10 City Bridge Run

Progress

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all greatness
All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm

It’s been a while.

How many times have I begun a post like this here? Many. Too many? Hard to say, except one thing I do know is that progress matters, no matter how slow.

There is a case for speed, and not going too slow. The problem being addressed through this project is time sensitive, in as much as delays result in opportunities lost. The stake that is on the line is the wellbeing and lives of many people who live life unseen in poverty.

And that is the balance. Too hasty, and there will be an outcome, but maybe without impact. Too slow, and it results in a perfect solution, although too late. Paraphrasing General Patton:

A good plan now is better than a perfect plan hatched from within the walls of a prisoner of war camp.

This project is about an idea hatched in 2010. It led to the completion of an epic quest at the beginning of 2015. What remains is the publication of a book to help frame a ‘Design Forum’ to discuss this issue about child survival with the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Most of those delays have been my responsibility, and largely related to my ability to extend myself because of resources at hand. Some might say, including myself, that it indicates a failure of imagination not to proceed, but there is also a need for pragmatism and balanced risk. Things don’t always work out. Sometimes we need to constrain ourselves waiting for a better day.

The important thing is that progress is being made. As if within a cocoon, most of that progress is unseen by others. That metaphor is useful, and I really need to turn the inside out in order to make a difference.

Here is what I have to report on as of now:

The book which was to underpin the journey already completed through pre-sales is in the process of being written. The book, Life Bridge, is a photo essay and will feature 24 artists each with a contribution on the theme human bridge. I expect that these artists will all come from Korea, for no other reason than there is a particular aesthetic towards the collective and design which is interesting from Korea. Seeing a broad range of contributions will also be easier to compare and contrast if generated from a similar background. From the perspective of addressing poverty Korea is also an interesting case study. It is a country which has overcome the wreckage of war, and while now by no means perfect, does give some clues to how best to proceed with progress.

The Design Forum will take place in May 2018. Before that can be organised, there is some preliminary work that is required. More on that soon.

Today is the anniversary of the Armistice signed in 1953 which brought to a temporary cessation hostilities on the Korean peninsula. That too was progress, but also unfinished business.

In the meantime, I’ll begin to blog more frequently on a daily basis and get this back on track.

For all those who have supported this effort to date, thank you.

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Now, Not Later.

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Photo of Hans Rosling: Challenging people’s preconceived ideas (TED)

“If you could live forever, would you?” This is the opening question in an exchange between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King.

An interview between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King, shared by my friend Nat, and originally posted by an intriguing personality and photographer called Hicham Bennir.

“The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love, now, not later.” This statement was the reason for doing given by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He goes onto say that “the knowledge that I am going to die that creates the focus to being alive.”

Here is the interview here:

I thought those comments were poignant in the wake of hearing news that I listened to Hans Rosling had died.

I never met Hans in person. Maybe you have never heard of him until today. Hans was and remains an inspirational person who shaped my thinking on the journey that became the 10 City Bridge Run. Back in 2010, he wrote to me with these comments:

I wish you good luck Matt.
The seemingly impossible is indeed often possible, but be aware that the impossible is impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom to see the differance between the impossible and the seemingly impossible. We follow you with interest!
Hans Rosling (17 September 2010)

Those words from him were a source of great motivation. It was in the early days of this epic quest in which I had undertook to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities in 10 countries. The purpose of the running was to create a stunt that might allow a conversation to be opened. That conversation was to focus on a question asking: “How might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

In fact for the last few weeks, I have been meaning to get back into this blog, because this year I intend to finally convene these conversations which now have taken a broader view beyond just child survival to consider the larger issue of the Sustainable Development Goals. I had in the back of my mind the thought that I could report back to Hans with news of a completed journey after the conversation had been joined.

Now, it is not possible to share this news with Hans, but the conversation must still continue. Hans’ legacy will be seen in many different ways. The renewed motivation to pick up this challenge is but one small expression of that.

To recap, here are some thoughts from Hans:

Here is Hans speaking at a recent TED event with his son Ola.

We can’t afford to wait until “the right time” to do stuff. And more importantly, delaying is costly when it comes to a better world. We must act now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Hans.

I’m back with a fresh resolve, continuing this journey. It’s time to be the difference that makes a difference. Now, not later.

