By Anna Oposa
For The Game of Flows, I sat in a group that called itself Pretty Dam Cool. The Upstream and Downstream groups spent a considerable amount of time in separate tables discussing their positions and how much they would put on the line.
When it was time to discuss, I anticipated fire. Like so:
Instead, I listened to a very diplomatic conversation. I heard sentences like, “There are great cooperation opportunities!” and “We’ll share benefits of the dam.” To play devil’s advocate, I threw in the funding question: “Who will fund the construction of the dam?” Team Gorthia said right away, “It will be co-funded, so we’ll establish a joint council and have shared funding and ownership.”
The situation got a bit more complicated when Team Noramas was very adamant about reforestation initiatives and providing compensation to the fisheries sector. A negotiator from Team Gorthia said that their state did not want to spend a lot of money on reforestation. He added, “Everyone knows fishermen overfish, so why do we need to provide compensation?”
When the teams were wrapping up their discussion, they reviewed their respective points and changed a few. This shows that talking again after a pause (in this case, coffee break!) can change one’s positions.
Needless to say, Pretty Dam Cool did not win The Game of Flows.
Even if the game was just a simulation, it brought to light the complexities of negotiations. I was transported to 2009, when I attended a UN Climate Change Conference for the first time. At 19 years old, I didn’t understand why we would spend hours and hours talking the inclusion or removal of certain words. I voiced my frustrations to my mentor, Atty. Vicente Yu, who was heading the negotiations. “We need to consider all interests, Anna,” he told me. “Because everyone’s interests are important. A Filipino’s life is just as important as an African’s life.”
I have carried this conversation with me since then. When I began entering multi-stakeholder projects, I constantly reminded myself that one sector’s interests are just as valid as another’s. In the case of The Game of Flows, the interests are elevated because of trans-boundary issues. It is very difficult to come up with just one solution or approach to existing problems. Compromises need to be made, which is not necessarily a big thing. It’s the only way to move forward, inch by inch. Then we win in miles.