Gifts at Changing The Present
Raymond shonholtz_normal
Raymond Shonholtz JD

In March 1990, in Poland, a leader of Solidarity, the movement that took over the government in January 1990, asked a question in a training program that Raymond Shonholtz was leading that stopped the training: “Why do we need this training? We negotiated the communists out of power. What can you teach us?” Raymond asked him, “Why then did you come to this training?” He replied, “We still have the same issues now as before: wages, environmental conditions, health problems, and jobs.” So Raymond asked, “Why don’t you use your negotiating skills with the government on these issues?” “Because,” he replied, “we can’t do mass demonstrations and civil disobedience with a government that is ours. People won’t participate.”

Raymond realized that the methods used by dissidents to rid themselves of authoritarian regimes could not be used in a democratic society. In short, Solidarity had learned the skills to negotiate with an enemy, but had limited skills to negotiate with friends, the elected government. How would Solidarity and other leaders learn these skills? Raymond believed that sustainable, local capacity must be built to enable local people to resolve these challenges and disputes themselves. He saw this as an opportunity to bring the programs he had pioneered in the US in change and conflict management to communities worldwide.

In 1976, Raymond founded Community Boards, one of the first neighborhood mediation experiments in the US. He founded the organization after teaching criminal law at the University of San Francisco. There he came to appreciate that average citizens could help their neighbors resolve disputes and that legal training was often unnecessary. He designed a mediation program and trained hundreds of volunteers to address conflicts before they entered the justice system. Community Boards became a model across the US, and he served as director until 1988.

Raymond founded Partners for Democratic Change in 1989, understanding that new democracies needed to develop a culture of conflict management. Moving his family to Poland in 1991, Raymond pursued his vision by developing conflict management programs for civic leaders, many of whom became prominent members of civil society and government. The success of the early years encouraged Raymond to broaden Partners’ impact by establishing local Centers throughout the region. Today, Partners is a truly global organization, and what began as one man’s vision is now an organization that has worked in over 50 countries.