Month: December 2010

No fireworks tonight

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Fireworks Finale
Finale and new beginnings

Actually, the big cities of the world will be full of fireworks this evening at the time zones move past midnight- there will be plenty of fireworks.

Not so for many of millions of people.

Should we not spend the money on the fireworks? Is that a real solution to the problem of poverty? And if so, where would such a frugal spirit end?

Enjoy the evening if you have a great view of the fireworks, but spare a thought for those without the same privileges. Commit to doing something about it in the new year- not just a resolution, but real action.

Wishing you all a blessed new year full of peace and happiness. Bring on 2011!


Facebook outrage.

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This was shot at the WTO protests Seattle,1999...
Avoid the CS Gas and capsicum spray...

Is technology and social media an help or an hindrance? Facebook has opened up communication for us all in ways that have changed us forever, most of them good ways. But in the process, what have we lost? Have we corrupted the words ‘friend’ and ‘like’?

My friend Virginia has an expression she calls “Facebook outrage”, which means to post on Facebook about a cause you feel strongly about. She thinks it sucks, because it is so lame- many people do little more for the issue after the initial post. A damning reflection on activism in the modern age.

Tom, another friend speaks of ‘slactivism’. You know, the easy stuff. Changing your avatar. Pressing ‘like’ on a petition. No big deal.

That’s the problem, no big deal.

He argues that even these small gestures do matter. I guess he has a point, and I would agree with him. I think there also has to be more as well.

I want you to go just a little bit further a build a human bridge this March, when we march on child mortality. Trite as it might be, but it is true: together, we really can make a difference.

I can’t trust him.

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Dan Pallotta at National Convention 2010
Dan Pallotta

Let’s face it: we have unspoken chatter in our heads which is an obstacles to good relationships. Do we see other people as a human being first, or as a threat? Dan Pallotta calls us on this in his recent blog. He quotes: “The unsaid is the most important part of language when it comes to performance,…What’s already there prevents anything new from happening.

The only way to overcome that is to build a bridge, a human bridge between the two people. Each bridge will look different. In fact, it might not give the physical appearance of a bridge at all. The bridges will enable us to show interest in the other as a person. Our interactions become richer and more productive.

The 10 City Bridge Run focused on a global design challenge of building human bridges to help close the gap on poverty that results in atrocious levels of child mortality. How on earth are we going to reduce child mortality as a problem if we can’t even move past distrust and harboured grudges in our own little communities and workplaces? Building human bridges gives an opportunity for some important self-work in our own lives.

So why care, and why build a human bridge? Dan Pallotta sums it up best in his own words speaking about ‘anti-communication’ leading to misunderstand:

Combine the perils of communication technology with our predisposition not to want to talk about the stuff that’s in the middle of the room, and you have a perfect storm of anti-communication. It is the source of all misunderstanding. And misunderstanding is the source of 99% of our problems.

To me, there is no more important issue in business, or in life, than this, because it is the issue that underlies all others. And the good news is, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fix it. Fixing it is as simple as the phone call my colleague and I had together. Whether it’s in the construction of a conference call, or considering that there might be a point of view other than our own, the answer is simple: Human beings just have to be human to one another.

Our failure to communicate, and our own misunderstands are evidence of the poverty in our own lives. This has nothing to do with how much money is in the bank account.

As my friend Maureen always loved to say: “Darling, just build a bridge and get over it!

Visit Dan’s blog here.


You can be the person who ‘started all that’

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An oak twig with acorns
From little acorns, mighty oaks grow.

From acorns, mighty oaks grow. From one drop, a waterfall. The power to direct and change culture is in all of our hands.” So writes Marcus Padley who is a stockbroker with a column on financial advice in the Sydney Morning Herald from back in July 2010.

He leads us through a story set in London where his co-worker, Sid ‘Nobby” Stiles, made a habit of picking up rubbish and changing the face of London. Padley argues that what we do really does matter. We face decisions all of the time whether to preserve the status quo or change culture for the better:

It takes guts to change culture; it isn’t easy. It’s difficult to stand up against accepted practice, but it’s not impossible.

Is reducing child mortality about changing culture? No, but collaboration and opening conversations where this wasn’t a topic of conversation might be. Those that benefit are those most vulnerable on earth living under the spectre of child mortality. It requires a change of how we understand civil society, charity, philanthropy and what our actions might really achieve. This is the domain of the 10 City Bridge Run. It is about creating a cultural shift by asking people to build human bridges. Not just one or two human bridges, but many thousands. Will it work? There is only one way to find out. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Padley makes a comment fresh in the wake of the resignation of Mark McInnes from the CEO of David Jones following allegations of inappropriate conduct towards staff. Padley wirtes: “The board of David Jones, for instance, recently accepted the resignation of its very profitable CEO for inappropriate conduct towards staff. Very public. Very shocking. That’s how you change a culture.

