“The world of work today is defined by disruptive business models, flattened hierarchies, integrated networks of teams, and global hiring practices. As a result, the workplace is more diverse than ever before,” explained Grebel alumni Wali Muhammad, who studied in the Master of Peace and Conflict Studies program at University of Waterloo, based at Conrad Grebel University College. "When people from diverse backgrounds try to work together as teams, it creates a huge potential for conflict. Simple misunderstandings often result in wasted potential and depleted team performance.” For more than 10 years, Wali has worked to fix this persistent problem of cultural incompatibility.

Wali is a Learning and Development Specialist at Power-tek, and a DEI Trainer at DIVERSIO with a focus on diversity-smart, strengths-based performance management. “In today’s fast-moving environment,” reflected Wali, “you can start a small organization and suddenly you’re a multi-national corporation. Because of this, there is a lot of diversity in the workplace, which creates a high likelihood of cultural clashes.” Wali specializes in developing programs that prioritize key values like psychological safety. “In today’s workplace, people believe in cutthroat competition,” explained Wali. “Psychological safety is based on vulnerability-based trust. It is founded upon the mutual belief that one is safe to be weak, vulnerable, can take initiative and make mistakes.” Wali’s programs greatly value cognitive diversity and self-accountability. “While people may look at problems differently given their various cultural backgrounds,” Wali remarked, “creating a culture around values like psychological safety can ensure optimally leveraging the cognitive diversity of teams by tapping into the unique potentials of their people.”

Wali’s work in conflict resolution can be traced back to his time in Pakistan, where he was born. He graduated with an M.Sc. Psychology from Government College University and worked as a university professor in psychology before transitioning into management consulting. As a consultant, Wali also worked in mediating religiously based, deep-rooted conflicts. One of his consulting assignments led him to develop and conduct community leadership workshops for prominent religious leaders in Pakistan. He described it as an intriguing and challenging project, given Pakistan’s social climate. “I was pitched into the middle of the highly charged religious atmosphere and trained influential religious leaders in the behavioral skills to bridge the gaps across interfaith and intra-faith divides.”

After nearly a decade of working as a consultant, Wali decided to expand upon his various workplace experiences and go back to school. “The MPACS program at Grebel spoke to my heart,” remarked Wali, and in 2013 he moved to Canada to pursue his master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies. At Grebel, “everybody was a superstar. It was a small community, and we had such comradery together and were never afraid to explore sensitive topics in great detail,” Wali reminisced. “Professor Nathan Funk was an amazing mentor and trained me well in analyzing and intervening in conflict. Professor Reina Neufeldt helped polish my research skills, and Professor Lowell Ewert was an incredibly knowledgeable resource on civil society, human rights, and humanitarian law.”

Wali’s extensive work in Pakistan gave him plenty of experiences which he contextually applied while at Grebel. “You could say that I learned so much more during my short time at Grebel than I did in my pre-MPACS professional career. At Grebel, I gained further understanding about religious landscapes, peacebuilding, grassroots level initiatives, and how non-profit organizations are the backbone of civil society.” While doing his degree, Wali also worked as a Peace Scholar for Dr. Funk and conducted intensive research on conflict in the Middle East.

“After graduating from MPACS, I came up with the idea of a startup called Behavioral Skills Company. The Center for Peace Advancement at Grebel offered me their support, as well as some funding.” A year after Wali became a Peace Incubator Participant at Grebel, he held a workshop in Toronto where he connected with POWER-tek, a business that specializes in power system engineering and energy efficiency.

Recently, Wali and his team developed the “IGNITE 3.15” program, transitioning their organization from traditional performance appraisals to a strengths-based performance management system. "The transition is about shifting from feedback to feed-forward,” said Wali. The program ensures that its employers and employees meet every three months to determine what improvements need to be made in the future, instead of critiquing mistakes that have already been made. This highly interactive program reflects Wali’s own experiences concerning effective intercultural communication in the workplace.

Wali’s story is one of continual growth toward finding innovative ways to connect cultures and enhance output in the workplace. His influence is international; he has held workshops in South Asia, China, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom. Above all, through his numerous conflict management experiences and deep understanding of cultural differences, Wali is a strong advocate for an optimistic attitude and self-respect. Truly, he is a beacon of positive energy.

By Jiho Mercer

Wali Muhammad is a Learning and Developmental Specialist at POWER-tek and a DEI Trainer at DIVERSIO. He worked in Pakistan as a lecturer in psychology and a management consultant before receiving his Master of Peace and Conflict Studies degree at the University of Waterloo in 2014. Wali’s learning programs integrate the latest research and insights from extensive consulting across North America, the Middle East, South Asia, and China. He is fluent in four languages, has led over 200 strategy sessions, and volunteers with Community Justice Initiatives as a Sulah Mediator.

Muhammad's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.