Month: October 2012

Take the Pledge: Slactivism or Game Changer?

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Anthony Lake
Anthony Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UNICEF last month announced a breakthrough new initiative: they would ask everyone to visit ‘A Promise Renewed’ website and take the pledge to help reduce child mortality.

I was especially intrigued when I heard of this campaign. Intrigued because this is completely aligned with what I am seeking to achieve through the 10 City Bridge Run. Or maybe to rephrase that better, in light of their initiative, I am completely aligned with the campaign ‘A Promise Renewed’.

Let me tease this out a little first. Follow me here: I am being objective in my thinking. These initiatives must be able to stand up to scrutiny. It ought not to be a case of everyone just drinking the Kool-Aid.

So what is this pledge all about? Let’s start with that.

It works on the premise that governments can’t do it alone. Making change happen in not something that can be only left to the G20 or the G192. We are all in this together. My thoughts: No problem with that – I think everyone would agree with that assertion.

Here is what UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said to explain the pledge:

Sign the pledge, which will mean you’re pledging to do what you can to change behavior in your communities — you’ll encourage local NGOs to sign the pledge and to work harder, you’ll pledge to advocate your governments to follow through on their pledges and make real progress. You can make a difference.

I think that too is sound. It is not saying that people have the power to make change themselves necessarily, but the corporate act of persuasion that leveraging your voice is not to be discounted.

There is some further wording in their release which gets a little wishful. That is where they hope that by posting videos, that some of them will go viral. My thoughts: The truth is that no one really knows what makes a video go viral. ‘Going viral’ is really mostly outside of our control. I think that Anthony Lake got it right when he placed emphasis on advocating for change.

His closing words are worth noting. They are worth reading twice, because they are easily to just read past the first time. I agree with him:

[We should all] start advocating with [our] governments to live up to their commitments to do everything we can to save children from what is a moral abomination. If we don’t do it, shame on us.

So will we? This is where the fine line between slactivism and game changing behaviour comes along. If it is just a few thousand people doing it along with their friends, there is a lot of feel-good value in that, but not enough force to change the game. If a significant amount of the global population are involved because people care enough, change will happen.

Moral abomination. Those are strong words. Will you just click off this page, or click onto this link and make the pledge? “If we don’t do it, shame on us.


Design Forum. 10 Cities. Free to Attend.

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Roman ForumRoman Forum, Rome
Roman ForumRoman Forum, Rome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concept to this 10 City Bridge Run is really starting to take shape, and I have some exciting news to share.

The good news is that what started as a concept over coffee with friends a little over two years ago is now about to go global, and all thanks to you.

Many of you have supported me by sponsoring the journey. The sponsorship has been pre-ordering a book called ‘Life Bridge’ that will feature 100 photos of human bridges. That is on track too, although I expect the book won’t be published until late February 2013. In the meantime, we have an intense journey ahead. You can just watch from the sidelines- that is fine too.

For those people who did support me, a big thank you once again. It is you who has made this possible. And there have been many other people out there who are helping me in other ways. People like Kelley, Jillian and Zipporah- you are not forgotten either. For all my supporters, a quick message. Every journey needs a passport, and this is no different. So this week I should be posting you your own 16 page passport which outlines what is happening on this journey. First I will be emailing to confirm your address, and then posting the letter.

This post is to briefly mention 10 Design Forum that will be convened in each city I visit. You can join in, and if fact it is free to attend. I still need some help to coordinate this, but I know that together that too is possible. Please visit the Eventbrite link here to register. You can register for more than one city, and you can register friends as well. You can see the themes of the link as well.

This won’t be the last time I mention the Design Forum, and I also want to make sure I am not overloading the interwebs with too many posts. If you are not getting enough information, or if I didn’t make something clear enough, please let me know too.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. Let’s get to work!

Photoessay: Committing to Child Survival

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Huellas de Vida | Footprints of Life
Huellas de Vida | Footprints of Life (Photo credit: victor_nuno)

Here is a beautifully presented photo-essay by UNICEF that helps to tell the story about what work is going on around the world to combat child mortality. It doesn’t cost you to look a these photos, except for your time.

Take a look through this link here which opens the photoessay. Leave a comment below with what your favourite frame was and why.

The 10 City Bridge Run is funded through the pre-sale of a book called ‘Life Bridge’ which will feature 100 photographs of ‘human bridges’. Describing a human bridge in words is best achieved through drawing inspiration from a quote by Ophelia Dahl, cofounder of Partners in Health and daughter of renowned children’s book author Roald Dahl, quoted Adam Hochschild who wrote about the importance of “drawing connections between the near and the distant”:

Linking our own lives and fates with those we can’t see will, I believe, be the key to a decent and shared future… Imagination will allow you to make the link between the near of your lives with the distant others and will lead us to realise the plethora of connections between us and the rest of the world, between our lives and that of a Haitian peasant, between us and that of a homeless drug addict, between us and those living without access to clean water or vaccinations of education, and this will surely lead to ways in which you can influence others and perhaps improve theworld along the way.