That section about David Jones is sage advice for those wanting to change a culture. For the culture to be changed, it has to be changed! Has this in fact occurred in David Jones? Was just someone removed from his post, and the problem dealt with in the courts rather than a necessary shift within the company? Human bridges that are built to address child mortality must be more than a new form of rubber wristband, or mega-band ‘Africa Aid’. Real change, not a band aid.

I love a blank canvas. I see opportunities.

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postcard of Baker's human cantilever bridge model
I see opportunities.

Building human bridges. This is the focus on the 10 City bridge Run. Building a human bridge is a design challenge for you and your friends to resolve. The form and function, how many people, the story, how large or small. These are all decisions for you. But note the bridge is also metaphorical of addressing child mortality as part of the solution to this problem. Will that also be part of your narrative?

During March 2011, I am asking people around the globe to build and then take photographs of human bridges. These photographs will be collected and curated as a ‘pictorial petition’ for delivery to the G20 Summit in Paris asking them to make a decision which specifically mentions reducing child mortality in their Final Declaration after the summit meeting in June 2011.

Lindy Johnson from the Queensland Government’s Creative Industries Unit expresses a vision which could be a motivation for building a human bridge:

I love a blank canvas. I don’t see roadblocks, I see opportunities.

Super-Rich Are Appalling!

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dick smith
Dick Smith

Has the GFC made rich people mean and stingy? So says Dick Smith…Is his argument reasonable? What do you think: Should the rich give more money because there are people living in extreme poverty?

Here is what Dick Smith had to say:

What’s disgusting is there are some incredibly wealthy people around, people who are billionaires, people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars – for some reason they don’t give anything. The press release I sent out mentions how our wealthy are appalling and greedy. And that’s pretty right.

Because rich people in America donate more money than the Australian wealthy (according to Dick Smith), should rich Australians give more? Read the article from the Sydney Morning Herald here.

I think perhaps we should first deconstruct the use of the some of these words and expressions used: “incredibly wealthy people”, “people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars”, “wealthy”. What do these expressions mean for you? How do we give value to people in our community?

It is true that the people he is talking about have a lot of money. I consider that I posses a great treasure which makes me ‘rich’, but I can tell you I don’t have anywhere near millions. I don’t measure my value, my worth, by how much money I have. Neither do I judge another in the same way. Our treasure should not be defined by how much money we have. If we are calling someone worth well over a hundred million dollars, should we then consider someone with no money worthless?

Dick Smith argued also: “that good things come to those who donate. If they were giving their money away, it’s amazing what happens with karma. The right things would happen for them.” He said most of his wealthy mates were “miserable” and that for the past 15 years he had given away “well more than 20 per cent” of his own income.

So what should be the motivation of these rich people to give more money? Karma? To get good things because they give a lot of money? To avoid being miserable?

I would think none of those reasons are of themselves ‘charitable’. Those reasons are all self-interested, to gain what the giver might get from donating money. True philanthropy is about serving a love for humanity, not tax-relief. True charity is about serving the needs of the other above ourselves, not gaining kudos or happiness. Certainly giving has its own rewards which should be enjoyed, but these should not be the reason people give money.

The Reverend Bill Crews, who runs Sydney’s Exodus Foundation, which helps the poor and needy, said a $1 million donation would give 80 kids a new life. He said: “For them the whole world would change. What a lot of these wealthy people don’t see is that in giving you do change the world.” Bill Crews said that the GFC had reduced overall donations to charities.

While both Dick Smith and Bill Crews might have a point, we should neither confuse the true meaning of charity. Charity is a verb, not a noun. Charity is an action, not an organisation. Charity should definitely not be a club with which to manipulate rich people into giving more money. How charitable is that?!

Fight Poverty! Act For Peace!

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Christmas in the post-War United States
Save the someone in need.

Overconsumption at Christmas? If you haven’t bought presents yet, and are just jaded by the plastic crap that no one really needs, consider giving money instead to Act for Peace so that people who have very little except from a lot of misfortune can benefit.

My friend Sarah works for Act For Peace. She sent me their promo clip which is fun to watch, but also makes you ask yourself at Christmas: “are we just being sucked into a great big festival of consumerism?” You can do better. Here is an alternative:

I thought the making of the video was worth including as well:

Don’t forget the Americans! 1985

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USA for Africa
It's true we'll make a better day, just you and me

…and then there was USA for Africa.

The refrain actually makes sense: “It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me“. This is perhaps the sentiment at the core of the 10 City Bridge Run. Joining together, the many thousands, even millions of you’s and me’s in the world can really make a difference. The question is of course, will we?

