10 Steps to Social Alchemy

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Ashanti Kente cloth patterns

One of the outcomes for the 10 City Bridge Run is to “determine 10 meaningful actions anyone can engage in without needing to spend money which will make a difference over the next five years to positively influence extreme poverty.”

It sounds abstract, right? Without some idea of what this means, the actions could be anything. There are some parameters I wanted to impose:

  • It need not involve spending money. The actions should be applicable for someone at school as much as for a philanthropist with time and money who is trying to decide what to do next.
  • It should cut across cultures. The actions should make sense and have impact regardless of the culture or language in which they are written.
  • They need to be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time specific. The outcome from these 10 steps ought to be able make a tangible difference beyond just spending money or turning up to an awareness raising event.

Maybe it is a little high-brow. If it is, how can I tone it down to make these more accessible?

I have called them 10 Steps to Social Alchemy, meaning that through following these 10 steps there will be a social change and transformation takes place, an alchemic response.

This is in draft, and one of the items to be crowdsourced over the next month through co-creation or possibly co-moderation given that the list is already formed. How well that works remains to be seen.

Why did I come up with a complete list? I found in trying to explain this to other people, without a complete list that it was far too abstract to explain. Additionally, if through crowdsourcing 1,000 ideas were received, it might have been too numerous to manage.

Please take a minute to review this list. You feedback is needed! The list follows:

  1. Form a small group of less than 10 people. If you have more than 10, divide yourselves into smaller groups. More small groups rather than few large ones. Form a group with people you can commit to meeting over a period of 10 or 12 months.
  2. Agree of the frequency you will meet. This could be online. It could be for as short as 30 minute. It might be as infrequent as monthly. No doubt you will see each other between ‘meetings’. This is not to suggest the meetings are formal. Far from it, it just gives a sense of focus and purpose.
  3. Pin-point an area on the map to learn about. Don’t make the area too large. No bigger than a country. It could be a small as a town or village. Plenty of countries to choose from in sub-Saharan Africa.
  4. Frame the conversation around an issue you would like to know more about. It could be water. It could be sanitation. It could be disease or maternal health. Try to make it something we all take for granted.
  5. Learn. Start to learn about this issue as it affects this area. When you convene as a group share what you have learnt with each other, as well as your questions and what you feel about the information. Use whatever information sources at your disposal without needing to spend money- internet, libraries, newspapers, talks, TV and radio, other people. Remember your sources, and document facts and figures.
  6. Connect. Connect with other groups or organisations that have a similar focus or interest. Retain your integrity as a small group. Remember it is about collaboration and helping others, not power and control! Have fun!
  7. Partner. See if it is possible to communicate and partner with someone in the area you are examining. Make the connections are directly as possible cutting out agency if you can. See how far you can go with social media. Of course there will be challenges- it will not be easy. Differences in language, culture, technology, time differences. This is what this is all about. Understanding the other, our neighbours in the global village. Recognising the challenges and learning to overcome them.
  8. Reflect and analyse. What is the one big idea you have learnt or discovered? It might not be new, but it could be new to you. Remember that the most contagious thing is an idea!
  9. Tell. Be the voice for the people in the area you are looking at, especially about the issue you are examining. How does the idea you have give this some focus? Who will you decide to tell and why? How do you expect them to react and what do you want them to do? What will you do once you have told them? Be bold- go ahead and write a letter to the Prime Minister, or maybe make a presentation to the local school. What will make the most difference?
  10. Love. Remember that the world is not perfect. Be thankful for what you have. Be constructive!

In closing remember these two sayings, one from Australia and one from Africa:

  • You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  • If you want to go fast, travel alone.
    If you want to go far, then let’s go together.



Deeks Mo-Marathon

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Gold medallist Robert de Castella (right) shak...
Gold medallist Robert de Castella

Robert de Castella (‘Deeks’) is arguably Australia’s greatest marathon distance runner. And he sports a champion moustache.

Movember is a campaign that runs throughout November where men can help to change the face of mens’ health by growing a moustache to raise awareness of depression among males and the prevalence of prostate cancer.

During November, I am participating in Movember having formed the team: Deeks Mo-Marathon. While I am out running across bridges I will be cultivating a ‘mo’ modelled off Deeks. I am not sure it will make me run any faster, but it will be a source of inspiration.

