The American Arbitration Association and its international division, the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, announced the establishment of the AAA-ICDR Foundation in May 2015. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization empowered to solicit donations and provide grants to fund a range of worthy causes that promote its wide-reaching mission: to support the prevention and resolution of conflicts by expanding access to alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
The Foundation has also established three priority areas:
- Prevent and reduce violence with a focus on vulnerable and underserved communities and police/social service partnerships.
- Bridge community conflict with a focus on civil discourse seeking to mend societal divisions.
- Support diversity, equity, and inclusion with a focus on access to justice.
Since inception in 2015, through the generous support of the AAA-ICDR and AAA-ICDR panel member donations, the Foundation has provided over $8.1 million in grants to initiatives that further its mission and priority areas. Many of those grants have been awarded to programs focused, in particular, on advancing access to justice through ADR.
The Foundation has four grant types: its Annual Grant Cycle, Special Initiatives Grants, Rapid Response Grants, and Diversity Scholarships. The Foundation’s Annual Grant Cycle has provided more than $6.5 million in funding to projects chosen through a competitive review process. Each year, typically in June, the AAA-ICDR Foundation issues a request for proposals that address Foundation priorities for the upcoming grant cycle. The two-step application process starts with an Initial Description of Grant Request—an open call for organizations to submit applications. After review, a number of applicants are invited to submit a full proposal.
The AAA-ICDR Foundation’s Rapid Response Fund provides support when needs are more time-sensitive. The Foundation identifies prospective grantees and invites them to apply. This fund enables the Foundation to quickly award grants to not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organizations poised to address urgent needs arising from current events. For example, the focus for 2022 was on organizations using ADR to help displaced Ukrainian citizens.
In 2022, the Foundation also created a new category of grants, Special Initiative Grants, which allow the Foundation Board to proactively invite organizations to apply for funding separate from the Annual Grant Cycle. The 2022 Special Initiative Grants focused on the Foundation’s priorities of bridging community divides and preventing and reducing violence.
In addition to grants for organizations, the Foundation employs two strategies to encourage broader representation in leadership across the field of ADR. The Diversity Scholarship Program provides up to $2,000 to individuals towards participation in a degree program, fellowship, or conference focused on ADR. In 2022, the Foundation also expanded its giving in this area by establishing scholarships for law students enrolled in dispute resolution programs at Howard University and North Carolina Central University, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The three-year commitment will provide, annually, $50,000 to second- and third-year law students at each institution, for a total through 2024 of $300,000.
This article highlights three of the Foundation’s 146 grants so far, with an emphasis on access to justice. Each was awarded in 2022 through either the Annual Grant Cycle or Special Initiative Grants:
- Dayton Mediation Center’s pilot of a Mediation Response Unit for low emergent 911 calls in Dayton, Ohio;
- Cure Violence Global’s training and public outreach efforts to address community violence as a public health crisis; and
- Metropolitan Family Services’ collaborative community police training through a joint initiative between the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives and the Chicago Police Department.
Dayton Mediation Center—Mediation Response Unit
The Dayton Mediation Center received a $150,000 grant to pilot a Mediation Response Unit for low emergent 911 calls in Dayton, Ohio.
In 2020, the national conversation about use of force by law enforcement led the City of Dayton to convene working groups that included community members, professionals from various disciplines, and city officials. They met regularly, sought feedback from the community, and then made 142 recommendations for police reform that included—among other things—policy changes, additional training, and a focus on recruitment.
The working groups identified the local 911 system for emergency calls as one such opportunity, and the city enlisted the Dayton Mediation Center to spearhead efforts to establish an alternative Mediation Response Unit (MRU). Although serious emergencies require police intervention, many issues—disputes between neighbors, loitering complaints, issues with barking dogs—could be resolved by civilians instead. In addition to facilitating community conflict resolution, this approach frees up law enforcement for situations that may require forceful intervention.
The 2022 grant from the Foundation helped to establish a pilot program with a team of five experts in conflict resolution and crisis response to handle these “low emergent” calls. They apply a trauma-informed approach to transformative mediation, which provides a safe space for people to be heard and to move from self-absorption and weakness into recognition and empowerment. The process redirects appropriate 911 calls to the MRU for in-person follow-up, or even simply directs callers to other resources like mental health counseling.
Citizens can also contact the MRU hotline directly, walk-in services are available, and officers on the scene can ask the MRU to respond instead. MRU members wear uniforms and drive vehicles that clearly reflect their roles as “Mediators.” These services are available on weekdays, from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., based on research showing that most calls the MRU would act on are made during those hours.
Over the past year, the MRU has responded to 1,500 calls for service in the Dayton community. The call type most responded to has been disputes between neighbors, followed by complaints about disorderly persons. The goals of the program are to publicize the MRU and expand its use—in Dayton and through similar programs in other communities, especially to benefit marginalized populations including at-risk youth, group home residents, and students with disciplinary issues. In the future, the MRU also plans to work with researchers to gauge the impact of these efforts.
Cure Violence Global
Cure Violence Global received a $542,000 two-year grant as part of the Foundation’s 2022 Special Initiative Grants to address community violence as a public health crisis through training and broader public outreach in both the United States and Latin America.
