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The Slippery Target

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IMG_24582015 is fast drawing to a close, and with it the culmination of the Millenium Development Goals.

Among the eight MDG, Goal 4 which was to Reduce Child Mortality made progress but failed to be achieved.

The Sustainable Development Goals replace the MDG for the period 2016-2030, and continue with a more ambitious reach to continue to address the impact of poverty.

My good friend Trish shared this document today The Slippery Target for Child Survival in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from the Health and Human Rights Journal. It is a short document that is well worth reading to see how difficult it is to set targets in a world where there is great discrepancy in levels of child mortality between countries.

Information worth noting. It helps define the challenge before us.

2030 Agenda

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New World Order...
New World Order…

Did you hear about the plan the United Nations has for world domination? Apparently, the Illuminati are involved there somewhere as well. Yes folks, the New World Order is finally arrived…

Watch the video below. The guy makes some alarming and stunning claims. If they are true, we are truly doomed. I suspect we might yet be in good hands.

In actual fact, the 2030 Agenda is the subtitle for the United Nations for their ambitious plan to replace the Millenium Development Goals which are due to expire at the end of 2015. From the beginning of 2016 through until 2030, the United Nations will be focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The proper title I think is: “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Once upon a time and many years ago, I served in the Australian Army for many, many years. Most people know that ‘military time’ is read using a 24-hour clock. That is to say that 8.30 pm would be read ‘2030 hours’.

During my time in the Army when I was a young gunnery officer, there was a gathering we used to have when young gunnery officers on course at the old School of Artillery. Come 10 pm, we would drop our studies and meet in the bar for a few drinks and to share a laugh with a bit of a ribbing.

Recently, I had suggested that we could reconvene the 10 o’clock Club on Twitter by posting what we were doing and where we were at on that evening at 10 pm as if gathering for the 10 o’clock Club. It worked to some degree, although with less pick-up than might be seen as successful.

Now, with the change of this new agenda for a global partnership, or the imminent rise of a New World Order depending on your worldview, it is appropriate that the 10 o’clock Club should also reflect this change. Consequently, I’m inviting you all to the 2030 Agenda every evening at 8.30 pm. Post every evening with something that comes as close to addressing the issue of child survival with the #2030Agenda. I will be posting every evening (as often as I can) at 8.30 pm on Twitter (in whatever time zone I am in). I hope to see you at the #2030Agenda soon!

Change The World

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Street graffiti from the East Village near the dosshouse I was staying at in New York when I finished the epic running stunt earlier this year. Inspiration is everywhere!

What are we to make of Mark Zuckerberg?

If you have 20 minutes spare, I would highly recommend you take a moment to watch the video below where he delivers an address to Tsinghua University.

For me, what is intriguing is not the wealth or influence of Markey Z, or even that he has mastered language skills in Mandarin and speaks with aplomb to an engaged audience. I was really inspired by how much enjoyment, how much satisfaction, he is showing for his ability to being able to communicate and connect with the audience.

He speaks about how when he first build Facebook how he dreamt that one day there would be a similar tool built that would connect the global community. He says that at the time it never crossed his mind that he was in the process of building that platform.

We don’t know the impact of our actions. Often, we will never see their impact as the ripples extend far beyond our sphere of influence in ways we will never know. But what this video does confirm is that for change to occur, action must first take place, and that action must be guided with a sense of purpose. For Mark, he shows his humanness by expressing a desire that everyone should just care more.

It sounds simplistic, but what a formula. First decide on what you want to do, then care radically in such a way that the way forward manifests itself out of our efforts to realise our purpose.

This is no time to be spooked by large corporates or big institutions. If the answer was known to this question framing this epic journey, someone would have done it already. It is incredulous that after so much money has been spent, so much need remains. But this is no time for complaint. Rather, lets elevate the intensity of caring more, and act with intention to change the world.

The Small Things

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A lady fills her water containers from a hose that is constantly running in a park in Ahmedabad, India. Is this good that she has access to running water, or a concern that she is doing it in a way that is possibly unhygienic? How do we know when change is necessary or even possible?
A lady fills her water containers from a hose that is constantly running in a park in Ahmedabad, India. Is this good that she has access to running water, or a concern that she is doing it in a way that is possibly unhygienic? How do we know when change is necessary or even possible?

Ok, here is a question for some discussion. Why is it necessary to do a ridiculous running stunt in order to open a conversation about child survival?

Are either of these two even necessary? Does it necessarily follow that by embarking on an ambitious running stunt that it will have enough significance as to open a meaningful conversation? Or to put it another way, would the resources of time, effort and money be better spent in organisation this conversation? And secondly, is this conversation about child survival even necessary, given that there is so much discussion on the world’s stage through institutions such as the United Nations about the issue of Sustainable Development Goals?

