Month: March 2012

If only it was this easy

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Little Chestnut saved by Ze Frank

Ze Frank recently completed a Kickstarter crowdfunding exercise. I helped out responding to his offer of saving one of fifty babies from toy sharks and lions. The photo is here on the blog post, or click on this link to see all of the babies saved.

Is it alright to include this in a discussion about child mortality? Does it present something overly flippant?

In this case, no. I think it is fine. I don’t intend to make light of a serious problem, but only to suggest that all too often our efforts at ‘saving babies’ are not much more involved than with Ze Frank’s stunt. Neither was he addressing this issue of child mortality.

Rather, it is a reminder of what has been referred to as the ‘White Savior Industrial Complex‘ by Teju Cole in an article that is well worth reading (click the title for the link). Addressing complex social need goes beyond the simplicity of the emotionally charged presentations like we see in Kony 2012 or when we are accosted by charity muggers.

If only making change was this easy. It is hard work. That is part of the metaphor involved in the 10 City Bridge Run running stunt: 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month. Much more palatable just to write someone a cheque, but that is not how things get done.


Anything Worth Achieving In This Life Will Be Hard Before It Gets Easy

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Jim Stynes at the 150 Heroes function
Jim Stynes at the 150 Heroes function (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jim Stynes, a true legend in many respects, died after battling cancer. He lived his life through to his death like every other pursuit – giving always 100%. Jim gave it all. On and off the field, he exceeded his reputation as a legend of Australian Rules Football.

Jim Stynes loved Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. He had a great quote about what a gift cancer had been to his life. It showed him how to live.

He sought to push people past ‘The Ordinary World”.

The Ordinary World is the comfort zone of life.

He would dismiss failure as just part of the journey. Jim wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and brushed off failure as a valuable experience. He taught others by his example. This is what made him a unique individual.

He once invited me to join him with his organisation Reach when they did a training workshop. He was very grounded, and saw right through anything that wasn’t authentic. He left me with a book he had written which was typical of his style, subtitled: “A Guide To Realising Your Dreams”.

At this training, Jim taught me one of the most poignant lessons about collaboration through a simple children’s game involving balloons. That lesson was a real gift which I will never forget. I will always remember the look in his eyes as he taught me something that he saw I needed to develop.

This 10 City Bridge Run journey was birthed partly in response to his diagnosis of cancer. It is fitting that I train smart and hard every day through until September to make the 10 City Bridge Run as he would say “a journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”

I guess it comes down to a simple choice – get busy living or get busy dying.

Thanks Jim. You are truly a champion.

One Lesson From Kony 2012

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Kony 2012
Kony 2012 (Photo credit: :)gab(:)

Stranger and stranger. As the Kony 2012 saga unfolds, who would have thought in their wildest dreams that this is where the campaign would be two weeks after release? Well over 100 million views and a personal tragedy unfolding in the form of a diminished reputation, ironically all because of the popularity won only the week before. No one could have seen this coming. Especially not even Jason Russell.

To recap, here was my earlier post about Kony 2012 and my thoughts are unchanged from what I observed then. I still think there is a huge opportunity to be gained by asking the right questions, and I also believe that Jason Russell ought to continue to play a role in that conversation.

Injustice is wrong. Here are a lesson I think we can all take away from Kony 2012, noting that there is still some distance for this campaign to run. Is it conceivable that the most viral video in history can now just disappear quietly in the face of criticism and personal issues?

Let me make myself clear. Injustice is wrong. Always. Inexcusable. But myself as a Christian, I believe that it is more important to seek mercy than it is to seek justice. There is so much wrong with this world, and more importantly there is so much wrong with our own lives. Mercy is a concept not used in our society often except in extreme circumstances, like when someone’s (usually your own or someone you love) life is at risk.

The premise of Kony 2012 was that Joseph Kony is a bad man and must be brought to justice. The way this was going to occur was through Western intervention, both by the deployment of US military assets, but more importantly through mobilising celebrities around the cause.

The Ugandan Prime Minister provided an honourable response to Kony 2012, agreeing that injustice is wrong, but also highlighting some of the facts were either misleading, incorrect or both.

