Month: November 2010

Legitimacy of G20: Self-appointed for the sake of G172?

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G20 countries
G20 countries

Last week the leaders of the G20 met in Seoul for the G20 Summit. For many, the ‘Group of 20’ (G20) is a largely self-appointed and barely legitimate body with no authority to assume its current role. Is this a valid perspective, and what does it mean for the ‘G172’ (the 172 member states of the United Nations)?

Over the next few blog posts I will examine the Seoul Summit Declaration in more detail from a development perspective. What decisions did the G20 make, and are there consequences for other countries excluded from the meeting which are unfair or favourable? What did the G20 Summit mean for influencing extreme poverty, and how does this relate to the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals?

Prototype and reinvention = the freedom to fail expectations

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Team Australia Talk
Team Australia Talk

This morning at breakfast a friend David Greatorex who has considerable experience running marathons inside of 3 hours gave me some advice after hearing about my injury. “You know 25% of people who set out to run a marathon following a three month training program never start the race. Injury around the second month.”

John Best was the guest speaker at breakfast. Previously the team doctor to the Wallabies (Australian Rugby Union team). He spoke on ‘How we are wired and how can we function best?‘ Speaking about the highest level of sporting professionals, he mentioned the pressures of public scrutiny and need for acceptance which people respond to that are not altogether helpful. After a period of time, even the most valuable of trophies fade away…

David gave me some advice afterwards in relation to my endeavour to go running: “Those sportsmen almost have no choice. You do. Don’t be compelled to run because of what others expect.”

Fred Chaney is a mentor who has given me some of the best advice I have received. I know he would caution me against racing into something just for the sake of doing what I said I would. It is that pressure that I am feeling on myself at the moment.

Good design thinking emphasises the need for prototyping and reinvention. This requires the freedom to fail expectations of others in the pursuit of concepts that might work. This is different to perfectionism. It is about tolerating game-play and learning.

If I am serious about design as part of the 10 City Bridge Run, I think I do need to say that at present I have developed a design brief as a prototype that seeks the partnering and co-creation from others. My instinct is that the next month until the end of the year is best spent in opening this conversation of design, prototyping and partnerships. Maybe the optimal execution is to commence the run at the beginning of the new year. This is a process of raising awareness and learning- not a race to finish runs.

Let me fail your expectations, maybe failing my own expectations most significantly, of completing this run before the end of 2010. I think it calls for co-creation for more prototyping and reinvention before the project is ready to begin.

Can design change the world?

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Project H Design
Emily Pilloton: Founder of Project H Design

Emily Pilloton from Project H argues that used correctly, design process can let appropriate solutions emerge from within in this TED Talk. Having design in your toolkit brings a fresh perspective.

But what does that actually mean? It is much easier to just throw these terms around than give them meaning. Pilloton refers to ‘design as learning’, and working locally to create a catalyst for a more connected global community.

In my own reflections this week of what I am trying to achieve through the 10 City Bridge Run I have found this helpful and challenging. I am carrying a small injury from overtraining, I have already delayed the start six times across the last two months, I am not convinced that I have fully developed the idea or conversation that this initiative is about. Should I just start in the hope that a solution magically emerges?

If I consider these ‘false-starts’ as prototypes and game-play to understand new perspectives, and every conversation as an opportunity to build partnerships and concepts that might work how might that strengthen this as a project?

Pilloton argues that design is process of constant education, where we need to reinvent ourselves, to re-educate ourselves around the things that matter. “Working outside of our comfort zones more” for me might mean to let go of a schedule and perceived control to imagine a new future co-created for a better learning landscape.

Just buzz words? I think Pilloton is right when she speaks about the power of the small story.

A step in the right direction.

Why the G20?

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The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration from June earlier this year stated:

We recognize that 2010 marks an important year for development issues. The September 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) High Level Plenary will be a crucial opportunity to reaffirm the global development agenda and global partnership, to agree on actions for all to achieve the MDGs by 2015, and to reaffirm our respective commitments to assist the poorest countries.

In this regard it is important to work with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to make them active participants in and beneficiaries of the global economic system. Accordingly we thank Turkey for its decision to host the 4th United Nations Conference on the LDCs in June 2011.

Narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty are integral to our broader objective of achieving strong, sustainable and balanced growth and ensuring a more robust and resilient global economy for all. In this regard, we agree to establish a Working Group on Development and mandate it to elaborate, consistent with the G-20’s focus on measures to promote economic growth and resilience, a development agenda and multi-year action plans to be adopted at the Seoul Summit.

The G20 as a representative body has the ability and political will to make global change happen very quickly, if it chooses to do so. But to do so requires effort and participation from us.

Why a bridge?

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The bridge is an important metaphor for joining people, institutions, conversations, ideas, communities and places together. The bridge is a universal metaphor. Everyone understands the purpose of a bridge is and how it is used. A bridge has multiple functions, including:

  • Crosses a gap. Overcomes differences.
  • Joins two or more communities that otherwise are separated.
  • Gives more options.
  • Makes travel easier.
  • Connects cultures, ideas, differences.
  • Requires work from both sides for it to be structurally sound.
  • Good foundations needed, along with spans of the right material and length, as well as stable supports.
  • Allows help to be given. Allows someone to accept help when offered.

We seek to build a bridge between the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (specifically Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality) and the G20 (19 largest economic nations and the EU). This bridge requires the participation of many people to make this happen.

If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.

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IMG_4813

There is no substitute for real-world feedback.

