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Mediation Business Strategy

Mediation Business Strategy

How did you approach establishing your mediation business in India?



Full Transcript

I was very clear coming in that I didn’t want a successful individual practice. I mean I really didn’t come to earn a living, not that I had any savings. But I was very clear about my mission. My mission was to establish an organisation that could outlive me and that could continue to do this work. Not to build ‘Ashok Panikkar Incorporated’. I was very clear that was not the intention. So I was very focused. I still remember that within three weeks of coming here, I had already found an apartment, which is very difficult to do if you know anything about how India works. Within four weeks, I had hired my very first staff person, and within about three weeks, I got my first client who happened to be a friend who ran a company, and he happened to be going through a very challenging period with this, company and he gave me an opportunity to test out many of my materials, and I did so for something like almost four months. That project was the only work we had for almost a year, and it didn’t pay us anything – peanuts. But that gave me the confidence and actually made me feel like I was doing something concrete instead of sitting in my office brooding about what was going to happen. You know, it is very important to have something.


We found that the only area we were able to break into was the corporate training environment, where I had to develop conflict management courses and negotiation courses, and cross cultural training courses, that I was able to start offering to companies, at least for the first couple of years, before I started pulling in consulting gigs. It was like, training was the way we actually sustained ourselves as well as we got the word out into the market that we exist, and we’re specialists. We’re not a training company. I went out of my way to tell people, we don’t do soft skills training. We’re not a bunch of trainers. We’re mediators. We are consultants. We do intervention in organisations. We work with the social sector.


Our mission was very clear. We used to say that our primary purpose was to change the culture of discourse in India. It doesn’t get more arrogant than that. A 5,000 year old culture, and we presume to want to change the culture of discourse, and we were bloody clear about it. And we haven’t changed that. Our tagline or the way we articulate our mission has remained consistent, and in fact has become more and more emphatic as we go along. Because in a fast moving economy like India, of course things have slowed down in the past three to four years, but even so, compared to the West, is still has a good growth rate. It’s very easy to get swayed by the marketplace and to start doing things that the market wants. I completely resisted that. I refuse to do things merely because there was money in it, because I felt we would dilute our positioning in the market. We would actually become a shop that would basically offer anything just to keep going, and I felt that would not do justice to our mission. In fact, it would make us weaker in terms of holding steadfast to our primary purpose.


About the mediator

Ashok Panikkar Profile Pic

Ashok is fond of saying that, while he is no Mother Theresa or Gautama Buddha, he is utterly fascinated by the intricacies and nuances of conflict resolution and peacemaking. A facilitator for 25 years, he has been called many names, including “agent provocateur.” The many hats he wears include mediator, facilitator, educator, and office clown. When asked why he does this work, he says: ‘Conflicts are early warning signals that things ar... View Mediator