More about this during the month. If you want to join the team as a Mo-Bro or Mo-Sista please leave a comment or email me directly.

What Can I Do?

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Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund in closing a conference at The Aspen Institute asks perhaps the most important question in influencing extreme poverty: What Can I Do?

She observes the most important thing is our human connectedness. Participation. Collaboration. Bridge building.

Elsewhere in her book titled The Blue Sweater, Novogratz tells a story which symbolises how we are all connected.

This clip gives five pragmatic actions anyone can participate in to make a difference. Her sense of urgency and passion for this situation is evident.

The ability of the individual to influence extreme poverty is what the 10 City Bridge Run seeks to address. Not with lone souls fighting against poverty, but rather together building bridges to make a difference through collective action.

Stop and ask yourself now, yes now, seriously- stop and ask yourself:

What can I do?

Africa- A Difficult Place to Do Business

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Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...
Satellite image of Africa

Extreme poverty and business development strangely enough go hand-in-hand. Effective business development can help to replace the burden on aid, but it is by no means a silver bullet.

Writing in the Financial Times, Michael Keating last week provided a good reflection about perceptions. This picks up an idea which the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling speaks about often- that is, the term ‘developing country’ is less relevant now than it was in the past. More so, looking at continents are ‘developing’ or ‘developed’ is just plain inaccurate.

The explosive growth of commercial activity in Africa, both local and international, cannot hide the reality that the continent remains a difficult place to do business.

Africa tends to get a worse press than it deserves, much to its own business community’s frustration. No one talks about Asia as a homogenous block in business terms, lumping Myanmar in with Malaysia, or South Korea with Nepal. Africa is equally diverse. Business conditions vary widely among its 52 countries.

Understanding ‘the other’ is an important step towards the eradication of poverty from our world.

Bono: “Rockstar/Arsehole”

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President George W. Bush shakes hands with Bon...
“You have to do both”: Bono (image: Wikipedia)

What should we make of Bono? Pin-Up for causes like Make Poverty History. What do you see- authenticity or dissonance?

In December U2 will bring the ludicrously ambitious U2 360º tour- described as the largest rock show of all time- to Australia. Andrew Murfett writing in the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The numbers behind the show are mind-boggling. The tour costs about $750,000 a day to run; its stage, which weighs 390 tonnes, requires two 50 tonne cranes, 180 trucks and six chartered cargo-only 747s to transport.

Murfett goes on to write that the show’s aim- to create an intimate relationship between the band and the 90,000 people each night is regularly achieved.

“Being successful is a lot easier than being relevant” is a claim Bono makes.

Bono is remarkable. Along with U2 they have been recording music which has drawn wide acclaim since 1980 when their first album Boy was released.

Bono says an important part of his role is understanding the world his songs occupy and, if he can, attempting to help shape those issues. When U2 were in Russia for their first concert eight weeks ago, Bono had a 90-minute meeting with the President, Dmitry Medvedev. The U2 concert in Russia was controversial the next day not least for them bringing Russian dissident Yuri Shevchek on stage. Murfett writes that Bono has an unparalleled ability to parlay his profile into helping causes. Bono says:

You have to do both. You have to be able to speak with the government and also those who are the enemy of the government. That’s our gig.

So how is he regarded outside of the adoring coterie of fans who also champion his causes? “Generally it’s more ‘rockstar/arsehole’. It’s ‘Oh, that’s Bono, he’s the rockstar/arsehole'” is how Bono describes it.

I found it interesting to reflect on this after David Suzuki spoke at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday night. Different methods to achieve the same point? Consider it this way: what would the world be like without the Bono’s and Hugh Jackman’s who roam the world raising profile of these causes?

Raising awareness is a long and slow process. My mate Matt da Silva described the process as involving “Cut-through. Telling stories. Engagement. Stamina.” during the week. I though that was insightful.

Let’s give the last word to Bono:

I just like getting things done.

Suzuki, cut-through and authenticity

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Byron Bay, New South Wales
Lighthouse: metaphor for cut-through and authenticity

A good friend made a comment earlier about a talk they attended about a decade ago in Byron Bay where David Suzuki spoke. Similar to last night where the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House was full, in Byron 800 people were hanging on his every word about the necessity for action in saving the planet.