Let’s get to work.

Lost Focus?

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United NationsThis blog was established in 2010 as part of this initiative called the 10 City Bridge Run to ask how we might use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival.

Some of you might have noticed that I am now talking about the need to improve the mental wellbeing among veterans, more than issues relating to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

What is this about? Have I lost focus? Is this a sign of me being temperamental? The answer to both of those last two questions is a definite ‘no’.

The 10 City Bridge Run remains squarely focused on child survival. I have realised over the past years (yes, years…how ridiculous is that. I never thought this would consume so much of my time, but at the same time I have no complaint. It is worth my time and energy) that engaging with the institutions and issues surrounding child survival involves more than just throwing a couple of information nights with a little bit of ‘design thinking’ thrown in and reading  couple of books by rock star authors.

In order to engage in this process of change, I had to develop my ability to better understand collaboration and social impact. It is one thing to have an opinion about these things that you can crow about over a latte with friends, but it is another matter entirely to put it into practice.

Part of the decision to embrace the Marine Corps Marathon under the umbrella of the citizen-led initiative which I have called the 10 City Bridge Run is to help me to improve my ability to be useful in these areas.

Additionally, it has also taken me back to the roots from where the 10 City Bridge Run began which was an initiative aimed at addressing suicide and depression.

I am learning more, and consequently becoming more effective at helping to stimulate game changing impact.

I would be interested in your thoughts. Tell me if you are satisfied with this apparent detour, or whether you think it is an unnecessary distraction. Either way, I hope you will continue to follow me and challenge me with your comments and questions which itself is a much needed form of support.

The video below talks about my motivation to get involved:

The Mission Continues: An Update, Part 3

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img_7196The first two blog posts to this update described where the 10 City Bridge Run initiative came from, and then how I intend to proceed to complete the journey through the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge.

The posts spoke broadly about these issues, and didn’t describe a plan to achieve these objectives in any detail as such. And so we come to this third update which I hope might help to address some of those queries.

Some of you might know that I previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, and am a veteran owing to the deployments I was sent on during that time. Issues of veteran health are something that matters to me. Veterans health is a complex issue. Too often it is reduced down to something like “the government sends people off to war and doesn’t take good enough care of them when they come home.” There is some truth to this, but it is also disturbingly suggestive of a victimhood culture that I don’t think rightly reflects the dignity of those who served their country. This of course if my opinion, and others will have a different view and might even heatedly disagree.

One of the disturbing trends has been mental health among veterans, which I believe is a function of transitioning from the military into life outside the military. I don’t know that you can ever really describe veterans as plain old citizens because they will always have a particular outlook on life that no one else will really understand unless they have too served. And it is not like we are robots. Everyone is different, but there is a trend of alienation which is disturbing.

Partly because  of this trend, some people have suicided. Again, the reasons for this are many and complex, and so it is not sufficient to have a linear logic that makes correlation between veterans and suicide. I think we can all agree that it is a tragic and unacceptable situation.

While I was serving in the military, I had the sobering duty of investigating a number of suicides. All were tragic.

Whether the military system was at fault is something that can be argued and argued. I have an opinion, but because of the sensitive nature of the issue this is not the forum to discuss it, and it won’t be an opinion I will be offering to my friends, just in case you want to ask.

A figure has emerged from the US where it is alleged that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Admittedly, their military is very large, but even so this is outrageous. Particularly for a community who ought to have greater reserves of resilience and camaraderie, why should this be the case?

I had been thinking about this situation for some time, and coincidentally my good friend who lives in Washington D.C. at the same time invited me to take part in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting the American charity The Mission Continues. I had a lot of admiration for The Mission Continues, and while their efforts are focused on the US, the reach of their activity by example of what is possible extends globally. We can learn from best practice wherever it is found.

The timing of the marathon was good for me. I was wanting to reconcile my disappointing performance (in my eyes) during the 10 City Bridge Run with a subsequent run, and the launch of the Design Forum would occur around that time. Additionally, there was some crossover with the focus on the 9 City Bridge Run, and additionally I felt there was still more I could do with what I had learnt from that experience on the issue of depression and suicide.