Reposting an earlier post I wrote back in 2010 at the outset of the 10 City Bridge Run. All the details are still relevant, even if now overtaken by events.

There is no substitute for real-world feedback. Matt Mullenweg writes a compelling blog encouraging us to just ship it (this is the guy who helped bring us WordPress). He uses the example from Apple, and the development of iPhone. Steve Jobs commented in 1983:

Usage is like oxygen for ideas.

“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.” This is great advice. Today, the design challenge begins for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have a design brief with 9 questions I need your help with in co-creating the pictorial petition. Will you help? The link to the page is here.

Note to self (after Voltaire):

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

Thanks to Seth Godin for sharing and making this original post known.

Soft Power: Good news for the ‘war on poverty’?

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Unconventional warfare (United States Departme...
Getting what you want.

People often refer to a ‘war on poverty’. I thought it would be interesting to see what expert historian and diplomat Joseph Nye would have to say about this perspective. I used this TED Talk as a reference.

One of the big ideas Nye has been writing about is a concept of ‘soft power’. This is relevant to the purpose of the 10 City Bridge Run- “to raise awareness of an individual’s capacity to act to influence extreme poverty.”

Nye argues that the stage is crowded- the State is no longer at the centre of the action. Non-government actors now have great influence. Often, this argument is used referring to terrorism and asymmetrical warfare, or maybe more appropriately the power of the media. Why shouldn’t it also refer to citizen-led movements, that is the collective action of individuals collectively acting for the same purpose?

Power, Nye argues, is the ability to influence others in order to get what you want. ‘Soft Power‘ is an expression he has coined to describe getting other people to want what you want so that there is no need for coercion or payment.

Nye argues that we need a new narrative. It is now a situation of whose story wins is what matters. Working together and in cooperation is the key to exercising soft power.

Power need not describe a zero-sum game, but can lead to a positive gain for everyone. We have to move to an ‘assurance game’ over the ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’. This is what a citizen-led movement should strive to achieve. In fact, for a peaceful outcome it is the only real sustainable alternative. It is a question of a Power Shift- we must work with other non-government actors and those who exercise hard power. It is a journey we can’t take on our own.

Why more aid is not the starting point to solve poverty.

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Alan Kay and the prototype of Dynabook, pt. 5 ...
Alan Kay. Known in association with $100 Laptop.

Alan Kay is a genius. Here in this video he is speaking on “Why does computer-based teaching fail?”

Does this have anything to do with poverty? Not directly, but the idea is relevant. In fact, I would argue that through this argument we can see why aid is not the starting point to solve extreme poverty.

This is not the same as to argue for or against aid. It is a question of design. “We should design in order to think”, so says Tim Brown from IDEO. This is a similar argument that Kay presents here.

We should start with the idea, and then use aid as necessary to address the problem leveraging the idea. Ideas should be the start point. Not aid.

In the process of gathering 24,000 of ‘human bridge’ photographs during the 10 City Bridge Run, might it be possible to stumble across a few good ideas that could better leverage aid? Let’s hope so.

Complexity and Simplicity: Avoiding the ‘Too Simple’

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Alan C. Kay
Image via Wikipedia

The problem with ‘poverty porn’ is not that it is actually ‘porn’. If that were the case it would be the most appalling failure of care meaning that aid agencies would be distributing inappropriate pictures of the vulnerable in order to pull heart-strings to make money.

So what is the problem with ‘poverty porn’? I think Alan Kay, with his brilliant scientific mind, presents this idea clearly in this TED Talk A Powerful Idea About Teaching Ideas. He is not talking about poverty, he is talking about how we might better educate young minds.

When we reduce the complex to an over-simplified explanation it is just as unhelpful as making it unnecessarily over-complex. Much of the discourse of reduction of extreme poverty has been reduced to sound bites that make a good pitch for fund raising events. Einstein said:

Things should be a simple as possible, but not simpler.

Thinking like a child is an important skill that Kay presents as benefitting understanding. Creating a pictorial petition through the 10 City Bridge Run of 24,000 images using the human bridges people themselves capture on photograph is an attempt to present our ability to intervene into poverty into a pragmatic and meaningful form. Please join us on this journey.

Children are the future we send to the future… Children need mentors.

Small Change? “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”

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Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 confe...
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent The New Yorker article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted argues we have lost a true sense of activism through a hyper-networked digital world. Thanks to my friend Kim who recommended this article.

Gladwell doesn’t really provide an alternative. That is not his point. Instead he is arguing against the assumption that a world with greater participation through social media such as Facebook will not bring the same radical flavour in activism in the ‘rights-based’ movements of past decades.

Is Gladwell onto something?… and why does this matter? Does this have anything to do with the reduction of extreme poverty?

Gladwell argues that hierarchy and organisation, not just an extensive network enabling participation, is needed to effective activism to bring about change. He favours the term “…with military precision” as though the military has somehow magically already secured all of the right answers. Having spent close to two decades in the Australian Army myself, I am hesitant to just accept that statement but I do understand the point he is making.

Have advocacy organisations lost the art and ability to be true activists? Has this inadvertently become a PR and brand war instead? Gladwell might say that it misses the mark because none of it is ‘new’, for all of the glossy brochures distributed and talks we attend, all the websites we click onto and the campaigns that engage our attention.

He uses an example illustrated earlier by Clay Shirky about the recovery of a mobile phone lost in a taxi in New York (read the article). Gladwell highlights the lameness of modern day faux-activism:

What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls.

How do we know we are really making a difference? A good question to ask.