An idea that changed the world

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This image was selected as a picture of the we...
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds…

Global Zero seeks to mobilise people to join a movement with a seemingly impossible objective. The achievement of zero nuclear weapons held on earth by the year 2030.

Seriously? Yes, seriously. Impossible you say. But take note: aspirational goals are worth setting, even if the degree of stretch is well beyond our view and reach.

But is it impossible? It would be an idea that changed the world. Every change begins with an idea, with imagination.

This is where there is similarity with the 10 City Bridge Run. An initiative fuelled by the believing that a triumph of imagination is possible. The other similarity is that presently there are 17,000 nuclear equipped warheads in arsenals held on earth. There will also be 17,000 children who will die today, and tomorrow, and the next day. That number is decreasing, but it is an obscene amount.

There will never be a ‘zero’ count of child mortality. Death is part and parcel to being alive. But present levels are too high, and they shape a terrible over-populated future with health issues with a food and water security crisis if not addressed. We can’t see that problem now, but it awaits us if nothing changes.

Food for thought. Take a look at the short clip from Global Zero below. Impossible: what is in a word?


From one month to three legs

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English: United Nations General Assembly hall ...
While I don’t think I will be attending the United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City come September, I do plan to be in the city at that time as the 10 City Bridge Run culminates. Consider this: the General Assembly as an extension of our networks, rather than a ‘special place for the elite’. Does that help you think differently about the question we are asking: “how might we use our networks to reduce child mortality? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did a good job tearing my calf muscle before New Year. More than just a few strands, I was seriously stopped in my tracks for longer than I expected. This is my first post for some months since that injury.

A bit over a month ago, I found myself unconsciously running to cross a street, or get to a train on time. Coming back from injury, it is a strange feeling when you catch yourself out doing activity that the day or week before you were consciously guarding yourself from undertaking, but it is a good feeling too. Signs of recovery.

I haven’t been back to the physiotherapist since coming to Korea, but the range of activities I have been doing would indicate that I am now fit to run. There is still more swelling and fluid than I would prefer, but that is also subsiding.

My running coach, Bob Williams based in Portland, gave me some frank and very helpful feedback after the injury. He asked why was I wanting to undertake the 10 City Bridge Run (the 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries) all inside of one month?

Imposing time constraints on performance added nothing to what I was wanting to achieve, he argued. This was in addition to the need to recover well from injury.

Serendipity came to play a part in all of this as well. Only very recently, I was selected to attend an initiative called the ‘Commonwealth Study Conference’ which for me will be conducted in UK and later in Mumbai, India. The costs involved are small, and I am largely responsible only to meet airfare expenses, so in that respect it is not a large financial burden. This is an opportunity to good to pass up on, and what’s more sets the scene to start the journey for the 10 City Bridge Run.

Considering dates for the year, I broke the journey which I had early considered completing in under one month into three different legs. The whole journey, and each of the three journeys, and indeed each city I will run all play a part in shaping the narrative to helping us to better understand child mortality and how we might use our networks to help reduce under five-year deaths where they occur at their worst.

  • Leg 1: London, Seoul, Sydney (Late March to each May)
  • Leg 2: Mumbai, Beijing, Madang (or Port Moresby…probably stay out of running in POM due to security issues). (June)
  • Leg 3: Kinshasa, Lagos, Freetown, New York (September).

The good thing is that by breaking up the journey, it not only helps to consolidate the experience of the shorter leg at that time, but more importantly to use that as an opportunity to strengthen the interest and momentum in the conversation.

The conversation is going to begin small, and that is okay. It will end after the UN General Assembly meets in New York with the Global Design Forum being convened. How big that is, what it will look like, who will be involved: I have a good idea of what these will be like, but there are many conversations to take place first.

The good news is that the idea is developing. And we are moving forward. Later than planned, but in a better fashion than could have ever been imagined in 2010.

They said it could never be done. How often were they wrong?

On the Horns of a Dilemma: Come Too Far to Stop; Not Enough Support to Go

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General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The great and hard-charging American Civil War leader, General Sherman, spoke about putting his enemies on the horns of a dilemma. Confront them with a decision where either option is at their peril. Have you ever been in one of those sticky situations? Come too far to stop, but not having enough enough resources to proceed. Maybe you know what I am talking about.

I am not talking about the time you waited on the phone for two hours while the help-desk had you on hold. You really needed to take that call, but after hearing you were next in line your phone battery was about to give out, and you had a pressing engagement to attend. Waited too long to stop, but not enough capacity to see it through until the end. The classic case of what to do?

I am addressing something of a bigger dimension in this post.