You too can join this journey but supporting this effort, and receive a copy of the book Life Bridge when it is published early next year. Please visit Your support is important.

Tiffany Eyes Off Grace’s First Birthday Cake (…meanwhile, somewhere in Sierra Leone…)

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Tiffany wants Grace’s cake

My good friends Nick and Liz have a daughter. Her name is Grace, and last weekend we all gathered in their backyard to celebrate her First Birthday Party. It was a beautiful day, lovely weather, too much food to eat, and many friends (old and new) to mingle with.

You can see from the photo that her friend Tiffany perhaps enjoyed it more than anyone, while she eyed off the birthday cake. I imagine she was thinking: ‘If everyone is looking the other way, would anyone notice if I just had a little taste of this cake before it was cut?’

Most of us have been to this sort of party before. Many of you will be parents who have had the pleasure and privilege to celebrate this occasion for your own child or children.

Such a stark contrast with other countries that for one reason or another don’t make it onto the radar of what gets printed in our newspapers. It is a tragedy unfolding every day.

We live like royalty in comparison. Even with problems we all encounter: the boss is a jerk, coffee was too bitter, missed the 7.05 bus, caught in a traffic jam for 45 minutes this morning.

Here is some food for thought. I hope this brings some perspective as to why I am about to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month. To open a conversation asking how might we use our networks to alleviate child mortality. Consider these facts:

  • About half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries:India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, and China.
  • India (24%) and Nigeria (11%) together account for more than a third of all under-five deaths.
  • The highest rates of child mortality remain in sub-Saharan Africa where 1 in 9 children dies before the age of 5. That is more than 16 times the average for developed regional (1 in 152).
  • By 2050, 1 in 3 children will be born in Sub-Saharan Africa, and almost 1 in 3 will live there, so the global number of under-five deaths may stagnate or even increase without more progress in the region.
  • The proportion of under-five deaths that occur within the first month of life (called the ‘neonatal’ period) has increased 17% since 1990, from 36% to about 43%. This is because progress in reducing the neonatal mortality is slower than that in the mortality for older children.
  • Almost 30% of neonatal deaths occur in India.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of death in the first month of life and is among the regions showing the least progress.
  • Historical trends show that for most countries progress has been too slow and that only 15 of the 66 countries with a high under-five mortality rate (at least 40 deaths per 1,000 births) are on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4.

This information is taken from the 2012 Report Levels and Trends in Child Mortality developed by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation published in 2012.

There is some good news. Sub-Saharan Africa has in the last decade seen a faster decline in its under-five mortality rate, with the annual rate of reduction doubling since the decade before. We are making progress, much work attention is needed, and now.

Happy birthday, Grace.

10.24 A Promise Renewed

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United (States) Parcel Service.

My last post revisited the contribution, such as it was, of John Bolton who was posted as United States Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. He was famous for arguing that the United States had agreed to the development goals of the United Nations within the context of the Millennium Declaration, but not specifically to the Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations had framed.

Some might use the expression ‘weasel words’ to describe this type of back-peddling. It was sensible, but not inspirational. It fought for the interests of the United States, but not necessarily for those in need.

How the Millennium Development Goals are pursued in this final three years will be telling. There are a lot of reasons for countries to play it safe. Increased economic burden in the face of domestic austerity, concerns over the slow-down of growth in China, fear of contagion, or just peddling self-interest.

UNICEF have launched a campaign with a more positive message: A Promise Renewed. Here is a video they made about how social media has been used to carry this message, although I don’t think the cut-through has been very effective:

For me, it is a source of motivation just in the title alone. An initiative I began in 2010, and am now ramping to tackle this year again. 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km. Across 10 cities, in 10 countries, all inside of one month.

This is my own promise renewed. Please keep your encouragement coming. I need that support.

10.24 Reflections on the United Nations

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John R. Bolton
John R. Bolton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

24 October was ‘United Nations Day’, commemorating the anniversary when the UN Charter came into effect in 1945. The UN is a large organisation. Massive, in fact.

John Bolton was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005 by President Bush. The position is also known as the United States Permanent Representative the the United Nations. His criticism of the United nations made this a surprise appointment to many, where he had earlier openly shared his strong views which were often critical of the organisation. In 1994, he said:

…there is no United Nations… there is an international community that occassionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along.

And then in 2005, he famously remarked:

The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

Unsurprisingly, he was also highly critical of the Millennium Development Goals. Looking at it from his perspective, this is understandable: it was always a target full of rhetoric and seemingly unachievable, so what was the point of exhausting resources for a measure that was simply beyond reach?

The other side of the coin is to take a pragmatic approach that argues that it is more than just a matter of idealistic and wishful thinking, but that an aspirational goal is worth striving towards. We might fall short, but in the process how much can we achieve?

I was responsible for monitoring much of our correspondence with the United Nations when I was in the Army at the time that John Bolton was the US Permanent Representative. Like others, I was amused at his blunt delivery which put a lot of noses out of joint. Years earlier, I recalled how there was in fact a lot of inefficiency in the United Nations that was plainly obvious when I was deployed to East Timor as part of the broader UN force.

