August 3, 2003 VNN8263 This story URL: http://www.vnn.org/usa/US0308/US03-8263.html
Iskcon Establishes Ombudsman Program
BY JAI NITAI DAS
USA, Aug 3 (VNN) ISKCON ADR Update: ISKCON Establishes an Ombudsman Program and Adopts the Name ISKCON Resolve
On July 14th - 16th Sesa, Braja Bihari and Jai Nitai Prabhus met in Boston to attend an ombudsman training program given by The Ombudsman Association (TOA) and to plan ISKCON's emerging dispute resolution program now known as "ISKCON Resolve." Sesa is a practicing immigration attorney in Florida and has served as ISKCON's Minister of Justice. Braja Bihari is the coordinator of ISKCON's Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs. Jai Nitai is a student at the University of Texas Law School; his studies include ADR.
All three (along with others) will serve as ombudsman for ISKCON. Also attending the training course were ombudsmen from Harvard, Stanford and UCLA, U.S. government agencies such as the Secret Service and the Housing and Urban Development as well as corporate ombudsmen from Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, and Los Alamos. Instructors included Mary Rowe, of MIT, a pioneer in U.S. ombudsman work and a great help to ISKCON's efforts to establish an ombuds system.
In addition to two and a half days of training, the three devotees met with Arnold Zack, an adjunct Harvard Professor and longtime mediator and arbitrator in labor relations who currently serves as a consultant for ISKCON Resolve. Arnold offered suggestions and input as to how ISKCON Resolve might further take shape. The meetings included discussions about ISKCON's newly formed ombudsman program. Arnold was in charge of the implementation of the ombudsman program for the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mary Rowe of MIT also met with Sesa, Braja Bihari and Jai Nitai specifically to discuss the TOA training program and its application to ISKCON. She offered invaluable suggestions and advice.
What is an Ombudsman?
Ombudsman is a Swedish term with its origins in the 19th century. The term is gender neutral though today sometimes "ombuds" or "ombudsperson" is used to sound more inclusive. An ombudsman can hear concerns of devotees and help them evaluate their situation, organize their thoughts, clarify their concerns explore available options, and if requested, approach others (especially those in authority) to improve the situation. There are four hallmarks of an ombudsman: 1) confidentiality, 2) neutrality, 3) independence, and 4) informality. The ombudsman network in ISKCON will utilize these principles to help devotees receive a fair resolution to concerns or conflicts that may arise. Confidentiality: ISKCON Ombudsmen will handle all matters brought to them with utmost confidentiality. Only in the rare case where a threat to safety exists or a subpoena is issued will the confidentiality of a discussion with an ombudsman be compromised. Of course, if the person discussing a matter with an ombudsman gives permission, the ombudsman may take steps to help resolve the situation and reveal what he or she has been told, but only to the extent permitted by that devotee. Neutrality and Independence: Ombudsmen seek a fair resolution of conflicts or concerns; they don't advocate for one side or the other. Ombuds do not represent ISKCON or any individual complainant. Informality: The use of an ombudsman is voluntary for each side of a conflict. Ombuds may use mediation or shuttle diplomacy to help resolve the concern in a manner acceptable to the parties involved.
In their meetings, Sesa, Braja Bihari and Jai Nitai also discussed:
- That the current website krishnamediates.com will be changed to iskconresolve.com and will be professionally maintained and include a basic understanding of the various processes available if devotees have a dispute, who the mediators and ombudsmen are and how to contact them, training dates for those interested in becoming mediators, feedback forms for those who have use a mediation or an ombudsman to work out a conflict, as well as the training materials for current mediators to train others. The new website should be up and running by the mid-August.
- That ISKCON Resolve will articulate the current formal grievance process in ISKCON and work to augment it where necessary to make it complete. This may include the implementation of an arbitration system when necessary to resolve disputes.
- Plans to create and establish an ombudsman network as part of ISKCON Resolve.
- Plans to train additional mediators so there are mediators nearby in all of the ISKCON world.
- Plans to appoint and train additional ombudsmen.
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