In May 2010, I decided that I would open a conversation about poverty and the Millennium Development Goals through a stunt I called the 10 City Bridge Run which was a global endurance challenge where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month. In hindsight, often my efforts have been clumsy and crude- there was always room for improvement. It is the most painful form of progress. Bon Scott knew about this when he sang the rock anthem “It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”.

I look back on this period where I have sought to partner with quite a number of  ‘not-for-profit’ organisations to undertake this journey on their behalf, but was met with words of encouragement but closed doors. “Not in line with our messaging or our fundraising objectives”. So much for wanting to change the world whatever it takes.

Looking back, I see an inexact definition of what I had hoped to achieve often to source of this rejection. I reread the weekly updates I produced for my first supporters, and cringe at my naivety. That was all part of the journey. I don’t know there was necessarily a shortcut past that earlier point of unsophistication. In the process, although it has been extremely difficult and challenging, I have learnt a huge amount about the issue and also importantly about myself. Mostly importantly, is that now I have good clarity of where I am heading. The question is, will I achieve enough support to deliver? That is largely up to you.

In late August 2010, I commenced what was my first attempt at crowdfunding. It was successful to a point, and the response from friends who backed me was a huge encouragement. Enough to get me started, not enough to achieve completion. I had undertaken a similar event in 2009 which I funded myself in its entirety, and while that was a worthwhile journey it was financially a bad decision. I ended up after the 2009 journey wiser and richer in experience, but emotionally and physically exhausted. Even encouragement has its limits.

I continued to look for an opportunity to start this journey in 2010, acknowledging the prudent precondition of needing sufficient funds to begin. Two years ago this week, I finally relented that it would not be possible to commence running in 2010 knowing that I was not going to raise enough money to complete the journey at that time. Besides not raising the money, my body was broken from overtraining and I was unable to run at that time even to catch a bus. It was probably a period of another five months before I was running again, and then only very gently as I began my recovery.

Last year, I looked for further opportunity to commence the journey. Nothing bore fruit. I had received just over $6,000 by early 2011 from my crowdfunding efforts, and took my responsibility seriously towards delivering on the expectation that I had set.

Which brought me to September of 2012 part way through my recent crowdfunding round. A good friend from the cut-and-thrust world of business who was a lot older and experienced than me, gave me some advice over coffee about leadership: “When you are the leader, and faced with a difficult situation, you need to weigh up the situation. If it is beyond you, then walk away. People will understand.”

What was I to do? Delay was not really a solution. Delay by how long? Weeks, months, years? The problem is the real deadline looming outside of my control: the 2015 expiration of the Millennium Development Goals. Besides this, every day close to 20,000 children will die mostly from five largely preventable causes. It really is crunch time.

There is a fine line between the expressions ‘Don’t die wondering’ and ‘To Dream The Impossible Dream’. What on earth are we to make of a character like Don Quixote?

That Moment of Your Quixotic Realisation. Been there before? Overcommitted to chasing windmills? Boxing at shadows? Or is it really a credible exercise in changing the game, and in the process inspiring others? Yes, we love to remember the quotes by Steve Jobs (“Here’s to the Crazy Ones”), and others like that. My sense is that there is a moment of irrationality where the feeling of the ‘inner Don Quixote’ emerging needs to be stamped out, and remembered that it is just the discomfort of working towards something that is just a little further out of reach than anticipated.

I remember doing some work for a company in the Pilbera back in 2007. Postered onto every office of that organisation were the company values which included: “Never ever give up”. Failure will occur, but failure is not the end of the journey. It is simply an operational pause, and time to grip up your resolve to work out how to reach your objective.

There have been plenty of times over the last two and a half years of gut-wrenching uncertainty. There is a lot to be said for partnership and working in teams. Everything has to start somewhere. Before a team became a team, it was a collection of individuals.

In just over a month, I will go on a journey and smash myself. There are better ways to open a conversation. Perhaps more sensible ways too. The question is though, is the situation of child mortality not so pressing that it deserves us giving everything an opportunity? I am not doing this for your entertainment. Please join me on this journey- let me do the heavy lifting, but we all need to join the conversation.

Elvis had it half right. We need a little more action, but also a little more conversation. Come on and satisfy me by sponsoring this initiative. You can do that for the cost of a meal at this link: Thanks for your support.

Squaring the Circle

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Some apparent partial solutions gave false hop...
False hope or inspiration?

Squaring the Circle‘ describes trying to achieve the impossible. The expression is sometimes used as a metaphor for doing something logically or intuitively impossible.

It is essentially a mathematical problem, and until 1882 it was thought that somehow it might be possible with the use of optical illusions through geometry. But in 1882, properties of ∏ (pi) proved that it could not be achieved.

Sometimes we really want something to be possible, despite the evidence we are presented with. People will tell you: “Just accept it; it can’t be done. It is impossible.

Some people see the world differently. People like Nelson Mandela who said:

It always seems impossible until its done.