I am also drawn to a big idea which Clay Shirky who is a favourite thinker and author of mine expressed called ‘cognitive surplus’. You can see a video from Clay Shirky on the home page to the 10 City Bridge Run site where he talks about collaboration and the role of institutions. Cognitive surplus argues that as a collective community, we have a capacity of social capital and intellectual rigour that could be applied to worthy projects rather than just watching TV. I believe that the issue of cognitive surplus is at the root of addressing this issue of child survival, and I also believe it is key to addressing mental health and a sense of purpose among veterans after they transition from the military. Additionally, I believe there is unexplored potential to examine the benefits that the veteran community might bring to issues that tackle extreme poverty, such as child survival. These are hunches and need to be teased out more.

Not that I need a watertight reason for every single decision I make in my personal life, but consequently I decided to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting The Mission Continues.

The marathon gives me a very real deadline, and also the challenge of how am I going to make that work. (To date, I still have had no luck with the magic carpet, and will need to work out how to afford this travel yet). It provides a good framing timeline around which to orient the publication of the book Beyond The Backswing, as well as to announce how the Design Forum will unfold. In short, I see these things occurring on 24 October in Seoul marking UN Day. If you want more clarity, please leave a comment and I can answer your questions.

While I was in New York in July this year, I was hoping to have completed the manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing. It took longer than I anticipated, and resulted in me heading out to Newark where I had spent a fair amount of time about 10 years ago while I was hanging out with some friends who were working in that city. I figured it would be cheaper to stay in Newark than New York, and might also be a place with less distractions.

Unexpectedly, I befriended a number of locals who sewed an idea for how the book Life Bridge might be curated. I am still giving this some thought, but I believe it will work, and is also timely following the conclusion of the Marine Corps Marathon.

As a consequence, I hope to achieve my objectives for the 10 City Bridge Run and also bring some important discussion to this troubling issue of veterans health. This blog post is only an overview rather than a detailed plan, but if you would like to know more, please leave a comment.

I value your feedback, and hope you might leave a comment to say what you thought about this update as well as the proposed journey ahead. Of course, if you want to know how to get more involved, I would also like to hear from you. img_7196

Beyond The Backswing: An Update, Part 2

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IMG_6054The entire journey I have been on has been risk-filled. Precarious at every step.

Mostly, this is a reflection on my financial capacity to undertake the next step at each point. It is not as though there has been one or two dilemmas where I had to decide whether to continue or not. In fact, the whole journey has been like this. A high level of risk has been normal.

I don’t like to talk about this too much because it enters into territory that is intensely personal for me. So much so that I am less inclined to even clarify what I mean by that very statement. You will just have to take my word for it. I’m sure you can join the dots.

I concluded the running stunt, as I mentioned in the earlier blog post. I was dissatisfied with my performance, and for some time had considered that I would need to do it again such was my disapproval of my own achievement. Slowly, I came to recognise that I had completed the stunt. It might not have been as dramatic as I might have wanted, but there it was. It was done.

Some of the things that were not done well include my use of publicity and media, inclusive of social media. This was largely a function of my reticence to speak about my experiences. I felt uneasy about putting myself out there in front in public, partly because I knew there were critics who might be looking for some hidden agenda, and partly because I didn’t feel qualified to be representing the issue. After a little time and soul searching, I have come to terms with both these issues. Firstly, to hell with the critics. And secondly, I am entitled to my own opinion, and have as much right to set about making a dent in the universe as anyone else (to borrow the encouragement from Steve Jobs which was recorded in an early interview he made).

I still have some way to go, but I am getting there. Every time I post a blog or share a video is another training day for me, another lesson, more practice. I want to communicate with you, and I also know that by doing so I will improve my ability to better articulate that which I seek to achieve. I owe you, the audience, a considerable debt of gratitude for allowing me this indulgence to improve my skills in the service of helping others less fortunate. Thank you.

While the running stunt was concluded, the two key outputs for the 10 City Bridge Run remain incomplete: the Design Forum, and the book Life Bridge. The Design Forum is where this question of child survival will be addressed, and the book Life Bridge is a photo essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate the central theme to this initiative.