Again, to add to the conversation here I’m going to refer to the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger as I did in my previous two posts, and again take his writing slightly out of context but in such a way so that it still has a useful application.

Unger’s writing warns us of what he refers to as the ‘illusion of false necessity’, which is to say that a model or way of seeing is so structurally strict that it doesn’t allow the occurrence of any other adjacent possibilities. The question I am asking here is whether I have become fixated on the running stunt at the expense of the task itself?

I can see that there are better ways of going about the journey I have travelled to date, but I am also mindful of the richness of experience that came through the hardship and new horizons that I encountered during this quest. Without that hardship and expanded horizon, my awareness as to what is possible would be stunted and limited which would not be in the service of the task.

Retrospectively, it would be possible to see where I got it wrong and how I could do it better. That is a process called learning. Without the advice from others or my own experience, I must first explore and discover to find out.

I think it has been necessary because the closer I get to this conversation about child survival, the more I am aware of how enormous the body of work and experience that already exists. We should not be aiming at reinventing the wheel, but rather learning from experience to make a useful contribution.

Getting this process right I believe is a balance between the stunt and the conversation. I don’t believe I have succeeded there to date, and that is why I am again lining up for first a rehearsal exercise in March to work out how to do this most effectively ahead of a final push where we hope to bring this conversation to a head in September and October next year.

And there is a paradox in terms of what I am seeking to achieve from all of this. Again, my old school mate Phil prompted me to consider this yesterday by asking whether there might be some simple and small things that we could be doing that of themselves would have a disproportionate impact to improve child survival. I don’t know what those things are. And to be honest, I’m not sure whether for all of the conferences that have been held around the globe to date that we have really cracked this code.

It is an audacious claim, to the point of arrogance, that I propose that through these Design Forum next year we might unlock new potential to reduce child survival. Why wouldn’t that be the case? Breakthroughs happen all the time in many different fields, and not always by the ‘experts’ or the institutional gatekeepers. What is almost without doubt is that the answers, if we can find them, will be found from engaging with people who are most affected by the problem. We will need to draw upon a broad network to find out those things that we don’t know and then through a process of design thinking put together this information to potential arrive at new solutions to make a difference.

There are game changing ideas to be found. Unger declares in his writing that “deep transformations can begin in small initiatives.” So why shouldn’t we believe in the efficacy of what we are trying to achieve? What have we got to lose by trying?

My mate Phil pointed out that it is probably in the small things where a solution that will create a tipping point could be found. What if in the process of conducting these Design Forum we could unlock 10 small but important actions that through the combination of these being applied together they have a game changing impact?

The irony is that to find these small things, I’m proposing to do a very big stunt. Let’s hope it is a worthwhile exercise. We are seeking some simple and small things. Small interventions, which by their application can address the question “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

It’s the small things that matter.

Turning Point Or Tipping Point?

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ny image The Impossible
Graffiti on a bridge crossed during the final leg of the 10 City Bridge Run in New York. “The impossible will take a little while” it read. It will, but we’re getting there, step by step.

December marks the exhibition of my next public art work as part of a themed exhibition at the local gallery titled ‘Turning Point’. Turning Point is deliciously open to interpretation. Maybe your imagination begins considering a change of direction, then a change of season, a rite of passage, a traumatic event, a particular moment in time. Let your mind wander for a few moments and consider the possibilities.

I will be creating a work drawing upon my journey towards achieving this quest to improve child survival. My first submission to the curator was challenged with some great questions, and I have refined where and what the Turning Point means for me.

The work will be titled ‘The Next Step’, and points to 100 moments in my journey to date, any of which could be ‘the turning point’. The point of the work is that none of those moments, or neither the complete whole story told through this narrative of the 100 photos, is of itself the Turning Point. The Turning Point remains an elusive moment represented by the realisation of the collaborative effort necessary for this task of addressing how we might use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival to be addressed. The Turning Point won’t be the completion of the journey. Far from it. The Turning Point will be the beginning of a new chapter in this journey, and only made possible by my efforts that were often inadequate at best in the past.

ny image will take aThe work points to the hope that comes about from action, an action that is arrived at by being unreasonable in an ambition for change, and change that can only occur with radical collaboration with others. To achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.

Let me just explain how these 100 photos will be presented, because it is important to understanding a nuance in this work. They will form a 10 x 10 matrix in which the photos are close together, but not joined. Each moment is separate from the others, but at the same time part of a bigger journey. If a picture tells a thousand words, then this will speak volumes.

As I create the idea of work in my mind, I am becoming aware that somehow this gridded matrix of 100 photos will be bookended either side by two discrete grids, both also containing 100 tiles across the same 10 x 10 matrix. Every tile or photo will be the same dimension: 10 cm x 10 cm, and the two bookended grids will be empty containing no photos at the beginning of this work.

ny image little whileThroughout the duration of the exhibition, these two adjacent grids will slowly take form. Photos will be added to each of the 100 tiles in each, ending up with three grids each containing 100 photos. 300 photos in all.

