Conflict Dynamics International’s founder, Gerard McHugh, first witnessed the inhumanity and indignity of war in the 1980s while treating wounded civilians in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war. Unable to accept the notion that war is inevitable, McHugh established CDI with the goal of nurturing peace and mitigating misery caused by violence.
The seeds of the idea for a unique and innovative organization were sewn in the late 1980s.
During 1989 and 1990, Gerry was working in a hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, which specialized in pediatric surgery, chest and heart surgery, and medical treatments that were not otherwise available to people in the country. Gerry was working as an Intensive Care Unit nurse in the hospital, having training and practiced in Ireland. He was deeply struck by the stark effects of the Iran-Iraq war (1980 – 1988) and subsequent internal conflicts on the people of Iraq and on children in particular. These included both the direct effects of conflict as well as the indirect effects such as the lack of medical services and the impact this had on civilians, and on women and children in particular.
This experience convinced Gerry that there had to be a better way to dealing with such conflicts, other than “patching people up” after the fact; there had to be a better way of preventing conflicts in the first place or at least working to resolve them if and when they do erupt. The experience in primary healthcare also instilled a belief that one cannot simply “look the other way” when aware of others’ suffering.
Over the following eight years, Gerry undertook a long and deep personal and professional journey to identify the best way to make a difference in the lives of people, particularly children, affected by conflict and other crises. This journey included pursuit of undergraduate and graduate-level university degrees to provide the necessary “tools” to make the difference he believed was needed in the world.
Following the completion of graduate-level degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge (USA), Gerard worked as a Research Fellow in the Center for International Studies (CIS) at the Institute. This experience provided opportunities for working closely with various parts of the United Nations system as well as with military forces. These experiences further persuaded Gerard of the need to generate innovative approaches to conflict resolution and to humanitarian assistance. The experience of interfacing with the United Nations also illuminated the great potential of the organization, notwithstanding all of its imperfections.
In 1999, Gerard commenced work as an Independent Policy Consultant – working closely with United Nations agencies/departments (including the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), non-governmental organizations (such as Save the Children UK, Concern Worldwide) and select governments (including Switzerland, Canada) – but always with a view to establishing an organization to expand the work and to achieve impact on a more global scale.
This goal was realized in 2004 with the establishment of Conflict Dynamics. The two other founding members of the Board of Directors are Allison Spaxman and Chris Saunders.