After completing the running stunt, I wondered how I might get closer to completing these two outstanding tasks. I could have easily slapped together a publication and posted that out, as well as convening a glorified town hall meeting and calling it a Design Forum. But that is not my style. The issue deserves more from me, and the supporters deserve more although the cost of doing so is that there is a time delay in the delivery of product which I consider to be less than acceptable. I feel rather sheepish about these delays, and I have also accepted this as how it is rather than just giving up and saying “well, I tried…”

Toward the middle of last year, I began meeting with an elderly lady who lives near where I get my dry-cleaning done. It soon became obvious that she benefited from my company as a visitor to talk, and I benefited from the role of mentor that she unknowingly began to fill. We shared many interests, namely Papua New Guinea, and would meet on a weekly basis. I would bring coffee and cake, and we would sit together for an hour or so and have a good talk.

The outcome of this was that she provoked me to start writing. I began with a few paragraphs and a series of notes, and then before too long it was a page. When I was happy with what I had written, I asked if she wouldn’t mind hearing my work. She was happy to do so, and with all the graces of an refined lady listened politely with an encouraging smile as I read this page and a half. I concluded, and she dispassionately asked “is that it?” as if to say that she was expecting much more. I explained that it was just the beginning, and described where I thought it might go. With a cheeky smile she leant forward and threw down the challenge. “Get on with it!” she exclaimed in an amused fashion.

And so I have. That one and a half pages is now sitting at a near completed narrative consisting of 100 short stories that run together in a memoir titled “Beyond The Backswing”. The book explores the necessity of failure in the epic pursuit of game changing impact, and more than just simply narrating my own experiences I place these into a context that I believe will be useful for many to read.

The benefit of writing this book is that it has enabled me to develop a strong sense of clarity to describe how and what the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge ought to be.

The stunt is behind me, and thankfully because of the encouragement of Paddy, the culmination of this endeavour will soon be realised. First, the book Beyond The Backswing will be published, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about this in the coming weeks.

The next blog update talks about an unexpected pivot through The Mission Continues.

The Credit Belongs To The Man Who Errs: An Update, Part 1

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ny image The ImpossibleAfter some recess from the blog, it is well time to continue this narrative.

The 10 City Bridge Run was conceived in 2010 to help address the problem faced by high child mortality. It emerged from lessons learnt following an initiative called the 9 City Bridge Run. The 9 City Bridge Run was focused on using resilience and wellbeing as a counterpoint to depression and suicide.

In many respects, the two issues faced by the 9 City Bridge Run and the 10 City Bridge Run were distinct and unrelated. At the same time, these were two issues linked by a similar thread of design and social impact.

I wrote a discussion paper after the 9 City Bridge Run. If you want a copy of an abstract from the paper, leave a comment below and I will forward you one and point you to where it is located. For a range of reasons, I thought that I had left the issue of suicide and depression behind, and was cracking on with addressing child survival as much as I was able.

It is worth noting that my efforts in both cases were well-intentioned, albeit Quixotic. What is one to do? Give up because they don’t have enough knowledge, or desist because the method chosen is not entirely workable at first?

I had sought to partner with large institutional organisations before committing to action, but I found that their capacity to embrace the sense of change I was looking to find was mired because of their obsession with messaging and fundraising.

In hindsight, it is easy for the critic to lean back in their comfortable chair and point to all of the flaws in what I chose to do. This could have been done differently, it would have been better to do that. But the journey of the 10 City Bridge Run is now in its sixth year. There has been untold and tremendous levels of heartache and sweat equity poured into this, and while it has been clumsy at time, there has been learning along the way.

Most of the financial risk was borne by myself. Essentially, this was a foolish move, and I was fortunate to receive the support from many generous people who contributed during a series of fundraising campaigns. The amount of  money raised was modest, but enough to steer me through such that I would not give up.

The 10 City Bridge Run was based on a stunt: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside the space of a month so as to open a conversation about improving child survival. That was 2010, and it wasn’t until a dark, wet and cold night on 3 January 2015 in New York that this running stunt was completed.

The stunt was to enable something else to occur, and that was what I had described as a series of Design Forum to open this conversation about improving the delivery of child survival. To help fund the initiative, the crowdfunding was based on the pre-sale of a book that would feature a photo-essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate that it was the connections between us was the greatest resource at our disposal to make change happen. What that change was and how it would occur was unanswered during this process, and is indeed the work of the Design Forum.