One of these adjacent grids will take the form of the 100 Champions of Change that I am seeking from the broader global community. People can nominate themselves, or even share the invitation to their networks. This is not just assembling a list of monitors to help with a project, but is an exercise that is rich with possibility. Who would we, from our small corner in Auburn of this expansive global community, like to see represented in this collective of Champions of Change? Is the request even too ambitious itself?

Seeking this participation of 100 Champions of Change to be assembled during the life of this art work draws upon another favourite quote from the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger who I referred to in my post yesterday titled “Hope Is The Consequence Of Action” . “To establish a transformative imagination at the centre of our understanding of society” is the task which Unger speaks boldly about. This art work is not just about my efforts and perspective during this project, but it demands the participation of others to be complete. That is risky. That is reality.

The other grid of 100 tiles will also begin absent of photos, and during the life of the exhibition will come to represent the 100 photos of human bridges that will comprise the photo essay to be featured in the book Life Bridge that is central to the completion of the 10 City Bridge Run. This will also be a co-created process, inviting people to contribute, and encouraging people to help assemble a wondrous deck of photos to tell this story of a human bridge drawn from people across the globe. Will we settle for less, or will we seek to attract an awesome collection of 100 photos of human bridges that will defy what the imagination at present even believes is possible?

It is the beginning of a conversation. It is both a statement and an invitation to collaborate.

A good mate today reminded me of the book ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell. Our friendship goes back literally decades. It was with two of our classmates from school that the kernel of this epic quest began. The journey has taken a completely different direction from the discussion of that evening, but it does go to further illustrate where we identify a Turning Point. Phil’s point is a good one, and I think that the Turning Point and the Tipping Point for this epic quest will be reached at the same time.

Hope Is The Consequence Of Action

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sunrise over manhattanThis has been a time of inspiration. Perhaps this is unwarranted, because it also has felt like a time when the sands of opportunity seemed to be avoiding my grasp as they slipped away through my fingers.

Trying something, and it not working. It is a very common experience. A quintessentially human experience. Is it strange that we have forgotten all of the failures from the early years of life during a time when walking might have seem to have been an impossibility? Perhaps it is stranger that we can get so hung up on a point in time when it would appear a plan has ended in failure. Not that we can remember, but if we were to think back to childhood, we would know that through perseverance we would eventually overcome.

I’ve been caught up in the words of a Brazilian philosopher called Roberto Unger recently. The title of this blog comes from a quote of his that I like:

Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”

This post is an update about an epic quest I undertook in 2010 and have yet to complete. I called that quest the 10 City Bridge Run. The purpose of the quest was to address an ambitious question through a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The method was all the more ambitious to the point of ridiculous: I proposed a stunt to highlight the conversation about child survival where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries.

Long story short, I have completed the stunt, but not yet done justice to the conversation. And in between these two events there is a book I am yet to publish and send to my supporters. That book is to be called Life Bridge, and will feature a photo essay with 100 pictures of human bridges to illustrate that it is through our connections that change can take place.

I am very aware of ways this could have been simpler, or ways the execution to date could have been more effective. It has been lumpy in parts, but that too is part of the journey.

And so that brings me to this point about failure, about inspiration, and about hope where I began the post. A reasonable person would at this point in time cut their losses and apologise saying that it was all too much trouble, and that they were not up to the task. As I write that, I know that I cannot accept this as failure, and hear the words of George Bernard Shaw. You know the ones: “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”

And so yes, I have been staring down failure as I interpret what this journey has meant.

Staring down failure because there is inspiration. Inspiration from the fresh initiative called the Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of this year. Inspiration because I know there is purpose in holding this conversation, and that hardship is part and parcel of trying to achieve difficult things. And inspiration from a conversation I had in Newcastle recently where someone challenged me to look again at what I had achieved.

Let me explain this incident from Newcastle briefly. Back in 2009, I ran what was the initiative that preceded this 10 City Bridge Run initiative. In 2009, I called it the 9 City Bridge Run, and it was undertaken in response to the suicides of many friends as an effort to show that resilience and community wellbeing could be counterpoints to the conversation that was prevalent about depression and suicide. Long story short, that journey was personally a success, but a complete failure in attempting to have some impact on an issue which I considered to be important.

Unger refreshingly argues that change can be piecemeal, fragmentary, gradual and experimental. His words help to reframe our perspective: “we should not associate radical change with wholesale change, and gradual change with inconsequential change.”

The strength in Unger’s words to me is this: “To grasp what it can become” is necessary to embrace is we are to overcome the failure of structural imagination. To be sure, I have take Unger’s words out of the context they were written for, but I believe that remain entirely relevant to this situation.

