Activism

The Kindness of Strangers

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Brisbane Floods - Gailes Queensland

Last week the disaster of the Queensland floods became evident, and slowly into next week stories will emerge. Stories of courage, of despair, of hopelessness, of survival. The stories which have a universal truth to them will be of the kindness of strangers.

Parts of Queensland have been badly devastated. Not only Brisbane. More than Toowoomba and Ipswich. Small towns, small suburbs, ordinary lives. My sister lives in Brisbane, and she and her family and friends are all safe. My mother is staying with them at the moment. Not everyone is underwater, but many people’s lives have been gutted by the flood.

Disruption to business activity will be significant in some areas. The business district, the mining communities, farmers and livestock. Seeing the speed at which people rally when help is required is wonderful. Measuring the dislocation and loss should not only be measured in economic terms. There is a human dimension which is not as easily measured. Philanthropy is often equated to money, but it’s true definition of ‘caring for humankind’ extends far beyond this. Social capital always trumps financial capital in the long run.

I rang Volunteering Queensland earlier today (Saturday 14 January) to see if I might be useful helping out given my past experience in disaster relief in many different areas and situations through my Army service. They have been overwhelmed by more than 60,000 people stepping forward to volunteer. That is good news. People looking after their neighbours, especially those who are complete strangers.

Creative solutions to problems are important. Money helps, but it is a tool to be used. It needs to be effectively deployed. There are some parallels with the question of aid and extreme poverty. The parallels sort of end there- there is no comparison to 24,000 children dying daily.

Even so, people are in need. How can we help? Will we help?

I am hatching a plan for a lunch to be held on Thursday in Sydney. If you want to get involved to help out, please shoot me a response or ping me on facebook. My friend Jikky the other day came to me to ask where she might donate a big box of dolls she wanted to give to someone before she left Australia and flew home. That was before the floods. But maybe it is the seed of a constructive way forward.

Be the difference that makes the difference

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Every 3 seconds, a child dies from extreme poverty
Don't wait for Bono to tell you this is cool- act now!

I am asking for your help. Please join me on this challenge – the 10 City Bridge Run – only by working together can we build a bridge to close the gap on poverty. Child mortality is not a new problem; sadly, neither is extreme poverty.

There are four distinct areas I need your help. I think it would be awesome if you could help me even if only in one of these areas:

  1. Build a human bridge and send a photo for inclusion in the petition.
  2. Join our ‘design community’ to help unpack this design challenge.
  3. Step up as a ‘Local Connector’ to help communicate, coordinate, organise, and manage this process
  4. Help fund the journey through sponsorship: purchase a copy of the book “Life Bridge”.

This is not a charity. This is charity! The sale of this book funds the 10 City Bridge Run. Sponsorship starts at $24.

The book “Life Bridge” will reflect the the “life bridge” presented as a pictorial petition to the G20 Summit in Paris. The intention is to gather 24,000 copies of ‘human bridges’ photographs as a pictorial petition to appeal to the leadership at the Paris G20 Summit in June 2011. Together we can create a ‘life bridge’ that “focuses on concrete measures…to make a tangible and significant difference in people’s lives“ by making specific mention of child mortality in the Final Declaration when mentioning extreme poverty.

Please be the difference that makes a difference. Unlike fund raising campaigns, this is not about raising hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. The 10 City Bridge Run will operate on the scent of an oily rag. What we need is for many like-minded individuals to step up, and together we can be the difference that makes a difference. The Butterfly Effect in action.

10 Reasons to Care

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mother and children
We are hard-wired to care.

Franklin D. Roosevelt argued “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough to those who have too little“.

Bill Shore in his book The Cathedral Within writes: “The paradox of our time is that while wealth is being created at unprecedented levels, it is not reaching those in greatest need. If anything, it has created a complacency, a comfort with the status quo, an assumption that a rising tide will lift all boats.” The tragedy is that prosperity masks extreme poverty. This is why bridges are necessary – as much as for us to see what needs exist as much as for those who need help.

Is it worth asking whether we have have gone too far in the commodifying ‘doing good’ such that we see charity as a noun (an organisation) and not as it should be regarded which is a verb (the action of helping others in preference to our own needs)?

Citizen engagement is the new philanthropy. Philanthropy is not necessarily only in the giving of money. Civil society is the difference that makes a difference. We should return to philanthropy’s original meaning as ‘love of humankind’. We have a lot more we can each contribute through our time and talents.

There are no shortage of problems in our lives and in the world. Caring about one problem does not need to occur at the exclusion of others as well. Consider that building a bridge to improve the lives of millions can enrich our own lives through serving the needs of others far outweighing any cost to ourselves.

