Broadening my perspective: from a bit too British toward something more global
Hi, my names Tim Mortimer and I’m an interfaith dialogue specialist from the UK, and part of the latest Rotary Peace Fellowship Class 30.
I applied for and was accepted to the Fellowship with the intentions of broadening my perspective. I’ve been working at The Faith & Belief Forum, the UK’s leading interfaith charity for the last 6 and a half years. I love it, but I’ve definitely become used to a particular methodology and context. I’ve worked on and lead different grassroots programming connecting people from different backgrounds, and it’s all been very locally focussed. For one example, over the last 5 months I’ve been leading a government funded dialogue programme in two British cities where diverse faith/belief communities engage and get to know each other through a series of facilitated online meetings. One Mosque and Church that linked were on the same street, and so we built connections through exploring each community’s experiences within the same locality.
I was aware that after so long in the same organisation, the chance to step back and compare my approach to practitioners from all around the world would be invaluable. Now, 8 weeks into the fellowship I can certainly say that the process of broadening my perspective is well underway.
At first the Fellowship experience was a little overwhelming. The language of ‘conflict transformation’, ‘multilateral organisations’, ‘global geopolitical trends’ and ‘UN Security Council resolutions’ is quite unfamiliar to me. I’m more used to talking about individual stories of faith, family, community and identity. There’s a risk that when broadening one’s perspective, that you start to appreciate the vast complexity of the wider problems we face.
I was also introduced to my incredible cohort of Fellows working and living in such different contexts all around the globe. From New York to Nepal, Liberia to Timor-Leste. It became evident extremely quickly that when we talked about peace we were often talking about quite different things. When I talk of conflict in the UK in 2021, I’m talking about the underlying community tensions that the Brexit vote has brought to the fore. I’m talking about the rising levels of hate crime against minority communities. I’m not talking about imminent threats of violence in the way friends from Palestine or Uganda might be. I have also consistently been reminded of my own privilege, not least digitally, as friends from other countries participate around power cuts.
However, as we get into the swing of the Fellowship, I am definitely learning a lot. Particularly, I’m learning fairly frequently that the grassroots principles that I’ve picked up over time in the UK do relate to the global conversation, in ways I never realised.
This recently hit home during our lectures with Itonde Kakoma (Director for Global Strategy) from Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an internationally focussed mediation organisation based in Finland. While Itonde and I are both professional mediators, the conversations he mediates are between world leaders so I didn’t expect to find too many similarities in our practices. Certainly, the dialogues Itonde spoke of in Tanzania between leaders of different political factions in South Sudan are a far cry from my recent community dialogue project. Interestingly, when Itonde shared his methodology and approach to high level mediation, there were important similarities to my own practice. To name a few, these similarities include: the focus on preparation and the conversation needed before opening the dialogue space; the importance of learning mediation through an ‘apprentice model’ of observing seasoned mediators; the cruciality of co-production and the need to assess the power dynamics of the physical dialogue space.
As the Fellowship continues, I look forward to broadening my perspective, but also coming to realise that some of the answers I’m looking for are a little closer to home.
Tim Mortimer – The UK
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30