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Checking In

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IMG_4100It’s been a while. It’s been a while since I last posted. I didn’t check, but maybe it was back in February when I last posted. That’s a while between then and now. But since then, I have been thinking a lot about you, our supporters, and also our mission here which is to ask a question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?”

And it’s also been a while since I first put this idea out there on this website back in 2010. I remember that day well. It was in August, and my friend Kelley was visiting from the US. She patiently sat and listened while I explained my doubts, and after I had finished talking she told me bluntly in her best Bostonian-New York style to just do it already.

Many of you will know how the journey has progressed. I commenced a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries last September in Port Moresby and then finished the running in New York in early January this year on a cold, dark and wet night. That stunt frames the question we are going to be asking in order to help improve child survival through a series of Design Forum.

There are still a lot of uncertainties as to how the future will play out, but we are forming a good foundation to engage on this question. The hard work comes now: it is ahead of us, and I want you to be part of that journey. How that will play itself out, as well as an explanation for my recent delay, will follow in the coming days and weeks, but for now I have posted a video to check in with our supporters and let you know we are still well and truly in the game.

The video was in Luoyang, Henan Province in China. I refreshed while away, and am coming back stronger. Thanks for being part of the team. Let’s get to work.

We Are The Dead

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Major John McCrae’s poem has immortalised the symbolism of the poppy in Western culture. The words are haunting:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

He writes about those taken too early. But it is the legacy someone leaves that is what matters. This too is contained in the final stanza of this poem, paraphrased here on the anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, one year on:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though sunflowers grow
In Ukrainian fields.

I have been absent from this blog for a few months. I’ll explain that later. But for now, let’s take stock of why it is important to press forward, as if our duty is to take up that unfinished quarrel with the foe. Nick Norris was passionate about thinking differently, and applying systems-changing thinking to co-create a better world. At the time of his death, while I was motivated to embolden my commitment to the 10 City Bridge Run journey as a tribute to his influence, I also at the same time felt constrained to do so because of the very public nature of the incident and media profile given to seeking stories about the family.

I look back now and can understand my actions. I think I did the right thing, but now it is also time for action, and now it is perhaps the right time to honour his legacy as an influence in this journey. And as I write that, my thoughts can’t be too far removed from my brother, especially as no one could have known at the time that on this anniversary this year it would be more poignant for our family to remember.

I’m back into it, and taking their legacy forward as a driving influence. I’ll tidy up this site and write more about that in the days that follow. For now, suffice to say that the torch has been caught and held aloft.

Do You Remember?

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Nick Norris. A great family man and inspiring leader.
Nick Norris. A great family man and inspiring leader.

Think back to that time. That special time that only you can remember. Focus a little closer. Can you see it now? Do you remember?

Sometimes, it would seem that all we have left are delicate memories, maybe corroded by time. They remain in your head. You can write about them, but they can’t be seen by another because they are your memories.

What was it that you remember the most? A smell, the fragrance of flowers or the distinctive aroma of coffee; maybe it was hot and humid and you can remember the sweat pressing against your shirt; and maybe also the sounds, the mumble of crowds disturbing the moment in the background, the sound of the person in your memories; can you remember the colours as if it was yesterday, see the face of the person at the centre of the memories, their smile and their laugh. Do you remember?

It was with some mild anxiety that I searched for a video I made at Kuala Lumpur airport in early October last year. I had just completed the third leg of the 10 City Bridge Run and was headed to Osaka. I travelled to KL by bus from Singapore because it was cheaper, and even though the flights were inexpensive, the reality was that I almost has no money to even buy food.

Sitting in the departure lounge in Kuala Lumpur, I remembered Nick Norris, my uncle who was tragically killed about MH17 a year ago today along with three of his grandchildren. Kuala Lumpur was his destination on that fateful flight which never arrived. Wreckage and debris scattered across a previously unknown Ukrainian field, with no special respect given for human life.

So why this post? It is my first post after being absent from this site for a few months, but I will write about that later. Today, is a tribute to Nick Norris, and my brother Stephen. Stephen attended the memorial service for Nick’s three grandchildren in Perth with my mother last year. For my mother, that will have been a bittersweet memory, as in December my brother would also die.

When I was in the Army, I was deployed on a tour of Rifle Company Butterworth, located close to Penang. We trained across Malaysia and Singapore, engaging in some excellent jungle warfare and urban terrain exercises. My credit card was scammed while I was in Malaysia, and my brother showed his true generous spirit to always nurture others by covering the debt until the bank could reaccredit my account after the fraud had occurred. Nick would have leant back in his chair and laughed approvingly with his infectious roar if I ever told him the story, and would have been entirely pleased to see my brother and I helping each other out.

