Conflict may be unavoidable in life but it is not entirely insurmountable. Not, at least, if people have the equipment to deal with it. That belief may just be what guides Katie Gingerich and her start-up company, The Ripple Effect Education (TREE).
The St. Agatha native and mind behind TREE is one of the entrepreneurs recognized this week at the Peace Incubator Showcase in Waterloo. The event was put on by the Centre for Peace Advancement, associated with Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo.
“Teachers are really excited about it. Excited about the content, and excited about the opportunity for their students to work on these social and emotional skills,” explained Gingerich.
Created in 2015, TREE offers workshops for classrooms in the Waterloo Region that teach students various conflict resolution skills. The workshops are spread out as one class a week for five weeks, with a TREE facilitator going out to visit the participating class.
The topics of study focus on various points of conflict, including understanding conflict, developing empathy, escalating and de-escalating tensions, and then bridging that gap between student’s parochial concerns and those larger, global conflicts.
“We want students to know that conflict is normal. Everybody has it, everybody experiences it. And it can be really damaging, it can be really harmful. But when we have skills and strategies to respond to conflict that happens in our lives, in important relationships that we have, we can actually grow in our relationships,” explained Gingerich.
“We can deepen those connections that we have with people. We can learn to work with people that we don’t necessarily like to work with, and we can be successful in those ways when we have these conflict resolutions skills.”
In their day-to-day lives, such skills can be applied to the student’s own affairs, be it dealing with bullies or siblings or what have you. But Gingerich says there’s also a wider application.
“These skills that we’re teaching them in an interpersonal context can be related to advocacy or to analyzing how different conflicts are unfolding and having to understand why these things might happen in broader contexts.”
The idea is not just to eschew violence or conflict, says Gingerich, or what she calls a “negative peace,” but to develop that more equitable state. And of course, that’s really only possible if people know how to properly handle the conflicts in their lives.
“We see ourselves as really enacting that positive peace and really striving for that element so that we’re creating that sense of wholeness. That voices are heard and valued, that students feel like they have agency to actually foster change, within their relationships or within the broader community,” she said.
The program offers its workshops for Grades 1 through 6, though Gingerich notes that TREE can work with teachers to create custom workshops for older students.
“We’re still very much in the start-up phase,” added Gingerich. “We’re considered an initiative of Conrad Grebel, of the Centre for Peace Advancement, because we are really testing as we go.”
Gingerich studied peace and conflict at Grebel, where she says she was inspired to develop her start-up.
“I was really shocked when I sat in my first conflict resolution class to learn that there were all these strategies out there for how to resolve conflict,” she explained.
“And I thought, ‘wow, how am I only learning about these things as a 19-year-old university student for the first time? There has to be a way we can be learning these things earlier and hopefully prevent some of the things that might have happened or might have caused harm before this.’”
Besides that, she credits her work as a coordinator at Peace Camp in 2015, a day camp for kids to learn about these topics, in a concentrated format. The theme of the camp then, as it happens, was the ripple effect.
The company is only offering its workshops in Waterloo at the moment, but that might soon change.
“Well, right now we’re just working in the Waterloo Region and Waterloo Catholic district school boards, but we’ve had interest in schools from Stratford, from schools in Milton. So we are really interested in growing, but we are mindful of scalability. So we’re really wanting to dig deep here and learn here, and then scale outwards.”
TREE was not the only project featured at the Peace Incubator Showcase November 7. Others at the showcase included Demine Robotics, a company working on using robotics to defuse landmines; Marlena Books, a company that creates books for those with cognitive disorders to read; and Epoch, an online mobile platform meant to connect recent refugees in Waterloo with community members and businesses in a virtual market place.