Susan Coleman: Working with Senior Women’s Leadership Teams to Build Peace in Afghanistan

Dear Subscribers,

In the last few days, in the midst of holiday gatherings and conversation, I have learned of two super bright 20-somethings who have struggled with trauma. It appears that one of them just took her own life. The other struggles daily, walking the tightrope between manifesting his tremendous talent, or completely self-destructing.  Both situations were induced by a complicated blend of domestic, gender-based abuse, and global identity-group power struggles about which groups are worthy of support and protection.

Young people are inheriting such a complicated world.  There is climate change, of course. And then, I believe, there are the vestiges of a dying world order of patriarchy and authoritarianism.  Many health practitioners often comment on a phenomenon they call a “healing crisis” – the disease gets fiercer and stronger before it dies out. I think that may be what’s happening here in the United States with the upset election of Donald Trump and similar victories around the planet -- some kind of throw-back wish for a simpler time, and protection from an idealized benign authority.

I have always loved the work of Rianne Eisler and it seems so fitting now.  Eisler, an anthropologist, wrote in The Chalice and the Blade (1987), that the history of our planet can be divided into models of domination or partnership, with 99% of human history characterized by the latter.  Bill Ury, from the Harvard Program on Negotiation, echoed her work in Getting to Peace – contrasting the strong evidence that for 2,500,000 years of human life on the planet we lived in peaceful coexistence, with only the last 10,000 years marked by coercion and destructive conflict. Ury also went on to notice the current long-term trend of the information age pushing out the industrial, and shifting the prevailing winds towards greater partnership and collaboration.

As you know, the outlook of The Peacebuilding Podcast is basically optimistic.  As a global village, we may take one step forward and two steps back but there is so much going on in the world now that is truly life-enhancing and transformative.  This is the work that this Podcast features, the spirit of which is so well captured in systems thinker and designer, Buckminster Fuller's quote:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The most recent episode on The Peacebuilding Podcast is actually a cross-post from the Team Coaching Zone Podcast, where my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Krister Lowe, interviews me about my professional journey and recent work with Senior Women’s Leadership Teams in Afghanistan. Listen to this episode here.  I’m proud of the episode both because of the work itself, a highlight of 2016, but also because I have colleagues like Krister who continue to inspire and expand my repertoire of what’s possible.

So while you are cooking, driving, riding a train or just sitting in your home, take a listen to our conversation.  I think you will enjoy it.   To whet your appetite, here is a summary:

Is empowering women, especially in conflict-ridden societies a peacebuilding initiative? Can developing collective leadership among women, especially at senior levels in governments, be an important way to move towards a more peaceful and collaborative world? Coleman believes the answer to these questions is yes and that women’s leadership and empowerment is perhaps one of the most important peacebuilding initiatives we can undertake on the planet today. In this cross-post from the Team Coaching Zone Podcast, Dr. Krister Lowe interviews Coleman about her professional journey through the fields of commercial litigation to discovering the world of integrative negotiation at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard, to pioneering work in the field of intercultural negotiation and conflict resolution training at the United Nations and Columbia University, to her present work as global coach, mediator, public speaker and Host of this Podcast. Coleman shares details of her recent experience working with the most senior women in the Afghan government, a project sponsored by the Office of the First Lady of Afghanistan and UN Women Afghanistan.  She describes the difficulties of working in a war zone, the powerful inspiration of the Afghan women with whom she worked, as well as the intervention design and program. Coleman’s professional focus includes women’s leadership development, coaching and mediation of senior teams, large group facilitation and collaborative negotiation skill development. The Afghanistan work blended all of these as is elaborated upon in this podcast.

The line-up of episodes for the New Year is as follows: 

  1. Elvira Maria Restrepo -- Special Advisor to President Santos and the Peace Process in Colombia. Restrepo talks about a web app they are experimenting with to build peace in Colombia.
  2. Michael Gillenwater – A leading expert on climate change who had a front row seat at the negotiations in Paris where 195 countries came together to reach a landmark accord.
  3. Tom Hill – Clinical Associate Professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University who talks about his seminal peacebuilding work in Iraq.
  4. Sandra Janoff – Creator of Future Search, one of the most sophisticated and celebrated processes to build common ground in complex systems.
  5. Cat Guthrie – Founder, Harmony and Co, which uses music and harmony to bring conflicting groups together. 

So stay tuned. Please tell your friends and ask them to subscribe (it’s free) to The Peacebuiding Podcast.  The more subscribers the more impact this podcast can have.

I hope 2016 is coming to a peaceful end for you. I am practicing gratitude for both my tremendous blessings as well and the challenges I face that that keep helping me grow.

“See you” in 2017,

Elvira Maria Restrepo: A Web App for Building Peace in Colombia

Jim Zimmerman, NASA: Space Exploration – A Powerful Symbol of Global Cooperation