Bridge builders share a spirit of what might be possible. It is an act of faith, of believing in the possibility of what you are doing. A belief that our actions actually matter and can make a difference. A vision of what can be rather than what is.

All successful human endeavors – from breakthrough interventions like the telephone to great social leaps forward like the civil rights movement – begin with the assumption that change is possible. (Quote from ‘City Year’)

I had intended to commence the 10 City Bridge Run on 24 September, and subsequently delayed numerous times for a range of reasons, initially due to funding available. I had planned to be in Seoul right now at the conclusion of the 10 City Bridge run, but instead am still in Sydney.

So what happened? I ended up injuring myself through overtraining. I reached a point where I literally could not run. That was disappointing. I followed the advice of good friends and rested, and over the past month since I last blogged I have been stretching, resting, swimming and cross training using high-cardio interval training with weights in the gym. I expect I will be starting to run again in early January.

We have all encountered failure at some point. What is important is to pick yourself up and push on. To learn from the experience, and try again. Trying something different to see how it might work out successfully.

I reviewed what I had been planning, from the training routine through to what it was I thought could be achieved. The 10 City Bridge Run is tightly focused around child mortality as a lever to help unravel extreme poverty. Please take some time to look at the website and see how it has changed. If it is unclear in any area, let me know.

So, can we ‘square the circle’? Maybe not as an exercise in geometry.

But the 10 City Bridge Run will proceed commencing on 1 March 2011. Please join me on the global design challenge. I need your help. Together, we can achieve the impossible.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

We failed them

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Aboriginal Rock Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, ...

Is this what we will be saying in 2015 about the millions of children under the age of five who continue to die of preventable disease in situations of extreme poverty?

This week the (Australian) Northern Territory’s Minister for Children and Families admitted he will have to tear down the system for protecting Aboriginal children from abuse and neglect and start again. He described it this way in a Sydney Morning Herald report:

“The department has been demoralised … we are now going to rebuild from scratch and we have to leave the old ideologies [of child protection] at the door.”

His was a startling admission of failure. In the three years since the biggest federal intervention in 50 years of government in the territory, agencies are struggling to come to terms with endemic mistreatment of children.

Can we as a global community really reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 from a 1990 level? Is the seemingly impossible possible?

If not – if we can’t achieve this – it represents yet another “great moral challenge of our time” which we are impotent to act to change. Failure is not an option.

The Only Limits Are Those of Vision

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My friend Fay spoke at a recent breakfast about a friend attempting the impossible: climbing to the Everest Base Camp, with the added challenge of blindness.

Here is what she wrote as an update- a good news story!

For those who might recall my response to what impossible thing we were going to tackle today (at a recent breakfast) when I nominated a colleague’s efforts to reach Everest Base Camp, I’m pleased to report that he reached it – good work for any 47 year-old father of two, but simply amazing for a man who lost his sight in an accident at age seven. Anyone who has trekked in the Himalayas knows the effort involved – unimaginable to do it blind. But he imagined it, and did it.

While I was trekking the Routeburn, in New Zealand, I met an 82 year-old woman who had trekked thousands of kilometres, and she didn’t start until she retired at 60. When I asked her secret, she said ‘You just put one foot in front of the other’. Indeed.

In this fast-forward, instant-gratification society we can lose sight of the power of putting one foot in front of the other and the imagination to challenge yourself to do things which seem impossible because they will require huge amounts of effort and trust and assistance.

We all need to get over ourselves and our fears of failure and just attempt more – sometimes we succeed. And if we don’t, so what, in the scheme of things we are not important and most people are too focussed on their own inadequacies to take much notice of their neighbour’s.

Thanks Fay.

So what are you going to tackle today that is impossible?

The one thought I want you to consider today

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Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank

Where does the time go?!

Dear reader, thanks for your patience- it has been now about a week since I made my last post. A lot has happened in that time, and many ideas and thoughts to write about. I will endeavour to share some of that with you later today, but not everything at once.

A few updates about the 10 City Bridge Run.

Firstly, I’m pleased to say that enough funding through sponsorship has been received to make this endeavour possible, that is to commence the journey. While the first hurdle is cleared, there is still a fair distance down the track to cover.

Secondly, a quick note about date changes. The date for the commencement of the 10 City bridge Run has now slipped twice. I want to be open about the planning to share with you the challenges and difficulties I am encountering. I think to present the vulnerabilities and uncertainties, for all its lumpiness is important in learning to take the crunchy with the smooth as Billy Bragg might say. Let’s be clear that this is an ambitious and difficult venture with a deliberate tagline of “Is the seemingly impossible possible?” At the same time, for as much of the experiential learning that might come from this to mirror an understanding of the challenges to eradicate extreme poverty, it also should be acknowledged that there is a difference between the two. We all have a choice to some degree of what difficulties that come into our lives: those in extreme poverty do not.

