2018 Women in Mediation: 

An Interview with Sabiha Shiraz




Sabiha SHIRAZ (Ms)

Sabiha is the Deputy Executive Director of the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) and has over 15 years of experience in ADR. She is involved in driving the strategic direction of SMC and oversees the daily operations of the Registry and business development functions. 

She graduated in Law from the University of Warwick in England and obtained an LLM in Corporate and Commercial Law from the University of London. She also completed the executive program on Mediating Disputes at Harvard Law School. 

Sabiha is an accredited mediator with Regent’s University London, the Community Mediation Centre and the Consumers Association of Singapore.


Q1: How did you get started in mediation?

My journey began about 12 years ago when I was working in alternative dispute resolution at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). I was looking for a meaningful way to give back to society, and specifically, by volunteering my time. 

In working closely with the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) through my work at SIAC, I met Ms. Gloria Lim who was overseeing the Community Mediation Centre at that time. She introduced me to mediation and encouraged me to go for mediation training. 

The concept resonated with me – helping ordinary folks find a solution to their problems. I went for training and became certified as a mediator with the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), and subsequently, the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE). 

I must say, my experience with community mediation has been very fulfilling because I am able to help people facing all kinds of day-to-day issues. Although some may feel that these types of disputes are trivial, I feel that the issues are important to the individuals involved. 

The power of the process stems from allowing parties to be heard, an essential human need, and understanding what they truly want. I continue to volunteer with CMC and CASE. I worked with SIAC for about 8 years, followed by a short stint at NUS Law School for 3 years. 

One day, I received a call asking if I would be interested in joining the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC). To me it was a fantastic opportunity and I jumped at it. It is been an exciting 8 years contributing to the mediation movement here in Singapore, as it takes flight.  

Unconsciously, when I first started in mediation after receiving basic mediation training, I realized that I have actually been doing this sort of work all my life, acting the mediator amongst friends. Whenever there was an issue I usually was the one that stepped in and tried to help and manage the situation.


Q2: What are some of the challenges you have overcome so far in your mediation career?

One of the main challenges is changing people’s mind set. People intellectually understand what mediation is and they recognise the benefits of it, but when it comes to the crunch, very few people consider, let alone use it as the first step amongst their dispute resolution options. 

Therefore, the effort we put into promotion does not always translate into actual cases. The number of cases determines the opportunities for our mediators to mediate, which remains limited. This, however, is not uncommon in countries which are trying to promote the use of mediation. 

In fact, we are fortunate in Singapore that we now have a sizeable number of cases relative to the rest of Asia or other South East Asian countries. 


The other big challenge is in reaching out to and educating end users, and influencing change. While I feel privileged to be part of SMC to do this type of work, even with our institutional track record, it is often difficult to get through the door to talk about mediation to business users. Even when you do, very few will want to rock the boat. 

Many companies already have established processes and policies, and are not receptive to change. So, it is a long road ahead, but one that we will continue to work on.


Q3: Do you see gender as playing a role at all in the mediation process?

Generally, I think women are more empathetic, are patient and are better listeners, qualities that really complement the mediation process. Some may say that these are generalizations, but I speak from my own life’s experiences. I will not disagree that there are of course women who are impatient and uninterested, and male mediators who are great listeners and problem solvers.  

In mediation, gender comes into play in certain types of cases. In commercial cases, it does not really matter. However, in divorce matters, SMC has a conscious policy to match a male and female mediator because of who the disputants are. 

You do not want the process stacked against one person from a gender bias perception, even before it has started. In these types of disputes, emotions run particularly high, and parties do not necessarily see things clearly or objectively. The male-female pairing keeps a balance.


Q4: Could you tell me who are some of your mentors or people you look up to in the field of mediation?

She is my friend and mentor - Shanti Abraham. We met about 25 years ago through a mutual friend when she was practicing as a lawyer in Singapore. It was pure coincidence that she forayed into mediation just about the same time I joined SMC, maybe it was the energy that two friends feed off each other! 

She is a fantastic mediator from all accounts that I have heard and is based in Malaysia. Her sheer energy drives me, and she exudes a genuine passion for mediation. I have learned so much about mediation from her – she is someone who is immensely generous with her time, knowledge, and in sharing her mediator’s tips and tools. And she always has the time to answer questions and teach. Shanti is like an inexhaustible battery of energy. 

My greatest wish is to mediate with her one day.


Q5: How would you advise new mediators to promote themselves? Is there something you find to be particularly effective?

I think if you believe in mediation and it is something that you want to develop in professionally, you have really got to embrace it 24/7, and not just when you have pockets of time to dabble in it. 

Disputes are common place from the family to the workplace, business commercial deals to divorcing couples. It is pervasive throughout society. So, practice your skills in whatever context or situation that disputes may arise. It is important to remember that success in anything comes with hard work, dedication and determination. 

For those just getting started in mediation, my words of encouragement are to not give up so easily. I have come across many people who have become disillusioned after they get trained as a mediator, and then do not get cases to do. If they do not get appointed to cases, they lose steam. 

If you are truly serious about making mediation a career choice, the change has to come from within – and you should start promoting yourself as a mediator. Find a mentor, make yourself visible and be open to a journey of continuous learning. I believe success is about keeping that energy going. Don't forget the cause.


Q6: What are your hopes for the mediation movement going forward?

Simply this - my wish is that more people experience the process of a good mediation with well-trained and skilled mediators, and through this, mediation becomes a serious dispute resolution option for parties (and countries!) that may be locked in dispute. 

It will make the world a better place to live in.

(Published 28 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)