Now we stand at the end of a moment of truth as it were. The next three years will be telling, and will reflect any momentum generated over the last short period. It is also a window that can be influenced through new ideas, even though a short period.

The question would be, how able is the UN really about to respond to such opportunities? Was Bolton right? Is a quarter of the UN just a waste of space?

I chose to look at 10.24 as more than just an anniversary. To me it is a personal goal I have set: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km. By doing this, I aim to stimulate a conversation that will take place in Seoul on 24 January 2013 asking how might be use our networks to reduce child mortality.

We need people like Bolton. His unyielding cynicism is an important part in generating the creative tension we need to make change happen. But you also need people to push people like Bolton a little harder and show that change is possible.

Will you join me and be one of those people? Please join me on this journey. Support me at to make a difference.

Harder Than You Think

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Little you know, but very seldom I do party ja...
Little you know, but very seldom I do party jams . . . (Photo credit: Hryck.)

Public Enemy’s song from 2007 made famous in  the recent 2012 London ParaOlympics.

An awesome tune, and a good reminder to kick the bass and push just a little bit harder. There is always a little more to give than you thought might have been the case.

Ze Frank Saves Babies

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밤송이. “Little Chestnut”
Package arrived from Ze Frank

Look inside…

…it is snugly wrapped up.

…and inside is….

…even with instructions for care.

It is true. Ze Frank saves babies. If only it was that easy.

Many of you will know Ze Frank already. He is more than just a comic genius, but provides a refreshing commentary on how we live our lives today. He looks at the small things. He is very good at turning the ordinary into captivating stories.

Earlier this year, I supported a crowdfunding initiative he ran through Kickstarter. He was seeking funding for his new video series- you can find much of it on YouTube. Take a look. Including this piece which he started with: “An Invocations for Beginnings”. See the video which follows at the bottom of these photos.

He had constructed a fish tank inside of which a number of plastic babies had been held captive from plastic lions, sharks and other scary plastic toys. He would save a baby for a particular level of support, and then send that to you.

Here is 밤송이 (“Little Chestnut”), sent to me, named after a fictional character a friend of mine has.

So, we did it. Together with Ze, we saved a baby.

But we all know that this is just for fun. And that this baby is made of plastic. And that this babies parents are a robotic injection moulding system, not real people.

This year, almost 7 million children under the age of five will die. That is a 41% improvement on the 12 million that died in 1990 when the measurement period for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals was started. The objective is to reduce this to less than 4 million under-five deaths per year by the end of 2015. While we have made progress, it is not enough.

This project Life Bridge uses the 10 City Bridge as a stunt to ask how might we use our networks to reduce child mortality? We are all survivors.

Ze’s baby 밤송이 is cute, but not real.

Even though it is not real, and even though it was made as just a joke, it can be used to help paint a different perspective on a serious issue that ought to be seen for the great loss of humanity, and not just masses of statistics.

Would you please join my journey, and support me for the adventure ahead? Visit where you can help. Do it for 밤송이.

A Design Icon: Bridging A Gap

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English: Bill Moggridge giving an open lecture...
English: Bill Moggridge giving an open lecture at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, June 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bill Moggridge was a leading designer who significantly influenced thinking among contemporary designers. Sadly, he died last month, but not without leaving behind a legacy that speaks for itself.

Many people today have heard about the company IDEO, which Bill Moggridge co-founded. What most people would be less aware of is the impact of his contribution to ‘human-centred design’. How might we learn from each other, and other leading designers, without just looking for an obvious answer? How might we use the inspiration of people like Bill Moggridge to find a new way to find impact?

This is more than just talk. In Life Bridge, I am seeking to open a conversation asking ‘how might we use our networks to reduce child mortality?’ through running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month. The run itself is a stunt, which paints a metaphor for the difficulty of the task of meeting the Millennium Development Goal 4 to Reduce Child Mortality by 2015 in a short space of three years.

A series of Design Forum will be convened in every city where I travel to explore this question. I don’t have all the answers, and I am far from an expert, but along my journey I expect to meet people a lot smarter than me who are doing amazing work. Connecting people together can we really make a difference?

Check out the schedule below, and if you have any thoughts as to how to improve on this or how you might contribute, please leave a comment below.

The shared mind is more powerful than the individual mind.

Design Forum Schedule

Training Log- 24 km Harbour Run, Out and back: 17 October 2012

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24 km Harbour Run- Out and Back

Last night  revisited a running route I hadn’t taken for about two years- it was like meeting an old friend again.

There had been a lot of changes in that time: a new bridge, some new pathways, public squares looking better developed. And also much was unchanged: the old boarding home still retaining its charm as well as its secrets, the stillness of running over the Parramatta River on Sydney’s harbour late in the evening, the distant glow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I ran along the first half of the course for the Sydney leg of the 10 City Bridge Run last night. Covering 12 km, and then returning along the same route.

Good conditions to run, and started fairly late in the evening which meant that the traffic on the road was light as well.

Pulled up well, and found the distance easy to manage, which is a good sign for the road ahead.