Matt Jones leads the 10 City Bridge Run, and explains his motivation on this page:
From soldier to social entrepreneur
Many people have asked me: “but why are you doing this? what drives you? and what is in it for you? What is the ‘real’ reason why?” Here for you is my story of ‘why’.
The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.
First, a definition of ‘social entrepreneur’:
Social entrepreneurs are innovative risk takers who use ideas, resources and opportunities to tackle problems and produce social benefit.
My outlook has been largely influenced by my experience and service as an Australian Army Officer.
Early encounters with ‘unseen’ neglected and dilapidated Indigenous communities in Central Australia while a young lieutenant during the late 1980‘s gave me a sense that some problems were well off the radar. Even then, I failed to grasp a full understanding of the sorry state of Indigenous relations in Australia.
Jumping ahead over ten years to a professional highlight when deployed on Active Service in Timor Leste I saw the legacy of bad foreign policy from a range of different countries and the effect this had on the Timorese people. The Timorese seemed just like the jetsam from many other poor nations with a colonial past.
In Timor I saw the sometimes-wasted efforts of a number of inefficient charity projects aside good examples of well run government and charity interventions. I saw the well intentioned but often dysfunctional ‘Donor Conferences’. Similarly, the challenges the United Nations was presented with simply in managing their own organisation was something to wonder about.
A year or so later I was still in the Army with responsibilities to manage an Australian Army response to regional areas of interest when the 2004 Aceh Tsunami occurred. I helped to stand up and manage the Australian Army response to the 2004 Aceh Tsunami relief effort. I witnessed the incredible power to reap focused attention and financial contributions globally by media and the ‘fundraising industry’. It was as if three tsunami had occurred: the actual tsunami on Boxing Day, followed by the media tsunami which led to an unprecedented tsunami of giving out of all proportion to the needs elsewhere around the world. The level of accountability following this giving and attention is often overlooked. The world moves on to ‘the next problem’ leaving behind the less glamorous, unaddressed, longer-term, systemic issues which fail to have the capacity to ‘sell’ themselves. In these circumstances I witnessed the awesome efficiency by which the corporate machine is able to mobilise brand, but often with very little real impact on the ground to boast about other than a handful of photographs and well conducted fundraising efforts.
‘Pothole Dodgers’. A Positive Experience
During my time in Timor Leste, where the situation permitted and if time allowed, once a week a good crowd from the Australian compound would head out on a run around the streets and back hills of Dili (always armed) in a more social setting known as the “Pothole Dodgers”. We returned back to a warm welcome from the “Pothole Dodgers Dodgers” who had managed to avoid coming out and instead cooked up a hearty breakfast for everyone.
One time I was running back to Dili near Santa Cruz down a long hairpin bend in the road. A Timorese family had made their home inside the hairpin bend, with a beaten-mud floor and grass-thatched dwelling. Gaunt looking dogs, goats, sheep and chickens roamed the ‘back-yard’ closest to the bend in the road. A father who would have been my age at the time was standing on this beaten-mud back-yard holding his young toddler child above him with his arms at full reach. They were enjoying each others’ company, the father throwing the the child up in the air gently. The engagement of their eyes and smiles said it all. In Tetum, the Timorese language, the word for happiness is derived from Portuguese, which is ‘contente‘. For everything they lacked in a material sense this family appeared ‘contente los‘ (very happy). The Western pursuit for happiness ironically sometimes misses the opportunity for this sense of contentment.
Numbers are disturbing, compassion fatigue, poverty porn
While there are many problems all over the world (you won’t have to look too far), the numbers and images of what takes place in Africa alone is staggering. The disproportionate rates of child mortality and rape in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo are outrageous (The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly called Zaire, was listed in 2010 as the world’s poorest country according to the IMF and World Bank in 2009 by measurement of GDP). How can we not be shocked?
Great initiatives have taken place over the last 20 years mobilising people. Have these been so successful that a ‘compassion fatigue’ has made some seem immune from caring? Have we become complacent by the graphic nature of images and stories that appear in the media that now there is a need to bring a bigger headline, more compelling than the last several hundred cause-related initiatives which have been ‘done already’? Bigger names, bigger brands, bigger rock stars.
Meanwhile, the greed and over-leverage of a global financial system finally had the financial crisis that was inevitable. But those who were culpable seem to escape the day of reckoning with banks “too big to fail” thrown a lifeline in the form of nearly $1 trillion dollars in stimulus packages.
All the while, somewhere in a small village just like the situation I witnessed near Dili a father enjoys a moment of ‘contente‘ with his family…
My family experienced the bitter cruelty of child mortality on a personal level through the death of my brother’s young baby son, Xander.
Culmination of experience
Exposure to Indigenous issues as young lieutenant created an awareness of problems I had no idea existed coming from a middle class background. This awareness was heightened and intensified by exposure to international problems in Timor Leste observing the complexity of foreign policy, the United Nations, aid agencies and media response. I thought we can make a difference – and we must. Small initiatives taken by ordinary people like me (and you) can make a difference, but we have to actually do something rather than let it wash over us and lament the horrors shown to us on our TV. I agree with Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
The bottom line
My motivation is largely influenced by my outlook as a Christian. I appreciate and respect the wide variety of views held by many different people. This is what underpins my thinking.
Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbour.