After 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.
This has been a time of inspiration. Perhaps this is unwarranted, because it also has felt like a time when the sands of opportunity seemed to be avoiding my grasp as they slipped away through my fingers.
Trying something, and it not working. It is a very common experience. A quintessentially human experience. Is it strange that we have forgotten all of the failures from the early years of life during a time when walking might have seem to have been an impossibility? Perhaps it is stranger that we can get so hung up on a point in time when it would appear a plan has ended in failure. Not that we can remember, but if we were to think back to childhood, we would know that through perseverance we would eventually overcome.
I’ve been caught up in the words of a Brazilian philosopher called Roberto Unger recently. The title of this blog comes from a quote of his that I like:
“Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”
This post is an update about an epic quest I undertook in 2010 and have yet to complete. I called that quest the 10 City Bridge Run. The purpose of the quest was to address an ambitious question through a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The method was all the more ambitious to the point of ridiculous: I proposed a stunt to highlight the conversation about child survival where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries.
Long story short, I have completed the stunt, but not yet done justice to the conversation. And in between these two events there is a book I am yet to publish and send to my supporters. That book is to be called Life Bridge, and will feature a photo essay with 100 pictures of human bridges to illustrate that it is through our connections that change can take place.
I am very aware of ways this could have been simpler, or ways the execution to date could have been more effective. It has been lumpy in parts, but that too is part of the journey.
And so that brings me to this point about failure, about inspiration, and about hope where I began the post. A reasonable person would at this point in time cut their losses and apologise saying that it was all too much trouble, and that they were not up to the task. As I write that, I know that I cannot accept this as failure, and hear the words of George Bernard Shaw. You know the ones: “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”
And so yes, I have been staring down failure as I interpret what this journey has meant.
Staring down failure because there is inspiration. Inspiration from the fresh initiative called the Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of this year. Inspiration because I know there is purpose in holding this conversation, and that hardship is part and parcel of trying to achieve difficult things. And inspiration from a conversation I had in Newcastle recently where someone challenged me to look again at what I had achieved.
Let me explain this incident from Newcastle briefly. Back in 2009, I ran what was the initiative that preceded this 10 City Bridge Run initiative. In 2009, I called it the 9 City Bridge Run, and it was undertaken in response to the suicides of many friends as an effort to show that resilience and community wellbeing could be counterpoints to the conversation that was prevalent about depression and suicide. Long story short, that journey was personally a success, but a complete failure in attempting to have some impact on an issue which I considered to be important.
Unger refreshingly argues that change can be piecemeal, fragmentary, gradual and experimental. His words help to reframe our perspective: “we should not associate radical change with wholesale change, and gradual change with inconsequential change.”
The strength in Unger’s words to me is this: “To grasp what it can become” is necessary to embrace is we are to overcome the failure of structural imagination. To be sure, I have take Unger’s words out of the context they were written for, but I believe that remain entirely relevant to this situation.
And so from that conversation in Newcastle, I realised a few things. And this is where you come into the picture.
I realised that my efforts have been too much me pushing. As valiant as that might be, it leaves little room for the ‘us’ to truly collaborate on this epic quest.
I realised that concluding this quest through the publication of the book Life Bridge and the holding of a series of Design Forum to address this conversation about child survival required more input from others. It was possible, but it wasn’t just a matter of pushing harder from where I am now. I need to relent a little to invite others in to this space.
I also realised that what I achieved in 2009 and in the recent 10 City Bridge Run was worth exploring further. And this has pointed me to the next steps. And I’ll come to that shortly at the end of this blog.
Mao famously had a quote to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ which was actually a ruse to out the intellectuals within Chinese society so that their influence could be purged by “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” I think that Mao was definitely onto something. Not the crackdown of dissidents, but an openness to others being involved.
One of the last acts of the 10 City Bridge Run involved me delivering a letter to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asking her to be the champion for this initiative. Her staff replied in time, and I recorded a video when I was in Korea earlier this year just after receiving their message. Watch it below:
And this is where you come in. I’m asking for some help. I’m inviting 100 people to be our champions of change, to pick up the slack where Julie Bishop is unable to put her shoulder to the wheel. Returning to Unger, I note his words: “Great ideas are not beyond the reach of ordinary people.” So please note that I am looking for 100 champions of change, and you could be one. There will be more on that in a later blog post.
But here is the final comment, and the point of this blog post. Hope is the consequence of action. What I am proposing is to return to my initiative from 2009, and next year in March 2016, to run 16 runs in 16 towns across NSW in 16 successive day, and in each of those towns it is conducted where there is a group, individual or organisation that is prepared to host a Design Forum. The issue will be the same one I championed in 2009 which was to address the taboo issue of depression and suicide. The reason for this activity in March is to provide a rehearsal for the big event in September/October 2016.
