Q1: Could you share how your interest in promoting mediation first started?
Few people know this, but my interest in promoting mediation started after a short stint in private practice. I had applied for a job at the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) in a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Unit, designed to look into setting up the Community Mediation Centre. Instead, I was offered a job in the Legal Policy Division because of my legal background.
While I enjoyed my work in the Legal Policy Division, I kept abreast with developments in the ADR field. An opportunity to get more directly involved came up again a few years later, when I was asked to take on the role of managing the Community Mediation Centre.
A few years on, I went on scholarship to Harvard Law School to pursue my Masters, with a focus on dispute resolution, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration and disputes systems design. I also joined the Harvard Mediation Program as a volunteer. I had the privilege of attending classes under renowned experts in the field, including, but not limited to Professor Frank E.A. Sander. He was well known as a father in the field of alternative dispute resolution from a paper he presented at the Pound Conference in 1976.
Upon return in 2006, I started work on legal industry matters, and have been involved in various aspects since, including developing our dispute resolution services and framework.
Q2: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your efforts to promote mediation in the legal industry?
In the early 2000s, when I took on the role of managing the Community Mediation Centres (CMCs), and co-ordinating our policy on Alternative Dispute Resolution, there was low awareness about mediation. The CMCs were only a few years old, and we had to organise a large number of awareness events including public roadshows.
We also organised targeted briefings for important “first stops” people went to for help such as the police, Housing Development Board (HDB), town councils etc. These briefings were designed to explain the basics about mediation and how it would be helpful for resolving disputes that occurred in the community. We also worked closely with the grassroots community, conducting briefings for them and to train mediators.
We went to schools as well.
It was a challenging endeavour, taking up not just daytime work hours, but nights and weekends. Today, I still feel it was a meaningful one and has borne fruit. There is much more awareness and willingness to try mediation today, and we have an established system for dealing with community disputes.
You can read more about the work we were involved in from pieces such as "The Development of Mediation for Community and Social Disputes” published in the book “Mediation in Singapore, A Practical Guide”.  Now my team looks at how we can develop our framework to promote mediation for commercial disputes, alongside other ADR options.
International commercial mediation is still relatively unfamiliar in this part of the world, so that is my next challenge, but we are making headway, with the establishment of important institutions like the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI), and the newly established Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA) that also do a lot of work to familiarise commercial parties with mediation and its benefits.
We have also strengthened our legal framework by, for example, introducing a new Mediation Act, which came into force last year. We believe this will strengthen the mediation landscape in Singapore. Our efforts continue to be a work in progress, together with industry stakeholders.
Q3: What are some of your proudest moments in your work to promote mediation?
It has been a privilege to be involved in developing the mediation landscape in Singapore.
Two areas come to mind:
1) Being part of the team who helped to build up the Community Mediation Centres in its early years. Together we developed its systems, processes, and a strong volunteer corps of trained mediators who actively lend their time and skills to serve the community at the Centres.
2) Being part of the Secretariat to the 2013 Working Group that was set up to look into developing Singapore into a centre for international commercial mediation and having the privilege of working with the legal industry to give effect to the recommendations.
Some of the most tangible outcomes include the establishment of SIMI, as a professional standards body for mediation, SIMC, as a best of class international commercial mediation service, and enacting a Mediation Act which now allows parties to register mediated settlements as a consent order. SIMI and SIMC, despite being young organisations, have done well, and it is very gratifying to have played a small role behind the scenes.
Q4: What is your view on the role that women mediators have to play in the development of Singapore's mediation scene?
I think there are many ways in which women mediators can play a role. There are many avenues to get involved through SIMC, SMC, CMC and other mediation outfits that run various mediation schemes – whether in the areas of community, family or commercial conflicts.
Depending on the subject matter or personality, a woman may be the best choice of mediator or one may only want a female mediator involved in some instances.
What we should be working towards is building mediator expertise in areas they excel. I think this applies whether for a man, or a woman.
Women bring diversity to the table, such as empathy or a listening and understanding ear – valuable qualities in a mediator. I know I often look for meaning or altruism in some of the work that I do, and I think this may be common among other women as well. Mediation certainly fits that mould.
Q5: What are your hopes for the mediation movement going forward?
I think it is still early days for the mediation movement. We probably are at a stage where we are beginning to see growth and how things unfold. I hope that it will continue to grow and gain traction.
Above all, I hope to see home-grown Singaporean mediators continue to upgrade their skills, expand their exposure, and rise up on the world stage.
The skills that you gain when you go through the mediation training are applicable not just for mediation but in all areas of life.
I subscribe to the notion that even if you are not going to be a mediator, it is worthwhile to go through some of the trainings. It is something that you use every day. Even if you chair a meeting, you might have to mediate sometimes. It is an exchange of ideas. The figuring out of interests. Coming up with an outcome, solution, or agreement that caters to all the different interests at play.
I do believe these were part of our goals when we did the outreach and awareness programmes for the Community Mediation Centres in the 2000s - to help people acquire mediation as a life-skill and use it in their daily lives - from adults to kids in school.
Going forward, we need to continue to find ways of engaging the young, and developing mediation training material that remains relevant to the changing times, and needs of our society.
 Mediation in Singapore: A Practical Guide (Danny McFadden & George Lim gen eds) (Sweet & Maxwell, 2nd Ed, 2014) Ch. 14, The Development of Mediation for Community and Social Disputes (Ho Peng Kee and Gloria Lim).
(Published 28 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)