The need to address child mortality ought to be self-evident to us all. Caring for those people on the planet who have no voice, choice or influence on where and when they are born into extreme disadvantage. Just in case you need further argument, here are 10 reasons why we should care:

  1. Decent thing to do. Caring for other humans on the planet who are in need.
  2. Humanitarian intervention. It is wrong to allow suffering when it is within our ability to prevent it occurring at no disadvantage to ourselves.
  3. Avoids population crisis. All evidence shows that a reduction of child mortality also reduces birth rate, which also reduces the potential of an unsustainable population size in the coming decades.
  4. Improved environment. Many deaths are caused from simple reasons such as poor water supply and sanitation. To reduce child mortality requires an improvement to disgraceful environmental conditions.
  5. Preventing disease epidemics. Malaria remains one of the largest killers of children across the world. Improved prevention of disease leads to reduced child mortality. Vigilance against epidemics far worse than malaria is important for everyone.
  6. Maternal health. 350,000 women will die in labor each year, with most of these deaths occurring in the region defined as sub-Saharan Africa. Reducing child mortality leads to a reduction in birth rate, which lessens pressure on already inadequate medical services and leads to an improvement in maternal health.
  7. Female education. There is a direct relationship between birth rate, child mortality and female education. Improving female education, which remains at outrageously unacceptable low levels in many countries, results in the reduction of birth rate and child mortality through better care of babies.
  8. Extremist views. We can only imagine the impact a high child mortality must have in creating a sense of injustice, creating a ripe potential to be exploited by extremist and radical militant groups. This is a time bomb we must diffuse more out of compassion than through a pursuit of our own security.
  9. Moral responsibility through mining and trade. Many mining interests take place in some of the resource rich countries that ironically experience among the highest rates of poverty. Mining companies are businesses, not charities, but it could be argued that it is in their shareholders direct interests to ensure the best conditions exist for business operations through sound civil order.
  10. Partnerships. Reducing child mortality requires closer partnerships, which generate other benefits for us all.

Let the dataset change your mindset. This is a question of urgency. We can influence child mortality, but it will require action and not just talk.

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.

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.

Why the G20?

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The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration from June earlier this year stated:

We recognize that 2010 marks an important year for development issues. The September 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) High Level Plenary will be a crucial opportunity to reaffirm the global development agenda and global partnership, to agree on actions for all to achieve the MDGs by 2015, and to reaffirm our respective commitments to assist the poorest countries.

In this regard it is important to work with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to make them active participants in and beneficiaries of the global economic system. Accordingly we thank Turkey for its decision to host the 4th United Nations Conference on the LDCs in June 2011.

Narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty are integral to our broader objective of achieving strong, sustainable and balanced growth and ensuring a more robust and resilient global economy for all. In this regard, we agree to establish a Working Group on Development and mandate it to elaborate, consistent with the G-20’s focus on measures to promote economic growth and resilience, a development agenda and multi-year action plans to be adopted at the Seoul Summit.

The G20 as a representative body has the ability and political will to make global change happen very quickly, if it chooses to do so. But to do so requires effort and participation from us.

Small Change? “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”

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Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 confe...
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent The New Yorker article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted argues we have lost a true sense of activism through a hyper-networked digital world. Thanks to my friend Kim who recommended this article.

Gladwell doesn’t really provide an alternative. That is not his point. Instead he is arguing against the assumption that a world with greater participation through social media such as Facebook will not bring the same radical flavour in activism in the ‘rights-based’ movements of past decades.

Is Gladwell onto something?… and why does this matter? Does this have anything to do with the reduction of extreme poverty?

Gladwell argues that hierarchy and organisation, not just an extensive network enabling participation, is needed to effective activism to bring about change. He favours the term “…with military precision” as though the military has somehow magically already secured all of the right answers. Having spent close to two decades in the Australian Army myself, I am hesitant to just accept that statement but I do understand the point he is making.

Have advocacy organisations lost the art and ability to be true activists? Has this inadvertently become a PR and brand war instead? Gladwell might say that it misses the mark because none of it is ‘new’, for all of the glossy brochures distributed and talks we attend, all the websites we click onto and the campaigns that engage our attention.

He uses an example illustrated earlier by Clay Shirky about the recovery of a mobile phone lost in a taxi in New York (read the article). Gladwell highlights the lameness of modern day faux-activism:

What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls.

How do we know we are really making a difference? A good question to ask.

More from Suzuki: Think locally, act locally

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David Suzuki at a rally for the Global Day of ...

Thoughts from David Suzuki speaking at the Sydney Opera House continue to resonate through this week.

He challenged one of his earlier assumptions in the talk. The previous cry of “Think global, act local” he suggested was well-intended but ultimately ineffective.

To be effective on a global level, he suggested the power of collective action when we “think locally and act locally”.

An important part of this is not being deluded by large brands, government and the allure of the economy. He summed it up this way:

Politicians work within a political cycle. People don’t.

Heart of Darkness: G20 Protests

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G20 London protest - "Don't be stupid".
"Don't be stupid"

Searching ‘G20‘ on YouTube I was amazed to see almost every link that comes up was of confrontation between protestors and police.

Of course, the range of issues the G20 discuss is broad. It is not only about extreme poverty. That is only a small part of the summit agenda.

Do the protesters at the G20 present a credible alternative?

Watch the video clip here of Toronto:

Or this one from London: