What We Learned About Solving Hard Problems

February 2, 2023

In late January, Civic Genius partnered with Beyond Conflict to host two extraordinary leaders who know a thing or two about solving tough problems. In their case, the problem was apartheid in South Africa. Kind of makes the debt ceiling look easy, huh?

Roelf Meyer and Mohammed Bhabha were once bitterly divided when it came to politics. But over time, they both came to the negotiating table, built a shared understanding of how to move forward, and ultimately reshaped their nation.

We learned an incredible amount from Mohammed and Roelf, but here are three things that stick out:

Find a Common Goal

It’s true that we all need more opportunities to meet and talk with people who think differently than us. But if we want a less divided nation, we have to focus on solving a shared problem. In problem-solving mode, we all have an incentive to stay in the process and make things work – even when the discussion becomes frustrating. Recognizing that we all have skin in the game is key.

Build Real Relationships

Roelf and Mohammed will be the first to tell you that they came from completely different perspectives of what South Africa should look like. But in their time at the negotiating table and after, they built a personal relationship that continues to this day and has taken them to other nations around the world. A personal connection enabled them to succeed at home, then turned into a shared commitment to bring hard-earned problem-solving wisdom to other conflicts.

Local Media Is the Best

No one understands a place like local media. We were honored to hear about our work on Ideastream Public Media (NPR in Cleveland) and WXXI (NPR in Rochester), and to read about it in the Rochester Beacon. These journalists knew exactly what questions to ask to bring lessons from South Africa all the way home to their communities and make them relevant and timely.

Enormous thanks to Beyond Conflict for working with us to bring Roelf and Mohammed to Rochester and Cleveland; to Temple Sinai of Rochester, City Club of Cleveland, the Democracy Center at the University of Rochester, the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University; and to our many other community partners for making the week a success.

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