Extreme poverty

A second life

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Philip Rosedale
Philip Rosedale

Philip Rosedale created a virtual world called Second Life beginning in 1998. “I’m not building a game. I’m building a new continent” is what he says describing the initiative which seeks to create a virtual economy inside a virtual society.

At any moment 80,000 users are on Second Life. Everyday an average of US$1.3 million dollars. Pretty amazing and awesome development. Check out the video below (it goes for 28 minutes).

So is this a world without problems and poverty? I have logged into Second Life a few years ago and haven’t visited recently, and when I was there I have never actually looked for extreme poverty. You can ‘get pregnant’ and ‘have a baby’ in Second Life, although I can only imagine there was no code built in for the tragedy of child mortality in Second Life. Need there be any inclusion of tragedy? A recreated and perfect world.

Is Second Life pure escapism from our real world? Simply an exercise in consumption? How do we make sense of this when extreme poverty is so pronounced in the real world? I am not proposing a neo-Luddite intervention to wreck or change Second Life, and I agree to a point with Rosedale that the “conceit” of exploration as he describes it has real benefits.

Creating a world where anything is possible…. The only catch is we just can’t solve this one out first. 24,000 children dying daily, most from preventable illness is an inconvenient reality of this life, our real life.

A shameless exercise of utopian self-indulgence? Opening our minds to new possibilities for currently unseen benefit? What do you think?


Starting to make poverty history?

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EU commision Press Conference on "Buildin...
Bob Geldof: Do they know its Christmas?

What few people, including Bob Geldof, saw coming was the global financial crisis. As we draw close to the end of 2010, I was looking back on what people had to say about poverty in Africa in 2005. Bob Geldof for example, the aclaimed organiser of Live Aid and Live 8, who at the end of 2005 wrote for The Economist on how he “sees signs of progress in Africa” projecting a vision of the world from 2006 and beyond.

Bob Geldof is something of a paradox: once punk-rocker, and now elder-statesman of rock-royalty. We should celebrate people having the ability to change. If change wasn’t possible, it would be thoroughly depressing…just imagine what this would mean about Africa’s future and the burden the world would forever need to carry.

The key source of hope in Geldof’s article rested on the flurry of activity that came out of 2005 with promises of change. These included Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, Band Aid 20, Live 8, Make Poverty History and the jewel in the crown: the Gleneagles G8 Summit.

His caution seemed almost unnecessary, but now reads prophetic:

We must worry that the G8 governments, especially the Germans and Italians, do not backslide on their promises. So much also depends on the willingness of African governments to use the new resources effectively. It is a matter of urgency that both of these contingencies are monitored and reported on.

Despite its earlier rhetoric, the G8 (“Group of Eight” major economies) has fallen short of its pledges made at Gleneagles in 2005 to increase the quality and quantity of their aid and “keeps failing the tests it [the G8] sets itself” as was observed in September 2010 by Jeffrey Sachs and Steve Killelea in a report titled Holding G8 Accountability to Account. Just over 40% of the US$25 billion promised to Africa has been met. To put that into perspective, more money was spent on stimulus packages to ailing banks in the US during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis than has been delivered in aid to Africa across history.

The United Nations has unique convening power but has been seen many times over the last 60 years as unable to enforce commitments. Will the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) present a similar disappointment to the outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference? What will happen in 2016 if the 2015 time horizon for the MDG is failed to be achieved?

As 2010 draws to a close, how ought we to respond? Are the challenges insurmountable? Impossible? We need more than just hope to be able to report in 2015 that we are “starting to make poverty history”.


Why a bridge?

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The bridge is an important metaphor for joining people, institutions, conversations, ideas, communities and places together. The bridge is a universal metaphor. Everyone understands the purpose of a bridge is and how it is used. A bridge has multiple functions, including:

  • Crosses a gap. Overcomes differences.
  • Joins two or more communities that otherwise are separated.
  • Gives more options.
  • Makes travel easier.
  • Connects cultures, ideas, differences.
  • Requires work from both sides for it to be structurally sound.
  • Good foundations needed, along with spans of the right material and length, as well as stable supports.
  • Allows help to be given. Allows someone to accept help when offered.