Almost everyone remembers the MH17 incident. It was a tragic incident that took on national significance, and even forced the outcome of negotiations at the United Nations. Before that, most people didn’t know where the Ukraine was, or that there was a conflict with Russia. It even led to Tony Abbott promising to shirt-front Putin at the G20 last year. Serious stuff. And today, a memorial service in excellent taste in Canberra. A fitting tribute. Love conquers hate. Do you remember?

I wanted to upload this video of the reflection I made in the departure lounge of Kuala Lumpur airport last October for you all here tonight, but when I searched my external hard-drive, it seems it is the one file that for some reason had not been properly transferred. I can’t find it. It was slightly distressing, and caused me some minor anxiety. I felt like I had betrayed my memories of Nick. I had cheated myself of a public expression of the tribute I thought was so important to make. And I thought how stupid was I not to post it there and then back in October.

But I also came to realise that it didn’t actually matter. Who is going to see it or even read these words? Crafting a message-in-a-bottle to be thrown into the amorphous mass of the interwebs. I stopped and thought: what really matters here? Did I remember? How would I remember? Those are personal memories I have of Nick and my brother. We weren’t always that close, but we were family. I can’t show you that on a video.

Remembering those we care for ought not to be reduced to an exercise of humblebrag. Tributes and legacy are incredibly important, and it is we who give them meaning, even if that meaning is only an individual experience.

So tonight, I’m asking you to just stop and remember for a minute. Everyone has a story, even though it might not be shared. Treasure yours, and respect the other.

The Five Best Books On Making Change Happen (published 2014-2015)

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imageYesterday I published a blog with my list of the five best books for making change happen to improve the delivery of child survival. You might have read it already, but if you didn’t click here to read.

The response has been positive, and on reflection what I like about my books (apart from the fact that I really like the books I selected!) is that few of them are so-called best sellers. In fact, reading reviews on Amazon (check out the blog) you can see that they are not all acclaimed as great. That doesn’t much matter about what other people think. It is about what value they are for you, or in this case, for me.

Also, reflecting on the list, I noticed the most recent book was published in 2012. Books don’t get worse with age. Sure, some books are contextually relevant to the time they were written, but many stand the test of time. The books I selected fall into that latter category. Even though events have changed since The End of Poverty was written, it remains a good book to consider looking back what has transpired across the last ten years. In his book, Sachs takes a strategic and longer view. We are not there yet, and the challenge he writes about remains. If anything, his suggestions remain a provocative taunt to some who would argue that aid is wasted, and to others who might argue that change is never going to happen.

But what has happened in the last year that I have missed out on? I am not suggesting I ought to have included the last two Annual Gates’ Letters on the list, both of which addressed child survival as a key priority. But I am interested to know what books have been published during 2014-2015 that are worth sharing around because of the difference they can make.

So now the conversation is over to you. This question began directed to Bill and Melinda Gates, and for the time being while we wait for a response from them (which we may or may not receive), we can do some of the heavy lifting ourselves and share our own information. Don’t keep the good oil to yourself! What have you learnt in your reading in the last year, and why is this important to help us learn how we can improve the delivery of child survival?

You can see the original request I made to Bill and Melinda below. Alternatively, you could also forward this blog along and do your bit to get it one step closer to being in front of Bill and Melinda Gates so that we might also benefit from there answer, regardless of when their list of books was published.

Thanks for reading, and especially, thanks for sharing!

Two Caves That Bookend Reality: From Plato To Campbell

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imagePlato’s Allegory of the Cave is well known by many people: inside this cave, people stand chained and facing a blank wall. On the wall they can see shadows projected of things, illuminated by a fire behind them. The shadows become the only things they know, and so they name these shadows as the frightening figures in their known reality. They give form to their worst fears.

Plato uses this allegory to suggest it is the philosopher who is able to walk unchained from the cave and see these things for what they are, and in doing so make sense of reality.

Perhaps Joseph Campbell was suggesting that Plato didn’t go far enough by suggesting that the true Hero must venture further in their epic quest to find the rewards of reality. Campbell suggested that people must re-enter the cave, but not that same cave they once came from, not the cave of bondage.

Here is how Campbell is quoted:

The cave we fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

So let me ask you, where are you on this line between the two caves? Chained and frightened into submission of what society would have you think, free and exploring the reality of this wonderful world around us, or perhaps avoiding your quest to enter the cave which holds the treasure you seek?

Decide to be bold today. Now is the time to take that epic journey. Don’t hesitate a moment longer.

Five Books For Change

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IMG_4655Last December, I was standing on a bridge crossing the Clyde River n Glasgow which was completely shrouded in fog. I stopped a moment to record a short video to Bill and Melinda Gates, and asked them for their recommendation of five books to help make change happen.