More importantly, how exactly does mercy trump justice in this situation? Is it really possible to completely end the situation involving child soldiers and the appalling use of rape as a weapon of war? This will not come about by the arrest of Joseph Kony, nor by the arrest of the top 100 most wanted on the ICC hit list (whoever those people are). People are capable of terrible things. Even the little I was exposed due during my time in the Army and managing our limited involvement in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, showed me that this situation is endemic. Even if the whole planet watched the Kony 2012  video, this situation would remain in some form.

I want to write a little more about Kony 2012 at a later post in relation to The Theory of Change, and what I have learnt from observing. Enough to say for now that a methodology based around enforcing justice just does not work. We need an outcome-based approach seeking mercy for the innocent women and children involved. Focusing on mercy ought to drive the search for a solution.

There is a more important reason for addressing the need for mercy above justice. The tragedy which unfolded with the detaining of Jason Russell was met with cynical views, delight from others, mockery, from some indignation. The intellectual cynicism around this Kony 2012 has been astounding. Here is a campaign that has set a new benchmark for what is possible, and possibly also framed a new discussion around what is ethical. The method and framing might have needed further work, and I want to write about that when I discuss The Theory of Change. Everyday in our cities, we are bombarded with ‘charity muggers’: people who are paid to solicit collections from people on street corners (who are paid for their work) using highly emotive and often misleading information. Because those happen on a smaller scale, maybe we are less provoked, and therefore less likely to cut down the tall poppy as has been the case with Kony 2012. There is a lot of things not right about the campaign, but if we only ever criticised everything nothing would ever get done. It is disturbing with the speed at which it did pick up a following suggesting that we have an alarming capacity to digest whatever is put in front of us as long as it looks real.

I don’t agree with everything that Jason Russell has said and done. I don’t know all the facts of what took place when he was detained after the very public incident last weekend. I do know this: any sort of personal meltdown should not be treated with glee, but with compassion and mercy.

I was once in a long-term relationship with a woman who was bipolar. I never saw her episodes myself, but knew enough about her behaviour to know when she was not well. Her extreme episodes (which I did not witness but knew the details of) were not dissimilar to the type of events involving Jason Russell. This is a common occurrence for many people. Mental health illness is more common than most people might appreciate. It is especially a tragedy because of the irony that the high profile has given to his personal life receiving undue interest (regardless of whether he designed himself to be in the centre or not).

Injustice is wrong. Yes, Joseph Kony is a bad man who deserves to be taken off the battlefield. But regardless the level of intellectual cynicism people might have toward Kony 2012, does anyone think it is just that Jason Russell receive intense personal scrutiny when at a difficult time. We have become so fickle with social media. I am not proposing that we do not criticise IC or Kony 2012. But we do need to understand that responding with mercy trumps justice every time. This is more about our own lives than anything to do with Jason Russell.

Buy A Bracelet, Sooth Some Guilt. Will Kony 2012 Peak?

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#KONY2012 - pix 14

Starting a global conversation around how injustice is defined is entirely worthwhile to my mind.

From one perspective, as it relates to Kony 2012, it really doesn’t matter whether someone is Most Wanted #1 or so far down the list that they don’t get a mention by name. The best thing that might come out of Kony 2012 is seeing that celebrity figures are not always right (and that we should think for ourselves), that policy makers most often act because of an unstated agenda (and that we should be vigilant), and that removing a Kingpin does not stop the rot or end the war (this is an incredibly naive view which is seen tragically too many times. The capture and death of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden spring to mind immediately).

40 million views is a lot of activity. Can we have enough faith in the human condition that people can wake up to themselves when they realise that the assumptions behind the Theory of Change of Kony 2012 is flawed, and that we all must take some responsibility for ending bad things where we can?

The tragedy in Kony 2012 is that it reinforces an unthinking acceptance for supremacy of Western intervention. The great opportunity now for Kony 2012 is for bottom up refinement to a simplistic campaign. There is massive support which can be mobilised – not for the arrest and death of Kony (which could be argued as almost inconsequential given the current situation) – but more for a rethinking of what needs to be done to support Uganda and the region. Would Jason Russell be strong enough to open the conversation by saying: “OK, we got it wrong on this one. I know that there is something to be done in that region, but I am not completely sure of the answer. How can Invisible Children (IC) repurpose itself to make a real difference?”