We seek to build a bridge between the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (specifically Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality) and the G20 (19 largest economic nations and the EU). This bridge requires the participation of many people to make this happen.

Why more aid is not the starting point to solve poverty.

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Alan Kay and the prototype of Dynabook, pt. 5 ...
Alan Kay. Known in association with $100 Laptop.

Alan Kay is a genius. Here in this video he is speaking on “Why does computer-based teaching fail?”

Does this have anything to do with poverty? Not directly, but the idea is relevant. In fact, I would argue that through this argument we can see why aid is not the starting point to solve extreme poverty.

This is not the same as to argue for or against aid. It is a question of design. “We should design in order to think”, so says Tim Brown from IDEO. This is a similar argument that Kay presents here.

We should start with the idea, and then use aid as necessary to address the problem leveraging the idea. Ideas should be the start point. Not aid.

In the process of gathering 24,000 of ‘human bridge’ photographs during the 10 City Bridge Run, might it be possible to stumble across a few good ideas that could better leverage aid? Let’s hope so.

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.


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?

Charity Doesn’t Solve Anything

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Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú.
Carlos Slim Helu

Can we criticise Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim (the Mexican billionaire listed by Forbes as the world’s richest man) for his perspective on what makes change happen:

The only way to fight poverty is with employment. Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything. … To give 50 percent, 40 percent, that does nothing. There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country.

His comment was in relation to the “Giving Pledge” promoted by Bill and Melinda Gates (that those with loads of money should give away half). Carlos has given a considerable amount already to the Gates Foundation. This was reported in the Wall Street Journal after Carlos’ comments in Sydney recently, and commented as a post on the blog Good by Patrick James.

I don’t think it is a simple as saying he is right or wrong, or that rich people should give more because they have more to give. Ethically, can we determine how someone should use their discretionary money any more than we should with each of our time (the one resource we all have in common).

Personally, I disagree with the proposition. We have confused the word ‘charity’ which is supposed to be a verb meaning to help others with its more contemporary use as a noun defining an organisational status. “A charity” doesn’t solve anything. People do. And how do people do this? Through charity. By being charitable, by showing love to others less fortunate than themselves. This is the only way to change the world.

Money is just a means to an end.

What are people saying about the G20?

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Participating G-20 nations Nations allowed ext...
Representation of G20

Looking ahead toward Seoul, what did people have to say about what took place in Toronto last June? Here are a few observations from the blog Sherpa from a range of NGO speaking on the broad topic of ‘development’:

  • The Global Campaign for Education expressed disappointment that the G20 did not progress further on a financial transaction tax that could go someway to filling the gap in funding left by the G8.
  • Save the Children called on the G20 to broaden their impact as a forum.
  • Save the Children US said the G-20 isn’t moving quickly enough to offer the kind of global economic leadership that ensures balanced growth and stability by improving the resilience of the world’s poor. The agency saw some encouraging language on narrowing the development gap, but it took no major, new action at this summit beyond establishing a working group and and reaffirming the importance of food security.
  • Oxfam says the G20 has drawn a blank on poverty.
  • WWF warned that sustainable economic recovery needed more than brief platitudes from the G20 on green recovery than what it delivered in Toronto. The agency said that the world leaders were still painting the economy in black and white but it must inlude green.
  • Actionaid UK said the G20 was bankrupt as the leaders lacked ideas and and any willingness to compromise. The organisation said the communique would be forgotten before the day was over.
  • World Vision applauded and welcomed the cancellation of Haiti’s International Financial Institutions (IFI) debt and the creation of  G20 Working Group on development. The organisation did express concern that the development agenda is taking a back seat to economic growth.
  • Tearfund said the G20 was a missed opportunity to show leadership on climate justice and to set a path to get back on track for a global deal post 2012.
  • Greenpeace said “important progress was made today in ending fossil fuels”.
  • Make Poverty History expressed concern that the G20 dealing with budget deficits through cutting back on government services will end up hurting the poor.
  • The ONE Campaign issues a statement at the end of the G20 Summit stating that the two working groups created in Toronto on development and on anti-corruption needed to focus on improving governance and mutual accountability.
  • The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) said the G20 summit showed an unfortunate lack of political will to fight poverty by delaying key actions such as the Robin Hood Tax and investing in clean energy and ending fossil fuel subsidies. The group also said the G20 needs to include Africa as a regular member. The group welcomed the establishment of a Working Group on Development.