Violence is a major public health issue with physical, psychological, social, and economic dimensions. It reduces life expectancy, limits opportunity, and disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color—deepening inequities that already exist.
Cure Violence Global (CVG) wants to reduce violence by treating it as the contagious disease that it is: transmitted by exposure, causing psychological damage, and then spreading to others in the same way. That cycle can be broken. CVG trains individuals with strong credibility in their communities to set healthy social norms, manage conflict before it results in physical harm, and serve as an example to those at highest risk of becoming casualties of endemic violence.
With the federal government pledging to provide hundreds of millions of dollars per year for anti-violence efforts, new programs are expected to proliferate, and the workforce in those programs will need training based on the latest research and best practices. CVG’s “Alternative Dispute Resolution Training for Community Conflicts” program is designed to fill that need. This funding from the AAA-ICDR Foundation is helping CVG to work with an expert in educational design to update its trainings in the U.S. and Latin America for the benefit of violence interrupters and outreach workers on the front lines, as well as people involved in restorative justice, medical and trauma professionals, academics, community-based organizations new to the field, and law enforcement and criminal justice professionals.
The first step was to identify the sectors and organizations in the best position to apply these techniques and design strategies for achieving true engagement. CVG is now working with community organizations and governments in more than 23 cities in the U.S., targeting the highest-risk individuals in specific neighborhoods where violence is prevalent. In Latin America, it is doing similar work in four different countries.
Metropolitan Family Services
Metropolitan Family Services received a $25,000 grant as part of the Foundation’s 2022 Annual Grant Cycle. The grant supported a collaboration between the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives (MPI) and the Chicago Police Department to further implement community police training in Chicago neighborhoods with high crime rates.
Established in 2017, MPI is a division of Metropolitan Family Services charged with convening and supporting a collaborative of nine community-based organizations working to reduce violence and promote healing in 15 of Chicago’s most troubled communities. This collaborative is called Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P). CP4P has expanded to include 15 community-based organizations serving 28 Chicago neighborhoods. Since 2017, MPI has offered the Metropolitan Peace Academy to train and professionalize CP4P-affiliated workers who perform street outreach.
The curriculum for this training is novel and informed, in part, by the lived experiences of its students. Prior to the implementation of this collaborative model, local street outreach workers did not share lessons learned with organizations working in adjacent or nearby neighborhoods. The communication and shared learning promoted at the Metropolitan Peace Academy has swiftly improved the practice of street outreach across the City of Chicago.
Late in 2021, MPI launched a new Community Police Training program. This joint effort between MPI and the Chicago Police Department is focused on strengthening community relations and bringing awareness to available resources. The training takes a hyperlocal approach: the subject matter, facilitators, and format are tailored to each neighborhood. To date, 100 police officers representing 10 of Chicago’s 22 police districts have participated. Each year, the program enrolls cohorts of new and transferring officers from 10 police districts, with the intention of training officers across all 22 districts.
The three-day training covers the history of each community in the participants’ district from the perspective of its citizens; introduces key faith, community, and business leaders; and details available resources, any gaps in service, and ongoing local challenges. The rigorous curriculum also addresses stereotyping and cultural literacy, and uses roleplaying exercises to move students from theory to practical application. As in all MPI training, instruction in trauma, restorative justice, and nonviolent practices plays a central role. Post-program surveys then gauge the extent to which participants are successfully rebuilding communities’ trust in law enforcement.
MPI’s work targets individuals in low-income communities who are acutely at risk of being perpetrators and, in turn, victims of gun violence. These individuals mostly identify as African American (77 percent) or Latino (20 percent), and as male (81 percent), and are mostly between the ages of 16 and 44 (89 percent). Obstacles these at-risk individuals face include family isolation and lack of access to support structures; early academic failure; lack of effective reentry strategies and transitional support services; poor access to health and mental health care services; normalization of violence; and lack of economic investment, workforce development, and family economic success. Similarly, the outreach workers supporting them mostly identify as African American (88 percent) or Latino (12 percent), and as male (92 percent), and are mostly between the ages of 24 and 45 (80 percent).
This summer, the Community Police Training program will complete its second year. The curriculum, to date, is made available free of charge to organizations engaged in street outreach anywhere in the U.S.—not only in Chicago. In addition, Metropolitan Family Services (Chicago), the Urban Peace Institute (Los Angeles), and Man UP (New York City) all collaborate and share training best practices.
In addition to training officers to work more effectively with street outreach workers, MPI offers programming on reentry support for citizens returning to the community after incarceration and free legal assistance through the Legal Justice Corps, which connects attorneys with community-based organizations where program participants live.
Taken together, Dayton’s Mediation Response Unit, Cure Violence Global, and Metropolitan Family Services show how innovative alternative dispute resolution techniques can improve access to justice. The AAA-ICDR Foundation is proud to support these programs and so many others that are leading the way to prevent and reduce violence; bridge community conflict; and support diversity, equity, and inclusion. To learn more about the AAA-ICDR Foundation and the programs it supports, visit aaaicdrfoundation.org.
Parts of this article were previously published in the AAA-ICDR Foundation’s 2022 Annual Report.