DISCUSSION Jo Berry: Achieving positives out of a crisis

by Luke Robinson _______25th July 2013
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In Conversation with Jo Berry: Achieving positives out of a crisis

Jo Berry, founder of Building Bridges for Peace and daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP who was tragically killed in the IRA Brighton Bombing during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, joined Tomorrow’s Company for a discussion on achieving positives out a crisis.

TC: Jo, thank you for joining us this morning. The first question I have concerns your inspiration for doing what you do, in terms of what led you to adopt your non-violent approach to conflict resolution?

Jo: My passion for non-violence began during my late teens and early twenties after reading the writings of Ghandhi, living in India and in Tibet with the Dalai Lama. After my father was killed I found I could bring non-violence to the conflict resolution table and establish grass roots dialogue with perpetrators and victims of violence. At Building Bridges for Peace, we do this in our work in Northern Ireland and in Rwanda, Israel and Palestine.

TC: What does it require to create an effective and honest conversation after conflict?

Jo: From my experience, time is very important. Raw pain is something I experienced after the event with my father and time allowed me to sit down and actually have a dialogue with Patrick Magee. Openness is also key to establishing collaborative and effective dialogue between two parties. From my work in Israel and Palestine, openness allowed both parties to connect with one another and express their injustices towards each other.

A further factor is moving on from demonising individuals to understanding what motivated an individual to commit the injustice. This ties in with the idea of responsibility – allowing each other dignity and respect whilst at the same time being able to move forward in dialog.

Culture and betrayal also act as further barriers to an effective conversation between two parties. I had to fight against sections of the British public after my father died as some people perceived my actions of empathy and non-violence towards Patrick Magee as betrayal.

TC: I understand that at our Good Governance Forum meeting last Thursday, you spoke to a corporate audience for the first time?

Jo: Yes. I loved it. I felt very comfortable and the language – such as empathy, humanity and risk – used by the speakers and the audience was very similar to mine. Overall it was a very inspiring and positive experience for me.

TC: Lastly, how might businesses and the corporate world learn from your experiences?

Jo: I think there are a number of key transferable skills and experiences businesses and the corporate world can learn from my experiences. Creating a culture of empathy is the most useful tool we have and within business I can see how important this can be. If we take the boardroom for instance, developing a culture of empathy moves away from the whole ‘blame culture’ which unfortunately is all too common today. Starting in the boardroom and moving down towards the workplace, empathy would allow individuals to be heard, understood, feel valued and in turn, bring out the best in them.

Similarly, if individuals make mistakes in the workplace, it would be wrong to instantly label the mistake as a problem. It is about finding a way to work with the person, change their behaviour and increase their self-esteem. Hindering them will not help the situation or enable the person to take risks and grow as an individual.

In the corporate world, creating a culture of empathy would change the values of business in the overall corporate picture. A company is not going to want to work at the cost of hurting other people or the planet, it will want to collaborate with local people across the globe and not orientate itself towards a purely money centred approach.

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