Millennium Development Goals- Gap Too Wide for 2015?

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Is there hope for Africa by 2015?

Among the 64 countries with high child mortality rates (defined as 40 or more deaths per 1,000 live births), only 9 are on track to meet the MDG target on child survival. The highest rates of child mortality continue to be found in sub- Saharan Africa.

Over the last week I have reviewed the first six of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The news isn’t great- there is a consideration gap to be achieved before 2015, and in some areas it would seem like an impossibility.

This isn’t a case of just providing more aid, or political leaders reinforcing policy, or better management of process. In many cases, the environmental and circumstantial nature of the situation is so diabolical and complex it needs change across generations not years.

Tonight at the City of Sydney talk on the MDG I will be listening to hear what people have to say about this. I am more concerned about what happens in 2016 and beyond. I remain sceptical of the benefit that came from the high-level United Nations (UN) conference on the MDG last month. Why was so much money spent travelling there? Was everyone who attended needed in New York? Why did we hear nothing about a fall-back plan should the likely scenario of failure to meet these goals eventuate?

I dread to think that 2015 will be just like another UN conference held last year in Copenhagen. Dashed hopes and wasted opportunity.

Here is the shortfall noting the significant areas:

  • Decline in employment since the global financial crisis.
  • Hunger has worsened with the decline in employment.
  • One in four children in the ‘developing world’ remain underweight. Twice as likely to be the case in rural areas.
  • Hopes dim for universal education by 2015, especially among girls.
  • Women continue to fall victim of ‘more vulnerable forms of employment’.
  • Child deaths are falling but not quick enough to reach the target.
  • Gains in measles at risk to insufficient fund to eradicate the disease.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia cause more than half of under-five deaths (these are all preventable diseases)
  • More than 350,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, almost all of them — 99 per cent — in developing countries.
  • The maternal mortality rate is declining only slowly, even though the vast majority of deaths are avoidable.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s maternal mortality risk is 1 in 30, compared to 1 in 5,600 in developed regions.
  • Every year, more than 1 million children are left motherless. Children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.
  • Adolescent birth rates remain unacceptably high.
  • Poor education about contraception remains at a troubling level.
  • HIV remains the leading cause of death among reproductive-age women worldwide.
  • An estimated 33.4 million people were living with HIV in 2008, two thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Malaria kills a child in the world every 45 seconds. Close to 90 per cent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, where it accounts for a fifth of childhood mortality.

Is this a gap too wide to cross before 2015? Is this the wrong question to ask, and should it be framed in a different light?

I’ll review this tomorrow after attending the City of Sydney talk.

Out of Reach? City of Sydney talks MDG

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I am still working through the irony of hundred of people flying to New York to spend great sums of money on accommodation and the life’s littles luxuries like coffee to talk about poverty… Was anything achieved other than a gee-up from world leaders to say we have to do better? Could it have been better achieved with a couple of emails? I don’t know, and I wasn’t there either.

But before anyone set foot onto Manhattan, what the world did know was that it is not working. Back to the lead question: “Is the seemingly impossible possible?”

Want to know more? Find out at the City of Sydney presentation tomorrow night at the Surry Hills library. Click here to find out more.

I hope to see you there!