Entrepreneurship in the Peacebuilding World

LYDELL STEINER’S VOCATION came calling in the form of a persistent acquaintance who recognized his skills might fit a community need. The Ohio native was a team pastor at Kidron Mennonite Church when a community member repeatedly asked if he’d consider developing local mediation resources.

At the time, Steiner was enrolled in Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and had taken a few Summer Peacebuilding Institute courses. But the recurring request for local mediation made him reevaluate his educational path.

Steiner gathered a trusted group to help discern his next step. He decided to transfer into CJP’s graduate program in conflict transformation. Eventually, he devoted the required semester-long practicum to exploring mediation possibilities in Ohio.

This research culminated in a “visioning session” in July 2014. Steiner invited key stakeholders from Holmes and Wayne counties to brainstorm how a mediation center might look and function. He also invited his advisor, Professor David Brubaker, to facilitate the gathering so that Steiner himself could present on the results of his extensive conversations with leaders from throughout the two-county area.

Steiner says this was “the moment that really helped me coalesce.” The group identified education and training in conflict transformation and networking for existing mediation resources as their primary objectives. They also decided to proceed in “an organic model,” says Steiner, gathering volunteer efforts rather than building an organization from the top down.

Broad community support is more important, Steiner says, than “the injection of a lot of energy, a lot of vision, a lot of money, a lot of building.” This approach means that growth is slow, but hopefully, more sustainable. Twelve individuals continued to meet, forming a steering committee.

Two years after earning his master’s degree – and the practicum experience which provided the foundation – Steiner and his community partners have created Connexus, a nonprofit organization committed to “transforming the culture of conflict in Holmes and Wayne counties of Ohio.”

Brubaker says CJP students typically come in on one of two tracks. Some enter the program unsure of their focus and discover it along the way. Others, like Steiner, enter with a vision of the work they are called to do. CJP then equips them to achieve those goals.

“That kind of entrepreneurship is what the peacebuilding community needs,” says Brubaker.