Kerri Ann Forde is a problem solver. From a young age, she enjoyed helping people resolve their problems, so it was therefore no surprise that the now 34-year-old would fit perfectly into a career in mediation.
“Mediation allowed me to do two things: it allowed me to help people solve their problems as well as empower them to have the tools to solve problems on their own,” said a passionate Forde.
It all began with a one-week course on mediation in commercial and work place settings, offered by Queens University.
“At the time, I was a student of the Barbados Community College studying Health and Information Management and I heard about mediation and how I could be this third party in solving others’ problems and it was there that the desire to pursue mediation arose,” she told Barbados TODAY.
“A couple years after that workshop, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Association of Barbados Inc hosted Kennesaw State University and they offered a 40-hour intensive professional course which would give me a certificate to be a mediator, so I went and I did the course. It was a professional mediator’s certification and it was a very in-depth and intense but extremely rewarding course.”
And it would be that course that cemented her in that career path.
“From there, I was absolutely certain that mediation is what I wanted to do with my life and I also decided right there that I had to go to Kennesaw State University to do my Masters, because that particular professor really impressed me and I was sure that was the school I needed to go to,” Forde recalled.
But it wasn’t that easy getting in. The young woman faced hurdle after hurdle.
“It was very difficult, firstly as an international student to get into that particular programme which only accepts about 25 students a year and an even smaller number of international students. I knew it would have been hard for me to get in, especially without some form of work experience related to the field. Perhaps if I came from a territory that was conflict stricken it would have probably increased my chances. Beyond that, there were also financial constraints as it is a pretty costly programme,” she explained.
Although the odds were against her, she applied for admission at the university in Georgia, the United States while she was working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
“The first year that I applied, which was in 2011, I was not accepted into the programme. I had thrown all my eggs into one basket; I didn’t apply anywhere else because I knew that was where I wanted to go. The setback did not deter me. I applied the next year; I still didn’t apply anywhere else,” she said.
In 2012, she was accepted into Kennesaw State University.
And it turned out that being rejected the previous year was a blessing in disguise.
“I think that was one of the reasons I was able to do so well. Not that I necessarily had anything to prove, but because I really valued being there,” said Forde, whose hard work and determination earned her honours in graduating with a Master’s of Science in Conflict Management.
When she returned to Barbados, she was immediately transferred from the Medical Records Department at the QEH to the Human Resource Department.
“Ideally, I wanted to start my own mediation practice immediately but I knew that the market wasn’t there yet. The ADR Association had done a lot to sensitize the general public about mediation through its annual week of activities, among other initiatives, but we still hadn’t gotten to a point in Barbados where everyone was aware of mediation,” she said.
However, Forde was able to eventually go out on her own.
“I was working in government and therefore had to apply for permission to have my own business, so eventually I wrote the required letter to prove that there was a need in the community and for the Barbadian public and I was granted permission to engage in private business, but of course only outside of working hours. When the time was right, I resigned from QEH to pursue my own business in mediation, and formed KF Mediation Services.”
And she never looked back. The vice president of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Association of Barbados Inc. believes in the value of what she does.
“Mediation is important to our judicial system as well as our economy. It saves a lot of time and it saves a lot of money. There is no doubt that going through the courts can be a long, tedious and expensive process, but in going to a mediator, whether it be privately or through the court, you are able to get your problem resolved in as little as three hours in many instances. The value of being able to reach an agreement in three hours rather than three years is indescribable,” she pointed out.
“And that’s why mediation is beginning to boom and that’s a good thing for our country, because the more that mediation is used, there is less pressure on our judicial system.”
Forde added that she believes Barbados is shifting towards more efficient methods of resolving disputes, and more efficient use of time as well as money.
“We can use mediation to reduce the backlog in court – both the former and present Chief Justice have advocated for mediation on this point. Judges have begun to send cases to mediation also, because a lot of the time there are interpersonal issues which are stopping people from moving forward and really working together to find a common agreement, and I believe that the court mediation pilot project will indeed have high success as majority of the disputes can be resolved through mediation,” she added.
Forde encourages young people to consider a career in mediation, as there are many opportunities currently available.
“It is definitely not a saturated field as yet. Right now, on the court roster there are approximately 11 mediators, and I understand a few more are on their way,” she said, adding that mediation training is valuable in any profession.