After Band Aid for 1984 and USA for Africa, did anything change? I think to say ‘no’ would be to miss the point. Sure, it wasn’t a silver bullet…but did anyone actually think that would be the case? In 2000 the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to by world leaders at a meeting with the United Nations. I don’t believe that achievement would have occurred if the profile from 1984 and beyond hadn’t have taken centre stage.

The sales from both albums showed the incredible interest in this issue, even if cursory.

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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U2, Kalvøya-festivalen, Norway, August 21st 1983
Bono in 2003: A good year for bad haircuts

So many good reasons to watch this video from 1984…totally fashion tragic in every sense.

Feed the World” was the refrain. How sad that today so many deaths occur from preventable disease. Hunger remains a problem. Many of these problems have solutions that are not too difficult to resolve…especially after 16 years.

How many more Christmas will again pass before this hunger is met. Personally, I believe that a deeper hunger drives all of this poverty. It is a deep-seated spiritual hunger within all of us, masked by our insatiable desire to consume and buy more stuff. All the politicians and rock-lords in the world cannot meet that hunger.

How should we respond to this video- With Nostalgia? With disbelief that nothing has changed? With annoyance that we swore we never wanted to hear that song again? With resolution to finally put it right?

Everyone, please give it up for the original Band Aid ensemble (in sleeve order):

Linda Ronstadt
Adam Clayton (U2)
Phil Collins (Genesis)
Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats)
Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet)
Chris Cross (Ultravox)
John Taylor (Duran Duran)
Paul Young
Tony Hadley
Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17)
Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran)
Simon Crowe
Keren Woodward (Bananarama)
Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
Jody Watley (Shalamar)
Bono (U2)
Paul Weller (The Style Council, and previously The Jam)
James “J.T.” Taylor (Kool & The Gang)
George Michael (Wham!)
Midge Ure (Ultravox)
Martyn Ware (Heaven 17)
John Keeble (Spandau Ballet)
Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
Roger Taylor (Duran Duran)
Sara Dallin (Bananarama)
Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama)
Sting (The Police)
Pete Briquette (The Boomtown Rats)
Francis Rossi (Status Quo)
Robert ‘Kool’ Bell (Kool & the Gang)
Dennis Thomas (Kool & the Gang)
Andy Taylor (Duran Duran)
Jon Moss (Culture Club, former member of Adam and the Ants)
Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)
Johnny Fingers (The Boomtown Rats)
David Bowie (who contributed via a recording that was mailed to Geldof and then dubbed onto the single)
Boy George (Culture Club)
Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Paul McCartney (Wings and The Beatles, who contributed via a recording that was mailed to Geldof and then dubbed onto the single)
Stuart Adamson (Big Country)
Bruce Watson (Big Country)
Tony Butler (Big Country)
Mark Brzezicki (Big Country)

Starting to make poverty history?

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EU commision Press Conference on "Buildin...
Bob Geldof: Do they know its Christmas?

What few people, including Bob Geldof, saw coming was the global financial crisis. As we draw close to the end of 2010, I was looking back on what people had to say about poverty in Africa in 2005. Bob Geldof for example, the aclaimed organiser of Live Aid and Live 8, who at the end of 2005 wrote for The Economist on how he “sees signs of progress in Africa” projecting a vision of the world from 2006 and beyond.

Bob Geldof is something of a paradox: once punk-rocker, and now elder-statesman of rock-royalty. We should celebrate people having the ability to change. If change wasn’t possible, it would be thoroughly depressing…just imagine what this would mean about Africa’s future and the burden the world would forever need to carry.

The key source of hope in Geldof’s article rested on the flurry of activity that came out of 2005 with promises of change. These included Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, Band Aid 20, Live 8, Make Poverty History and the jewel in the crown: the Gleneagles G8 Summit.

His caution seemed almost unnecessary, but now reads prophetic:

We must worry that the G8 governments, especially the Germans and Italians, do not backslide on their promises. So much also depends on the willingness of African governments to use the new resources effectively. It is a matter of urgency that both of these contingencies are monitored and reported on.

Despite its earlier rhetoric, the G8 (“Group of Eight” major economies) has fallen short of its pledges made at Gleneagles in 2005 to increase the quality and quantity of their aid and “keeps failing the tests it [the G8] sets itself” as was observed in September 2010 by Jeffrey Sachs and Steve Killelea in a report titled Holding G8 Accountability to Account. Just over 40% of the US$25 billion promised to Africa has been met. To put that into perspective, more money was spent on stimulus packages to ailing banks in the US during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis than has been delivered in aid to Africa across history.

The United Nations has unique convening power but has been seen many times over the last 60 years as unable to enforce commitments. Will the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) present a similar disappointment to the outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference? What will happen in 2016 if the 2015 time horizon for the MDG is failed to be achieved?

As 2010 draws to a close, how ought we to respond? Are the challenges insurmountable? Impossible? We need more than just hope to be able to report in 2015 that we are “starting to make poverty history”.