So then in mid-September through until mid-late October over the course of a month, I undertake to run 17 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 17 cities across more than 10 countries. In both the March and the September/October dates, I will be inviting others to run with me, and more about that later. And importantly for the September/October event, in each of the cities, and in other cities even where running doesn’t take place, I will be asking people to organise these Design Forum for me. Why 17? Because that is the new number of Sustainable Development Goals. What about child survival? That remains a key focus, but also we will be taking a holistic focus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Many friends have given me very good counsel about my execution of the 10 City Bridge Run, noting my shortfall on a reliable team, social media strategy and media coverage. Those are all very good comments, and I completely accept the need for improvement in those areas as well as many other. We now have an opportunity to get this right, but I seriously need the help from others.
We are at a Turning Point where Hope is the consequence of Action. And to achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.
During the 10 City Bridge Run, I might have been pathfinding a new journey for looking at the issue of child survival from a different perspective, but I was not the first person to go this way. In fact, I am following the reliable footsteps of others.
And child survival is not a new phenomenon. Historical records showing the impact of changing medical, infrastructure, social and economic conditions in Europe during the Industrial Revolution points to a time when the incidents of child survival was high much like it is today in the worst places on earth. There was no magic fairy dust to make this change happen. And the impacts can be seen to reliably influence quality of life, wellbeing and population levels across Europe. That historical data points to why improving child survival is important.
Back in 1982, the Executive Director of UNICEF who was then James Grant launched what was called the Campaign for Child Survival. Jeffrey Sachs in his book “The End of Poverty” writes about how this campaign promoted a package of intervention known by the acronym GOBI: growth monitoring of children; oral rehydration therapy to treat bouts of diarrhoea; breastfeeding for nutrition and immunity to diseases in infancy; and immunisation against six childhood killer diseases.
“The results were striking. Child mortality rates fell sharply in all parts of the low-income world, including Africa, where rates were (and are) by far the highest. The campaign was estimated to have saved around 12 million lives by the end of the decade.”
UNICEF leading a coalition of all nations was able to deploy a great mass of resources to achieve this outcome. “The results were striking”, and even so the problem remains today. Bill and Melinda Gates wrote recently in regard to child mortality that “Things can be better”.
The Design Forum which the 10 City Bridge Run is focusing on are not proposing some magical solution that until now no one has ever thought about. The Design Forum are not suggesting that until now there has been no progress. No, the Design Forum readily recognise that this effort is built on top of the excellent work of others. Good progress has been made, but there is still much to be done.
In particular, the 10 City Bridge Run Design Forum argues that there is considerable untapped resources through our own connections which can be engaged with that stands to contribute to the improved progress that is making today. This is not a stand-alone effort, it is part of an existing collaboration to improve child survival.
This is not new, but we stand before an opportunity to perhaps uncover new approaches to help improve the delivery of child survival. Join us. And maybe more importantly, if you are already engaged or know of great work to advance child survival, then bring us into the picture. Let’s open those connections.
It is time to continue this journey. The time to complete the last three runs has been far, far longer than I had anticipated, with great delays in between. A satisfying experience? Not really. In fact, not at all.
Let me rephrase that: it is time to continue the journey or to give it up.
My good friend gave me some good counsel earlier tis year. She said “look, all of this ambition is admirable, but you are not getting any younger. You can’t just wait forever. You really have to do it or give it up.” It wasn’t an ultimatum, it was good advice from a friend who cared.
And so I began. There have been plenty of mistakes along the way. Too many to mention. Stumbling forward in spite of myself, not really running in any heroic sense.
I avoided media earlier on because I knew deep down how pathetically inadequate my efforts were. I was hardly in a position to start, but at the same time had too much to lose by throwing my hands up and walking away. Besides, that is not my style.
And so I stumbled through this journey. Along the way a couple of friends unfriended me on Facebook over really petty stuff. Surprisingly, that took its toll as well. Was I just some misguided idiot?
And so I am now at that point, having been delayed in Seoul since my last run by almost a month now, and that run in Seoul taking place one month after I arrived. That is totally crazy.
This journey has always been ambitious. I never really appreciated how wildly ambitious it was at first. Would I have started if I knew this was going to be the trouble I would encounter? Hard to say.
The reality is that in the process of doing something, it changes you because of the fresh perspective you gain. Once changed, you can’t go back to how you were before. You see the world through fresh eyes, even if other people don’t.
In the midst of this, my brother died. Aren’t there more important things for me to be doing? Shouldn’t I play it safe? Return home to be with the family?
Besides which, how will I sustain this journey? Getting to Glasgow (my next city) is manageable, but flying home from New York (the final city) is well outside of my reach at the moment.
A friend asked me recently, how on earth did running have anything to do with child survival? Wouldn’t it just be better to raise money, or go any do some volunteer work somewhere, or just hold a gathering and talk about it? Why go to all this trouble?
It does remind me of the joke about the Irish swimmer who wanted to cross the English Channel. He made it two-thirds of the journey, and was so exhausted, he turned around and went back to where he bagan. It sounds like a stupid joke, but it actually makes sense. It is easier to stick with what you know than to go into unchartered waters.
Right now. I am about to dive back into those unchartered waters. It would be easier to go back to my brother’s funeral, but I really believe he would have wanted me to persevere. It was one of the things he admired in me.
