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Wednesday 5 April 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 7. restitute, reconcile, collaborate

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'We openly discussed the sticky issue of reconciliation. Obviously, by bringing players from across Iraq together, NYOI had become a role model, but we knew the media would pick up on the broader dimension, reconciling Iraq with America. I already knew from talking to foundations that this stuck in some people's throats. Reconciliation implied liability. Liability challenged American exceptionalism, and not everyone was ready to go there.'   

'For NYOI, the first step towards reconciliation was restitution; restoring people's childhood lost to war, improving a broken education system and building a healthier link between the people's of Iraq and the wider world.'

'The High Court in Edinburgh fined the Weir Group £3 million and ordered them to repay £13.9 million in profits from Iraqi deals. The undertones of this judgement involved the righting of a Scottish wrong to the peoples of Iraq, but also carried an oblique sense of restitution for the damage done during the war. On this basis, we were awarded the £100,000 to come to Scotland.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

It is frequently the case that those seeking to collaborate with each other share a history. Sometimes this history is problematical, full of bad experiences and bitter outcomes, and it can cause friction within the machinery of  collaboration -- making it shudder and stop. 

This is what happened when Paul tried to collaborate with American Institutions and agencies to arrange NYOI's tour of the USA. As the first quotation makes clear, not everyone was willing to acknowledge and address the nature of America's shared history with Iraq. This eventually led, through multiple difficulties thrown up by multiple American institutions and agencies, to NYOI's tour of the USA being cancelled.

Because of an unwillingness to reconcile, the machinery of collaboration well and truly shuddered to a stop.

And, as the quotation also makes clear, this unwillingness to reconcile was merely a symptom of something else: the unwillingness to admit liability, which would almost inevitably lead to a need for restitution.

As the second quotation shows, this need for restitution as the first necessary step towards reconciliation (which can then lead to fruitful collaboration) was acknowledged by Paul and the NYOI. This clearly contributed to the orchestra's ability gain allies and supporters from within Iraq, which helped it survive and succeed over a five year period. 

The third quotation shows that even an implied sense of restitution, in this case provided by a High Court ruling punishing a company for its dealings in Iraq, can kick start the machinery of collaboration: a supportive sentiment was created which encouraged and enabled the Scottish Government to award the NYOI £100,000 for its summer course in Scotland and associated UK tour.

The above demonstrates that it is difficult to collaborate effectively if the players share a problematic history which is not acknowledged and addressed. It also shows that restitution and reconciliation are the two necessary steps towards overcoming this history and enabling fruitful collaboration to begin.

In practical terms, this means that partners need to identify and acknowledge what has been lost and why (and, importantly, who needs to make restitution to whom).

Making restitution may require a simple acknowledgement or a difficult apology. It may be very demanding of time, effort and resources.

But if it is essential that collaboration takes place between partners 'with a history', restitution must be done and done willingly. Then, the resulting reconciliation can become a shared foundation upon which people can build.  

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