents an unprecedented opportunity to partner with an organization with a proven reputation of facilitating education in peacebuilding around the world,” said Joe Bock, SCMPD director. “It comes at a time when we face global challenges that require a heightened level of knowledge and skill in conflict transformation in order to build and sustain peace.”

Bi-National Agreement

From left, Bi-National's Adriana Helenek, Sue Raines and Dean Robin Dorff

As part of the Kennesaw State agreement with Bi-National Group, Susan Raines, interim SCMPD associate director, will work with Adriana Helenek, the organization’s president, to help improve mediation in Mexico’s court system. Along with a team from Kennesaw State, they will work with local mediators and trainers to develop a model of mediation grounded in the country’s legal and cultural contexts.

“Mediation will involve all parties to a dispute coming together to discuss the impact of the conflict on their lives, to propose remedies and seek agreements that will heal divisions among individuals and groups,” Raines said. “This is part of a broader effort to create restorative justice mechanisms throughout Mexican society, including prisons, schools and communities.”

Panel discussion highlights SCMPD’s three pillars

The opening ceremonies also featured a panel discussion whose theme, “Educating Future Leaders: Developing Peace; Inspiring Change, encompassed the School’s three pillars: conflict management, peacebuilding and development.

Panelists included Gary White,  co-founder with Matt Damon of and Water Equity, nonprofits designed to provide microfinancing solutions to providing access to clean water and for the world’s poor; Carla Koppell, vice president for the Center for Applied Conflict Transformation at the United States Institute of Peace and former chief strategy officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and Kevin Avruch, dean of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) and professor of anthropology at George Mason University. Tim Hedeen, Kennesaw State Ombuds and professor of conflict management, served as moderator.

Water Panel

Panelists, from left, Kevin Avruch, Gary White, Carla Koppell, and Timothy Hedeen

White, who has worked at creating clean water solutions for the poor for 25 years, began his partnership with Damon in 2009 to start focusing on the financing of water infrastructure, primarily to provide connections to water systems for people who could not afford to pay for them. The lack of access to water and sanitation stifles development and impacts education and health for more than 8 billion people worldwide without access to clean water and 2 billion who lack sanitation services, he said. was created to address a “market failure” that prevented poor people from getting micro-financed loans to pay for access to clean water and sanitation.

“Microfinance institutions and entrepreneurs didn’t want to make loans for which there were no dividends and too much risk, but we knew many people could repay the loans, White said. “Matt had the appeal to attract funds, and I had the experience, so we teamed up to provide the philanthropic capital needed to make the financing of loans more attractive.”

White said for the poor, a lot of money and effort – what he calls coping costs – goes into securing water. He cited Indonesia, where poor people were paying water vendors as much as $60 a month for water, and India, where people living in poverty had to pay loan sharks at 125 percent interest on loans to pay connection fees.

“With our solutions, some of those same families are now able to get the loans to connect to the water supply,” he said, noting that those families now pay as little as $5 a month to repay their loans and $5 a month for the water service.

USIP’s Koppel, a former chief strategist for the U.S. Agency for International Development, described the work she now does at USIP as the “sweet spot” for her because she had always wanted to work at the intersection of defense, development and diplomacy.

At USIP, she now works with USAID, the State Department and Department of Defense on multiple programs around the world that demonstrate the significant relationship between peacebuilding and development.

“As a strategist at USAID, I saw that increasingly the countries that continued to require development assistance and foreign aid were fragile and conflict-affected states,” Koppell said. “In fact, the states that remained stable became increasingly prosperous, graduated from assistance programs and began to thrive economically, socially, politically and culturally. And those that were brittle and fragile and …suffered from war and disaster were continuing to need the same kind of assistance. So today, at USIP, we’re looking across geographies at …  how to create that foundation upon which all countries can thrive.”

Furthering the study of conflict resolution is critical to the future, says Kevin Avruch, one of the leading scholars of the field. As dean of George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, the first program of its kind in the nation, Avruch was instrumental in guiding the creation of Kennesaw State’s SCMPD.

“It’s a joy to welcome the competition,” Avruch said in congratulating the SCMPD administration, faculty and staff. He described the development of the field of conflict management in the academy and noted the leadership of a handful of intuitions – his and KSU among them – that now offer Ph.D.’s in the field.

Avruch noted “interesting parallels” between George Mason and Kennesaw State: Both began as very small regional universities and both began in the shadow of other great universities.

Those dynamics have a lot to do with why George Mason became the “first on the planet” to offer a master’s degree (in 1981) and a Ph.D. (in 1988) in the field of conflict management, said Avruch, who contends that the ability to develop the program free from the influence of well established programs in political science and other social sciences led to better imagining what the field of conflict management should look like.

“Individuals who came to us [to devise a conflict resolution program] came from the diplomatic world, from public policy and crisis negotiation,” he said. “In some ways we had to invent the field [because] there were siloed islands of theory, but there was not a sense that you could separate methodologies by disciplines.”

Like George Mason, Kennesaw State’s conflict management program has evolved into an interdisciplinary school, starting first with a Center for Conflict Management in 1997, a Master of Science in Conflict Management program in 1999, and the addition of a Ph.D. in International Conflict Management in 2010.

Avruch observed that George Mason’s school evolved “only when the faculty became convinced over time that there really was a field and a curriculum – that we weren’t just offering watered down political science or watered down social psychology.”

“[The development of the field] only happens at schools like Mason, and in many ways like KSU, that are small and independent enough. It wouldn’t happen at the larger, traditional and more prestigious universities where the chairs of the social science departments are like barons. That’s why I can share in the joy of (launching your school) today.”

– Sabbaye McGriff

Photos by David Caselli


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