The reasons for the date changes relate to a number of issues. The most significant is the clearance of funding through PayPal. This issue has been resolved, although may still have some impact on successfully initiating the run on 8 October. Make no mistake: the run is going ahead, and the objective to present a pictorial petition to the G20 Summit remains a key outcome.

There are two institutional events framing this initiative- two bridge supports if you like. The United Nations Conference which commenced on 20 September and the G20 Summit in November. The last date to commence the running is 14 October should the time need to slip another few days. This would involve an (already identified) curatorial team in Seoul compiling the petition and presenting it to the G20 Summit on our behalf prior to the last leg of the 10 City Bridge Run coinciding in Seoul with the last day of the G20 Summit.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts about how the 10 City Bridge Run might be better organised, communicated and presented. I am particularly interested to know what your response is to the changing of dates. If it frustrates you or disappoints you, if you feel let down or if it challenges your confidence, or if you see this as an unwanted but inevitable part of attempting something that is difficult. Or maybe you are happy to just watch it unfold without having an opinion- that is fine as well.

Just a thought from me I ask you to consider: if you are disappointed by these date changes which have minor consequences apart from how to organise the delivery of the petition, how did you feel after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and how will you react in 2015 when the United Nations is called to report on the Millennium Development Goals?

Small Actions Count

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It takes more than one to make a bridge. A quick word of thanks for making this journey possible.

Without the many who have supported this to date especially through sponsorship, it would have remained an idea isolated on the far bank called ‘problem’ looking across the river of opportunity to the destination called ‘possibility’.

Together, we can be part of the difference that makes a difference by making the bridges needed to ‘close the gap’.

If you are in a position to afford it, please support the 10 City Bridge Run to highlight small actions which will make a big difference in showing that the impossible can be possible. Please sponsor me with $24 here.

Impossibly possible!

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Hans Rosling at TED
Hans Rosling at TED

Thanks to my mate Scott Thompson in New York from Intersections International who gave me this perspective of something, like a crazy global endurance challenge being “impossibly possible”.

But let’s go back to the data and see how reframing a situation with information can achieve.

Hans Rosling used statistical data presented on a bubble graph to change how we might understand the world we live in. He makes the complex simple, and a brilliance for changing our worldview.

Is he right?

And hear what he has to say about the seemingly impossible being possible. Thanks to Rich Fleming from the Global Poverty Project for sharing this with me and discussing this perspective.

Lost in Riverview

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South-west view of Fig Tree Bridge in Sydney, ...
The Fig Tree Bridge which I was so pleased to eventually cross

Saturday evening I headed out for a 24 km training run, but was confounded as darkness fell and I became geographically embarrassed in the streets of Riverview.

For those unfamiliar with Riverview, it is a leafy enclave of a suburb nestled snugly in the North Shore.

From Riverview you are able to enjoy spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and running at first I saw it over my left shoulder, and then later (thinking I was still headed in roughly the same direction) I saw it over my right shoulder as I looked around to check on surrounding landmarks. As soon as I realised I was going in a big circle I stopped to ask some kids kicking a footy on the street how I might run back to Sydney. They thought that was one of the most ridiculous things they had heard in their life…too far away for running!

Riverview is a privileged suburb, and enjoys beautifully designed large houses, sporty cars, and well maintained gardens. Speaking with the kids playing kick-to-kick I soon discovered there were no buses operating at that time of night, and the nearest train station was miles away.

Not only was I miles away from where I would have preferred to have been, but I became aware I was worlds apart from the situation where people live in extreme poverty- the two environments are almost without comparison they are so completely different.

With no option but to run my way out of the problem, it became a problem solving exercise and a test of mental stamina and toughness that running training develops. After a certain stage in training when fitness has been proven, much of the training becomes more about a competition within yourself: will you blow off training one night? can you run hard when it hurts? will the small niggling pain that you feel (which every athlete gets and endures) eventually make you decide that it is just not worth it?

I worked my way out of the situation and salvaged the run. I passed an unfortunate car prang along River Road and thought that things could always be worse. When I finally was back onto ground I was familiar with and crossing the Fig Tree Bridge, then across the Gladesville and Victoria Bridges, I felt a great sense of achievement known to those who have experienced ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner’.

As I came off Victoria Bridge, I felt I had proved enough to myself and a bus came tearing along the road, close enough for me to catch back to Town Hall.

For a short period of time I was contemplating: ‘was the seemingly impossible possible?’ The discipline of overcoming small challenges gives us the strength to combat the larger problems we encounter. Maybe this has some relevance to how we can address the situation of extreme poverty: a lesson from the most unlikely of places, Riverview.