And so from that conversation in Newcastle, I realised a few things. And this is where you come into the picture.

I realised that my efforts have been too much me pushing. As valiant as that might be, it leaves little room for the ‘us’ to truly collaborate on this epic quest.

I realised that concluding this quest through the publication of the book Life Bridge and the holding of a series of Design Forum to address this conversation about child survival required more input from others. It was possible, but it wasn’t just a matter of pushing harder from where I am now. I need to relent a little to invite others in to this space.

I also realised that what I achieved in 2009 and in the recent 10 City Bridge Run was worth exploring further. And this has pointed me to the next steps. And I’ll come to that shortly at the end of this blog.

Mao famously had a quote to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ which was actually a ruse to out the intellectuals within Chinese society so that their influence could be purged by “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” I think that Mao was definitely onto something. Not the crackdown of dissidents, but an openness to others being involved.

One of the last acts of the 10 City Bridge Run involved me delivering a letter to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asking her to be the champion for this initiative. Her staff replied in time, and I recorded a video when I was in Korea earlier this year just after receiving their message. Watch it below:

And this is where you come in. I’m asking for some help. I’m inviting 100 people to be our champions of change, to pick up the slack where Julie Bishop is unable to put her shoulder to the wheel. Returning to Unger, I note his words: “Great ideas are not beyond the reach of ordinary people.” So please note that I am looking for 100 champions of change, and you could be one. There will be more on that in a later blog post.

But here is the final comment, and the point of this blog post. Hope is the consequence of action. What I am proposing is to return to my initiative from 2009, and next year in March 2016, to run 16 runs in 16 towns across NSW in 16 successive day, and in each of those towns it is conducted where there is a group, individual or organisation that is prepared to host a Design Forum. The issue will be the same one I championed in 2009 which was to address the taboo issue of depression and suicide. The reason for this activity in March is to provide a rehearsal for the big event in September/October 2016.

So then in mid-September through until mid-late October over the course of a month, I undertake to run 17 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 17 cities across more than 10 countries. In both the March and the September/October dates, I will be inviting others to run with me, and more about that later. And importantly for the September/October event, in each of the cities, and in other cities even where running doesn’t take place, I will be asking people to organise these Design Forum for me. Why 17? Because that is the new number of Sustainable Development Goals. What about child survival? That remains a key focus, but also we will be taking a holistic focus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many friends have given me very good counsel about my execution of the 10 City Bridge Run, noting my shortfall on a reliable team, social media strategy and media coverage. Those are all very good comments, and I completely accept the need for improvement in those areas as well as many other. We now have an opportunity to get this right, but I seriously need the help from others.

We are at a Turning Point where Hope is the consequence of Action. And to achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.

Threading The Needle

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oxford bannisterThe first photo that appeared on this blog was at the beginning of September 2010, only a few days after I had committed to the journey.

The photo is taken in Oxford, outside of the running track where Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile as a record for the first time.

The story about Bannister is now well known in summary, or at least the bit about what happened after he broke the record. So the story goes, after he broke the record there was a flood of people who broke the record, now that some elusive so-called psychological barrier was lifted. This is no actually the case. Yes, there were people who broke the four minute mile after Bannister, but it hasn’t been many, and only men.

What is perhaps more telling is the process he used to break this record. It was only made possible with the help of fellow-runners as pacemakers. And this is a most interesting piece of no-so-trivial trivia.

I took this photo while in Oxford in 2009 during the conduct of an earlier ridiculous challenge that I had set myself: the 9 City Bridge Run, where I ran 9 sub-marathons in 9 cities across 9 countries inside of one month. The similarity between the two initiatives that the execution both times left a lot of room for improvement. The 10 City Bridge Run was ‘threaded onto this needle’ in making a patchwork of 100 stories by what I considered to be an unsatisfactory effort in 2009.

How did I miss this important factor in Bannister’s success? In fact, how does this one small fact escape all of our attention?! It is so elementary, yet critical to performance. The help of fellow-runners as pacemakers.

It is no good having those fellow-runners and pacemakers if you are either not listening to them or not communicating to them. It implies an intimate level of trust and teamwork. A common goal. A shared vision.

The good news is that the race is far from over. Bannister, must like others, must have tried dozens if not hundreds of time to smash this record with these pacemakers, or at least trained hard together in practice. Consider the stunt that this 100 patchwork tapestry that I am now blogging about as the practice, and the main event coming in the form of the Design Forum.

Will you share this same impertinent level of audacity that we can, together, smash a world record for the benefit of those most in need?

Delivering on the promise of improving child survival. First, we must know what defines the race, and secondly, how our performance will be measured. We are competing against ourselves, and we must succeed.

This is the second patch of 100 stories that defines the journey I have recently concluded. Leave a comment and let me know how you like my handiwork!