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For a quarter of a century, Mark Gerzon has been a mediator, leadership consultant, and activist across the political divides. From Capitol Hill to capitals around the world, from divided communities to conflict-resolution workshops, he has been one of the architects of the movement to reunite America.
During the 1990s, Mark worked in divided communities to bring opposing factions into dialogue. The goal of the Common Enterprise, as the project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation was called, was to help communities develop a shared project that all competing groups agreed would serve the best interests of their whole community. Drawing from his grassroots experience across the country, he wrote A House Divided: Six Belief Systems Struggling for America’s Soul (1996), which called for a “new patriotism” based on building bridges across the political spectrum rather than erecting walls.
Inspired by the message of that book, ten members of the US House of Representatives invited him, in collaboration with the Aspen Institute, to help design and facilitate the Bipartisan Congressional Retreats. Ever since those historic retreats in 1997 and 1999, he has been involved in many cross-party initiatives and off-site training workshops bringing together politicians from every party. He has also worked with scores of organizations active in cross-partisan work, ranging from the Federal Executive Institute to the Stennis Institute of Government to the Council for Excellence in Government.
Recognized for his expertise in fostering cross-party understanding, he was assigned by the United Nations Development Program to work with countries encountering election violence and partisan stalemate. Working with high-level party officials, he helped build the capacity for collaborative governance in Kenya, Nepal and other emerging democracies.
After a decade of domestic and international trainings, he wanted to share what he had learned about the best practices for dealing with divisive issues and partisan politics. In 2006, in collaboration with Harvard Business Review Press, he published Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities. His comprehensive overview defines the skills that can spark breakthrough innovation among even the most contentious, polarized stakeholders both in the United States and (through several translated editions) in countries around the world.
Despite progress in many segments of society, however, hyperpolarization in American politics worsened. Determined to highlight the heroic work of scores of organizations that were already tackling almost every aspect of this dangerous problem, Mark joined with a wide range of colleagues—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and libertarians—to launch the Bridge Alliance (bridgealliance.us). This network of diverse, powerful organizations is working together to create a “third narrative” in American political culture: Americans working together.
For the last thirty years, Mark has also served as president of Mediators Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to incubating projects that promote mutual understanding and the common good. The Foundation served as an institutional incubator for a wide variety of projects that are now pioneers in the transpartisan field, including the Bridge Alliance, and also helped convene many of the issue dialogues described in this book. For more information about the Foundation or to support its work, please go to mediatorsfoundation.org.
Mark lives with his wife, the educator and author Melissa Michaels, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He is the father of three sons, two daughters by marriage, and the grandfather of seven.
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