Nadja Alexander specialises in cross-cultural and cross-border disputes involving corporations, countries and communities. Three decades of engagement as a mediator, dispute resolution adviser and systems designer has taken Dr Alexander to professional engagements in more than 35 countries and led to her current role as director of the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy. Described as a practical thinker and a thinking practitioner, Nadja is highly regarded for the passion, energy and creativity she brings to her work. Her most recent book is The Singapore Convention: A Commentary, published by Wolters Kluwer in 2019.
What did you find most challenging about entering the world of mediation?
Mediation chose me rather than the other way around. In the late 1980s most lawyers were not interested in mediation. Early in my professional career I was given a couple of great opportunities to facilitate problem-solving processes for corporate and government clients. I never looked back. Back then the hardest thing was educating colleagues and clients alike about how mediation differed from arbitration, and convincing them of its legitimacy as a dispute resolution process.
What qualities make for an effective mediator?
Mediators have different attributes applied to them, reflecting different approaches and personalities. In my experience successful mediators have in common an open mind, patience, and respect, as well as a good balance of interpersonal and analytical skills.
What do you enjoy most about your role as director of the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA)?
I love being at the vanguard of a vibrant and fast-moving dispute resolution profession that crosses cultural and geopolitical boundaries. Mediation’s applicability in practice areas from e-commerce to investor-state disputes means that I am never bored.
At SIDRA we position our dispute resolution work with diverse stakeholders at the intersections of practice, policy and research. The combination of mediating, writing, teaching and designing within this cross-cultural and interdisciplinary context offers unique opportunities.
What would you say is driving the increased use of mediation in hybrid proceedings?
In 2019 we launched an international survey at SIDRA to find out how businesses are making decisions about resolving cross-border disputes, and the reasons for those decisions. We have some extremely interesting findings relevant to hybrid procedures. First the increased use of multi-tiered dispute resolution clauses in commercial contracts is having an impact on how disputes coming out of those contracts are being managed, with many businesses reporting use of hybrids as a result of contractual obligations. The most common reason given for the selection of hybrid processes over arbitration was to ensure the preservation of the business relationship, with cost and efficiency being also highly ranked. In terms of why users chose a hybrid mechanism as compared to standalone mediation, users indicated enforceability, finality, efficiency and cost as the main drivers. In other words, users see hybrid procedures as promising the best of both worlds. They appeal to our desire for greater certainty and finality while promising us greater autonomy and flexibility in an efficient and cost-effective procedure. More recently, sophisticated and streamlined procedures such as the AMA Protocol at the Singapore International Mediation Centre have made it easier for users to select hybrids pre-dispute, via clauses in their contracts, as well as after a dispute has arisen.
The Singapore Convention on Mediation had its signing ceremony recently. How do you think this will affect those who have enforceability concerns over the mediation process?
The Singapore Convention offers a legal framework facilitating the circulation of international mediated settlement agreements across national borders. Dispute resolution users currently using arbitration will find mediation an increasingly attractive option once mechanisms for expedited enforceability of mediated outcomes are in place. Combined with its comparatively efficient cost and time characteristics, international mediation will provide a real alternative to arbitration and litigation.
As director of SIDRA, what are you currently doing to prepare mediation practitioners and clients for what happens once the ink has dried on the Singapore Convention?
We are working with companies, communities and countries to prepare them for mediating their cross-border disputes. This involves research-based analysis and technical assistance on designing and drafting mediation laws, policies and systems. It also entails training mediators and advocates in skills and strategies necessary to make the most out of mediation, including online dispute resolution. In 2020, we will work with the United Nations to establish the first ever UNCITRAL Academy focused on cross-border mediation skills, advocacy and law for mediators, advisers, and business and government representatives.
What advice would you give to a younger practitioner looking to establish a career in mediation?
Think broadly about entry points to dispute resolution. Many mediators add related roles to their profile such as conflict management professional, dispute systems designer, conflict coach, facilitator, mediation advocate, negotiation adviser, dispute resolution strategist or adviser, collaborative lawyer and so on. Mediation-trained professionals are reinventing and broadening their role to encompass a range of interventions beyond that of a “traditional” mediator working with two or more parties to help them resolve their dispute. This is a great approach for younger practitioners entering the field.