Here’s the thing: unless we try things, how will we know if something is going to work. Theodore Roosevelt was right in his frequently quoted address about the man in the arena:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This has not been an easy journey, but progress is being made. Maybe the issues have yet to be impacted upon, but then again neither is the deeds in the arena complete.

Picking up this conversation again through this blog, I wanted to backtrack a little so you could know where it has come from.

The next post will talk about where the 10 City Bridge Run stands at the present.

The Next Step

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It’s been a while, in fact too long.

I’m not sure I posted since December around the time I completed an art work that was on display at the local art gallery. The work titled “All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm” was part of an exhibition themed “Turning Point”.

This art work featured my interpretation of the naval signal flag for “I require assistance (non-distress)”. This flag is identified by a red diagonal cross over a white background. The point of the work was that through the painting and exhibition of this canvas, I was signalling my acceptance that I could not do this journey on my own. It was an admission that I need help.

I need help. Three words that are easy to write, but difficult for me to express. As a statement, it is fine. As a request, it is as though I even need help to ask for help. I think that qualifies me for the category of lost causes and basket cases…

More on that painting later. Not in this post, but later. Here, I want to talk about what I have been doing in this past few months, and update you about this project: the 10 City Bridge Run.

So firstly, what have I been doing? I have been taking stock of a few things, as if I needed to allow the momentum of the previous journey to reach its culmination and come to a halt along that trajectory before riding the fresh movement towards the the next steps. That sounds like complete claptrap, and if that is what you are thinking then you are probably mostly right. Those who know me best would sense my idiosyncratic avoidance.

So why avoidance? Why didn’t I hoist the painting on this blog?  What was holding me back?

All good questions, and to be honest I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I do know, deep down. There has been some make and mend needed. But epic questions are epic because they are inherently hard. If there was no struggle, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. Hiding from difficulty is I think a fairly common experience among humans. I’m guessing that you might have done this too at some point in time. If that is the case, then maybe you can relate to what it is I am trying to describe here.

The painting is still here. It is sitting in my living room, and as I promised I will write about that soon, but not right now.

I want to tell you what else I have been doing in relation to this journey.

If you have been following this blog in the past, you might remember that I was going to describe this past journey with 100 photographs. It became an overwhelming aspiration, and clearly that has not yet happened. In fact, that tapestry of 100 photographs ended up becoming the simply expression of the artwork featuring the naval signal flag for “I require assistance” which I mentioned above.

And so what happened to the 100 photographs? Well, those have taken the form of a book I am writing that reflects on what I have learnt from this journey to date. I am probably about half-way through, and I am keen to finish the book before the end of May, which is possible to do. The book features 100 chapters that outline the motivation for what became the 10 City Bridge Run, a commentary of the journey itself, and a third part which examines some of the lessons I have learnt about seeking to do something in order to make a difference.

I was going to wait until it was complete before I started sharing this writing, but I now realise that in the spirit of the collaborative process, that it is much better to put some of what I have written out there here for you to read as I set about this task. I welcome you to read, comment, correct, share, add to, and even help illustrate with you own examples or art.

My aim in sharing this book here is to write with more gusto, knowing that some people are reading. I am writing it for you, not essentially for me. I would like to have this book finalised and published, ready for launch at the end of June. I think that is ambitious, but achievable.

And secondly, what has become of the 10 City Bridge Run? Let me again first express my thanks to everyone who has supported this journey. None of this was possible without your help. Thank you.

At the beginning of 2015, I completed the running journey for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have yet to publish the book “Life Bridge” which I owe all of the supporters. And I am less than satisfied that I have been successful in convening the conversation to address the question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?” That conversation was the point of the whole endeavour. I see the journey as still a work in progress, even if that means it is long overdue.

So what comes next? This book I am writing turns out to be necessary for me to complete in order to allow the other things to happen. It is a big undertaking, and I believe it is worthwhile. Thanks for giving me this space to explore this territory.

Without linking this to a timeline, the book “Life Bridge” will be completed this year and distributed to all the supporters. I also see a renewed effort taking place to pick up this conversation about child survival, again using running as a stunt to draw attention to what needs to unfold. At this point in time, that is all I want to say about what is ahead. The only other point is to say that the journey continues, and that it could not have been possible without your help.

I need your help. That is both a statement and a request.

Thank you. Let’s get to work.