What’s more is that my family are now almost expecting me to continue. My eulogy is prepared, and will be read by my sister. I think if I returned now, it would almost be a let-down, as much as everyone would be pleased to see me. It has the added benefit of giving people something to focus on in the post-funeral slump I would imagine too.
All of this at a time when an incredible event has rocked Sydney to the core. The strangest image just came across my Facebook feed. It was a friend taking a selfie in Martin Place with a steely look of resolve and some words about how sad we are all about the incident in Martin Place. Of course, he is right, but it is misplaced community spirit. We don’t need to wait for times of the worst to bring out the best in us.
And that is why I run. In my pathetically unfit, near broke, condition with no certainty of making it to the next city, let alone the end of the next lonely journey of 24km. I do it because I can, and we should. We should act now, today, and do what we can with what we have.
As I answered my friend, the running is important because more than just painting a narrative, I am seeing this journey afresh. I don’t mean this journey I am taking now, but the journey which you are all invited to participate in next year when we look to address this issue of child survival across a rolling series of Design Forum that stretch through the year.
Will we find answers? I don’t know, but none of us will know if we don’t try.
What I do know is that the investment in time has already paid off in terms of giving me fresh eyes to give this effort impact. That is a huge journey ahead next year, and I will be relying on all of the resourcefulness and guile that comes from this quest I am undertaking now, clumsily stumbling in the right direction, slowly but making progress.
The worst thing to do would be to wait until conditions are perfect because they never will be. Go now!
That is good news by any measure.
Meanwhile, the Millennium Development Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality which was agreed to by all United Nations Member States in 2000 to reduce 1990 levels of child mortality by two-thirds before 2015 has acheived favourable progress, but will likely fall short of its objective.
A reduction of 3% was needed year by year to achieve the MDG4 goal.
Achieving the required reduction in child mortality would have saved millions of lives, and reduced the burden on developing countries significantly by addressing population, health, environmental, infrastructure and corruption issues.
One of the problem of the G20 declarations is that they are very broad on commitment to specific issues such as child survival. But it is not a case of either/or. We can lift global GDP by 2.1% above 2018 levels and work to improve child survival too! The good news is that both complement each other, and so are symbiotic goals.
How might we do this? That is the discussion to unfold during the Design Forum next year. In the meantime, good ideas about how to improve child survival are welcome.
The first thing I must write here is directed to all supporters to date: Thank you.
What I had hoped to be a brief account that would be easily sent around to all supporters ended up being a longer document with Nine Lessons Learnt to date.
I will forward the full document as a PDF by email subsequently, and also post it as a series of blogs here shortly for everyone to read.
The journey is now well and truly underway after considerable delay. Beginning in 2010, we took the first steps on 16 September 2014 in Port Moresby on Papua New Guinea’s Independence Day. That was a good place to start, considering PNG is a country that is unlikely to achieve any of the eight Millennium Development Goals before the end of 2015, including MDG4 which is to reduce child mortality.
This initiative is not about lists of statistics. It is about people: you, me, our networks, and importantly those who are most affected by child mortality.
Already, there is a thriving community deeply involved in addressing issues affecting child mortality, and the purpose of the 10 City Bridge Run is to connect a larger conversation to bridge what we know works with networks who have never really given this situation much thought. By doing so, the assumption is we will make significant progress to improve the delivery of child survival.
It doesn’t involve any ice or any buckets, and will only take seconds of your time.
The 50 Hour Challenge involves you forwarding this message to three of your friends.
This is about the 10 City Bridge Run, which is an epic journey involving a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, to open a conversation asking: ‘how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?‘
You can read more, and also support this journey at www.igg.me/at/10citybridgerun.
Right now, I am seeking a little help from just over 50 ‘bridge builders’ to help cross the imagination gap by each contributing $1 for each kilometre I am running during the 10 City Bridge Run.
If ever this stunt had meaning, it is now. Less than 50 hours remain to successfully fund the remaining journey for the 10 City Bridge Run.
The 10 City Bridge Run is grounded in an idea that it is through the triumph of imagination that we are able to achieve new possibilities. Bill Shore in his 2010 book: “The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men” describes a “narrow but vitally important space between the impractical and the impossible” which he calls the ‘imagination gap’. He writes:
The imagination gap is a place where hope lies waiting to be discovered, and cannot be extinguished once it has. Most failures in life are not failures of resources, or organisation, or strategy or discipline. They are failures of imagination.
All funds receive directly support the 10 City Bridge Run and the mission to improve the delivery of child survival through the running of the stunt itself, culminating in a series of Design Forum that will occur through 2015 to unpack this question of improving child survival. Supporters to the 10 City Bridge Run are in effect pre-purchasing a copy of the book ‘Life Bridge’ featuring a photo-essay of 100 photos of ‘human bridges’ that illustrates the importance of connection to design solutions to difficult problems such as improving child survival.
Please support this cause. Together, we can make a difference that matters by crossing the imagination gap.