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 ???).

I think a few things. One is getting back to this point about networks. I think building really strong networks of people doing related work is absolutely critical. So when people come and ask for advice about getting into the field, I say, you know, talk with everyone you can, learn what's going on, build these relationships because you can come back to them later. When I was getting in to the field, somebody recommended that I do some sort of informational interviewing. I took it probably much further than he probably intended. I did about a year and a half of this, probably several times a week, I mean I had coffees, and lunch meetings and talked with people in organizations I had no intention of working with, but just to get a feeling for the lay of the land, what was being done, who was in the field, what their ideas and sources of inspirations were. Many of these people have become very good friends; others are colleagues that I work regularly with. I think networking is very valuable and it's not just valuable just in terms of professional development, it's also very valuable in terms of delivering services because there are always limitations.

You know each of us develops areas of expertise and there are lots of areas we don't have expertise in. If we know whose doing good work and we can call on them as colleagues and work with them or pass them work, then it just really supports the effectiveness and the usefulness of our work.. Another piece of advice is to work off some base of strength, so not just to try to get into this field or to try to build a current field as a process expert, but to pick some area where there is a very strong, you know, base of talent or experience or expertise. It might be in the arts, it might be in education, it might be in community work, it might be a strong connection to faith, whatever it is, and to, or language skills or having come from a you know, a multi-cultural family, you name it, but some real base and something that's unique, that other people may not have and to work off that base and look for opportunities that really sort of connect with driving passions, but also something unique you can bring to the work. There are only so many jobs and so many opportunities as sort of pure, full time mediators. Quite frankly that's not where all the action is by any means anyhow.

There are so many different avenues for peace building; I mean it's almost infinite. People can come at this through law, through business, I don't just mean through legal education and business education, but really being in the corporate world. You know, being an attorney, being an educator at different levels, being a community activist, being religious leaders, so, and being an artist. Whatever it is, there are so many opportunities to feed that work into peace building. I think it's through the networks that some of the creative ideas can emerge. And I guess the final piece of advice is that I usually give is that, people often say "Oh, don't quit your day job", because it's hard to get into this field, it's hard to make a living. I don't say that, I actually don't think that's true. What I do think is true is that the way to create a career in this field is to be very entrepreneurial. You can't just look for a ready-made job and a ready-made organization and think that you have a very good chance of getting it. Yes, there are a few of those but there is also a lot of competition and they may not be the best for any given person, the best fit. So, it's looking for the creative opportunities to really build off this base of expertise and interests and creating a niche rather than trying to find a niche.