I suspect that IC is too entrenched in the campaign to make this change, but even so the discussions around the edges, like this one, are what is most important.

The question I would leave you with is this: “what action would you suggest I take in order to make the most difference to alleviating child mortality? Would you be open to working together to making a difference in this area?”

Ze Frank Is Saving Babies

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Image representing Ze Frank as depicted in Cru...
Ze Frank

Child mortality is a serious issue. This week I have seen two different approaches, both clever, toward raising awareness and building collaboration which help to save the lives of children.

The first is Kony 2012. Read my previous post Reframing Kony? How to solve the world’s trickiest problems for a critique of that campaign. I think that will continue to emerge as a case study in progress that will divide the activist community as to whether it was the right thing to do.

The second is Ze Frank‘s recent Kickstarter campaign to raise money for his next show. Already well oversubscribed above 250%, it shows the strong following and appeal that he brings to his audience. I subscribed to save plastic babies from the sharks he has inside a toy landscape.

See the video at Kickstarter here or watch below:

Ze Frank is not making a joke out of child mortality, and neither am I.

I am contrasting different methods for creating an effect for positive social change. Is one better than the other, or are they just different? Can one leverage a better result in the long term more than the other? What do you think?

Reframing Kony? How to solve the world’s trickiest problems

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Kony  2012

Kony 2012 is a recent campaign uploaded onto YouTube by Invisible Children. It was posted on 5 March 2012, and already has enjoyed a wide circulation. Invisible Children’s mission is stated on their website as ‘using film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity’.

Watch the 29:59 minute documentary explaining the campaign here:

It is a compelling story, and a cause that is troubling. Especially when seen from the normalcy and comfort of a Western household. How can we respond in any way other than to be shocked?

So much sadness and suffering in the world. Must we prioritise our response? Do we have to chose ‘our favoured cause’ above others? What difference does it make anyway…in the long run, will any of it make any difference?

Before looking at some of the criticism to the Kony 2012 campaign, I argue that we can all agree on one thing: taking no action is wrong. It is wrong ethically because we enjoy so much. Action can be small as much as it can be significant.

Here are two thoughtful blog posts which give a considered critique of Kony 2012 and are worth reading. Read them yourselves rather than me summarising them in detail. My friend Cathie McGinn presents The questions we should be asking about the Invisible Children viral in her mUmBRELLA post. Patrick Wegner argues that “the Kony 2012 campaign is a reminder why we should see advocacy campaigns to interfere in conflicts with some scepticism, no matter how good the cause” in his Justice In Conflict post.

Last night, I attended a book launch for Eric Knight’s first book “Reframe: how to solve the world’s trickiest problems.” Eric’s book is a worthwhile read. He argues that often we miss the real cause of a problem, and so are then are unable to create a workable solution. I would suggest that he might respond the the Kony 2012 issue by applauding its action, while at the same time questioning whether the root cause has been addressed. Does dismantling Kony’s authority or freedom guarantee an end to the terror visited on so many African children?

This blog is not a criticism of Kony 2012 in itself. I would encourage people to get involved rather than criticise from the sidelines. I would also suggest that it does not in itself solve the problem. Focusing a social action campaign to mobilise the deployment of 100 military advisors is probably failing to recognise the impotence of our action in such circumstances. Intriguing to see the earlier indifference from the US Senators, and now to find their earnest commitment (cynically one might say timely following recent discovery of oil reserves in Uganda, as well as during a time of withdrawal from two larger campaigns in Iraq and now Afghanistan.)

Through the 10 City Bridge Run, I am asking “how can we use networks to alleviate child mortality?” Importantly, I do not believe that this is a stove-piped issues, nor is it something that can only be addressed at the expense of giving attention to another cause. Developing a more robust collaborative spirit of social action is required to make a difference. The lines of what causes poverty are blurred at the edges. Raising awareness of injustice itself is a good start to making the right choices in more areas than a person might have first intended.

This is the first blog I have written for almost 11 months. It has been a long recess. Writing this blog has been a good start point to come back into the conversation. Please join me as I prepare to start running in September. I am going to ask for your help before then by taking photographs.

In the meantime, we need to get better at working together from the ground up in order to solve the world’s trickiest problems. Kony 2012 is a great example of what is possible. Does it really matter if it is not a silver bullet?