Maybe you saw this video if you were following my journey. It was the day after I had run the eighth leg of the 10 City Bridge Run that concluded in January this year where I ran across 10 cities as a stunt to open a conversation about improving child survival.

The video is below, and while I have forwarded it through social media, I don’t now that I have exhausted every avenue to pass the message to Bill and Melinda Gates. And even if it did reach their gatekeepers, there is no guarantee that they would see it personally, or even have the time to respond.

IMG_4657Well, I haven’t given up on them, and will keep looking for ways to send this “message in a bottle” to them.

In the meantime, I made my own list of Five Books For Change that have most influenced my thinking as I worked through the 10 City Bridge Run epic quest ahead of a series of Design Forums to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

And here is the list, and in no particular order. They are all great books!

IMG_4658There were other books as well that I had to cut from the list. I asked Bill and Melinda Gates for five books, and so I limited myself to five books too.

You might have a different opinion, or some other books that I didn’t consider. I hope you do, and I hope you might share them here too! Write a review of your favourite book for making change happen as it relates to improving the delivery of child survival, and I’ll add it here on the blog (you write the blog and I can post it without editing it).

As for getting in touch with Bill and Melinda, well I’m sill trying. You can help by forwarding this blog, and the video message to the Gates’ is shown below. Personally, I like the list I have already, but this journey is about building a conversation and sharing how we see the world, so it would be nice to know how they think and what they would recommend we read!

ReThinking The Design Forum

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IMG_3803In 2010 I had an idea to do something that would both address child survival, and at the same time show the capacity we have together for collaboration, even if the beginning of our efforts is an individual act of decision.

The plan was to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, and at the end convene a Design Forum to somehow find ways to impact the issue.

Four years passed until I was able to commence in 2014, during which time there was frustration to be found in spades, hopes dashed, thwarting by circumstances such as injury and access to resources.

Then in mid-September 2014 I commenced the journey. It was prudent not to have commenced before then, despite the misgivings this might have created in the minds of other people. I didn’t have the resources to complete the journey, and if I had began it would have been a disaster for me personally.

Long story short, I completed the running journey late on a cold, dark and wet night in early January in New York. The running was always a stunt to frame the Design Forum. In the meantime, what I learnt was that I still needed more time to prepare for this conversation.

The running at took place at the end of last year informed the conduct of the Design Forum. Doors were opened, I saw many places, experiences shaped my thinking. It was a personal journey that was extremely instructive. And now it is time to turn attention to the Design Forum.

The Design Forum have actually commenced already. It is a series of 10 events that will occur in each of e cities where running took place to open a conversation, and this conversation will be extended into other places through the participation of others. The first Design Forum was in Osaka, and that is being extended presently by a number of teams of great people with whom I am engaged in a process of examine Human Centred Design through an introductory course from IDEO/Acumen Fund.

Until last night, I had a plan to commence the remaining Design Forums as early as next month in Port Moresby, with others following in May. If I learnt anything from my running it was that action is important now, but that good preparation beforehand will ensure that action has impact. I have been ReThinking the Design Forum as I plan out my year ahead, and now recognise that there is some personal maintenance issues I need to attend to called ‘working to earn some money’ before I can suitably commit my time and energy more fully to convening the Design Forum. Besides which, to conduct them right now would be a financial stretch. It doesn’t mean not possible, but perhaps in the immediate sense, not prudent right now.

The good news is that this gives more time for preparation. And the second (next Design Forum) is likely to be held in early August in Port Moresby. That might seem like a long time away, but there is a lot to organise before then and the time will pass quickly. Following Port Moresby, the remaining eight Design Forum will occur to conclude in Seoul towards the end of October. It will be a pretty intense period, but will also frame a particular window of activity inside of which many people can engage to help us address this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

We are making progress, maybe not immediately like some people might expect, but we are getting there. Come August, I would expect a few other things to have been addressed to:

  • Engaging with media
  • Making it clear how people can get involved in the Design Forum
  • Building a robust team to help with the conduct of the Design Forum
  • More fully engaging with an inspiring community of practitioners who are already involved to help improve child survival
  • Building support for a petition to go to Australia’s Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP asking her to be the Official Champion for the final Design Forum to be held in Seoul
  • Completing the book Life Bridge which people’s earlier contributions have helped fund as a way to enable to conduct of this epic journey. I anticipate the book might be completed and handed over to the designers/publishers in late June, aiming to have it ready for distribution after publishing by early August. That is an ambitious timeline, but also achievable.

There is always merit in ReThinking your position, not to change your mind every five minutes, but through a process of iteration to come up with a better and more workable solution.

With your help, together we can engage in these series of Design Forum and work to improve the delivery of child survival.

Details about how you can engage coming soon!