That was all great, until my friend stayed behind to help clean up and had to pick up the drink bottles and papers these same ‘green’ people had left behind.

This is not a spectator sport. Watching passively is not enough. How can we avoid ‘greenwashing’ and achieve authenticity?

My friend Matt the other day had some suggestions about cut-through and how difficult it was to achieve. We have all observed over the last few years that cut-through without authenticity is an empty and gesture. Perhaps a lighthouse is a good metaphor for cut-through and authenticity

I think my friend Fay has a solution:

Bring on some mindfulness – and some action.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd

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As I enter the final two weeks (yes, this time for real…) before commencing the running part of the 10 City Bridge Run, talking things over with other people would be really helpful.

Besides, everyone enjoys coffee. Check out this video from Sam Thompson from Single Origin:

Starting this Friday, join me somewhere around Sydney for “10 cafes in 10 days”. I haven’t worked out where all of the cafes will be, so if you think there is somewhere worth meeting drop me a line and we can add it to the list. The meet-ups don’t need to be big. After all, two’s company and three’s a crowd!

Plus gives me a chance to work out how best to use ‘bridge-cam!’ Yes, expect to be filmed.

Here is the schedule as it stands:

  • Friday 29 October: Single Origin, 64 Reservoir St, Surry Hills (I will be there at 9 am…kudos to Gavin Heaton and Sydney Coffee Mornings!
  • Saturday 30 October: Coogee after a morning run with friends to North Bondi and back
  • Monday 1 November: Uliveto, Bayswater Road Kings Cross at 10.00 am
  • Tuesday 2 November:
  • Wednesday 3 November:
  • Thursday 4 November:
  • Friday 5 November:
  • Saturday 6 November:
  • Monday 8 November:
  • Tuesday 9 November: Bambini Wine Room, Elizabeth Street, City (meeting of Oddfellows from 7.30 am. RSVP separately)

Get Real. Have cause marketing campaigns lost their way?

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Breast Cancer Awareness from Rosie the Riveter...
Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

Pinkwashing. Can the pink ribbon be saved from corporate cause marketing, and actually mean something for women’s health?

This is what Mia Davis asks in her provocative article Next Year, Let’s Skip Breast Cancer Awareness Month on the blog Good.

Is it just me, or do others also think ‘awareness raising campaigns’ have lost their way as they have become all the more entwined with corporate brand and marketing. Reputation, image and market share seem to rule.

My mother has had breast cancer, so I have seen the effect it can have on a family. I have a sister as well, and am an uncle to her two young daughters. I do care about this cause.

My point is that the awareness raising missing the mark. Buying ‘pink ribbons and pink teddy-bears’ gives a chance for people to make a transaction so that they can say “I have done my bit”. Charity is sold out as a transaction. And how has that actually changed anything? Where has the money gone? Is this just another example of commodification of doing good?

A close friend whose wife has recently been diagnosed with the return of breast cancer was complaining to me about the emptiness of some cause-marketing campaigns. Where do survivors of breast cancer go to receive counselling or help?

Awareness raising can be so much more effective. How do we move forward from here?

Women Are Heroes

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The power of the photograph and film is evident here.
From this year’s TED Prize winner, JR.
Engaging, emotional, inspiring.
Watch it now.

The 10 City Bridge Run aims to influence child mortality through a creative process of inquiry. This is a human challenge- child mortality. Money and aid are important, as is institutional involvement. I believe that ultimately what the collective global citizenry do matters most.

Together, we can influencing the outcome of Millennium Development Goal 4 by building a bridge to the G20. The G20 has the 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.

Help us to build the bridge. Thanks for the inspiration JR!

Black Africa

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Who are you?

Hans Rosling argues that the time has come to stop thinking of Sub-Saharan Africa as one place. They are such diverse countries.

If we are going to change our perspective on extreme poverty, maybe we should first get better fidelity on where the problems actually are, rather than massing it all together: ’22 of the world’s poorest countries are found in sub-Sarahan Africa’.

I am as guilty as the next person to have looked through this generalised view.

No need to throw the baby out with the bath-water. I think sub-Saharan Africa still has its utility as describing a geographic region. I guess we should be careful that it does not become as catch-all for all that we here.

Let’s start looking for the good as well as the bad.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara, or those African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara.

It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world.