Things Can Be Better

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IMG_0351This year in their Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates included a short phrase which I think underpinned the whole of their document seeking the dispel three myths of development: “Things can be better.”

It was a clear signal of optimism, and the leadership Bill and Melinda Gates bring development is far and beyond the capacity that is afforded through their financial clout. Having money helps, but shaping the conversation through influence counts for much more.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Tony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, in a post recorded for the ‘A Promise Renewed Initiative’. You can see it below. It is only short and goes for less than two minutes.

Tony Lake is an interesting character. I have never met him, but would love to sit down over a meal if ever I had the opportunity. Search his name on wikipedia and you will see he has a very interesting past. Kudos to him for turning his energy to addressing the needs of those most in need.

His statement: “We gotta do better”.

These statements actually rely upon each other to be complete. They are almost the same message, but not quite. Without both of these, it is either a case of striving without a sense of what is possible, or a view of what could be without the driving motivation to act.

We are very lucky to have Bill and Melinda Gates and Tony Lake expressing so much passion for a worthy cause.


Take the Pledge: Slactivism or Game Changer?

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Anthony Lake
Anthony Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UNICEF last month announced a breakthrough new initiative: they would ask everyone to visit ‘A Promise Renewed’ website and take the pledge to help reduce child mortality.

I was especially intrigued when I heard of this campaign. Intrigued because this is completely aligned with what I am seeking to achieve through the 10 City Bridge Run. Or maybe to rephrase that better, in light of their initiative, I am completely aligned with the campaign ‘A Promise Renewed’.

Let me tease this out a little first. Follow me here: I am being objective in my thinking. These initiatives must be able to stand up to scrutiny. It ought not to be a case of everyone just drinking the Kool-Aid.

So what is this pledge all about? Let’s start with that.

It works on the premise that governments can’t do it alone. Making change happen in not something that can be only left to the G20 or the G192. We are all in this together. My thoughts: No problem with that – I think everyone would agree with that assertion.

Here is what UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said to explain the pledge:

Sign the pledge, which will mean you’re pledging to do what you can to change behavior in your communities — you’ll encourage local NGOs to sign the pledge and to work harder, you’ll pledge to advocate your governments to follow through on their pledges and make real progress. You can make a difference.

I think that too is sound. It is not saying that people have the power to make change themselves necessarily, but the corporate act of persuasion that leveraging your voice is not to be discounted.

There is some further wording in their release which gets a little wishful. That is where they hope that by posting videos, that some of them will go viral. My thoughts: The truth is that no one really knows what makes a video go viral. ‘Going viral’ is really mostly outside of our control. I think that Anthony Lake got it right when he placed emphasis on advocating for change.

His closing words are worth noting. They are worth reading twice, because they are easily to just read past the first time. I agree with him:

[We should all] start advocating with [our] governments to live up to their commitments to do everything we can to save children from what is a moral abomination. If we don’t do it, shame on us.

So will we? This is where the fine line between slactivism and game changing behaviour comes along. If it is just a few thousand people doing it along with their friends, there is a lot of feel-good value in that, but not enough force to change the game. If a significant amount of the global population are involved because people care enough, change will happen.

Moral abomination. Those are strong words. Will you just click off this page, or click onto this link APromiseRenewed.org and make the pledge? “If we don’t do it, shame on us.

Photoessay: Committing to Child Survival

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Huellas de Vida | Footprints of Life
Huellas de Vida | Footprints of Life (Photo credit: victor_nuno)

Here is a beautifully presented photo-essay by UNICEF that helps to tell the story about what work is going on around the world to combat child mortality. It doesn’t cost you to look a these photos, except for your time.

Take a look through this link here which opens the photoessay. Leave a comment below with what your favourite frame was and why.

The 10 City Bridge Run is funded through the pre-sale of a book called ‘Life Bridge’ which will feature 100 photographs of ‘human bridges’. Describing a human bridge in words is best achieved through drawing inspiration from a quote by Ophelia Dahl, cofounder of Partners in Health and daughter of renowned children’s book author Roald Dahl, quoted Adam Hochschild who wrote about the importance of “drawing connections between the near and the distant”:

Linking our own lives and fates with those we can’t see will, I believe, be the key to a decent and shared future… Imagination will allow you to make the link between the near of your lives with the distant others and will lead us to realise the plethora of connections between us and the rest of the world, between our lives and that of a Haitian peasant, between us and that of a homeless drug addict, between us and those living without access to clean water or vaccinations of education, and this will surely lead to ways in which you can influence others and perhaps improve theworld along the way.

You too can join this journey but supporting this effort, and receive a copy of the book Life Bridge when it is published early next year. Please visit www.pozible.com/lifebridge. Your support is important.

10.24 A Promise Renewed

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United (States) Parcel Service.

My last post revisited the contribution, such as it was, of John Bolton who was posted as United States Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. He was famous for arguing that the United States had agreed to the development goals of the United Nations within the context of the Millennium Declaration, but not specifically to the Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations had framed.

Some might use the expression ‘weasel words’ to describe this type of back-peddling. It was sensible, but not inspirational. It fought for the interests of the United States, but not necessarily for those in need.

How the Millennium Development Goals are pursued in this final three years will be telling. There are a lot of reasons for countries to play it safe. Increased economic burden in the face of domestic austerity, concerns over the slow-down of growth in China, fear of contagion, or just peddling self-interest.

UNICEF have launched a campaign with a more positive message: A Promise Renewed. Here is a video they made about how social media has been used to carry this message, although I don’t think the cut-through has been very effective:

For me, it is a source of motivation just in the title alone. An initiative I began in 2010, and am now ramping to tackle this year again. 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km. Across 10 cities, in 10 countries, all inside of one month.

This is my own promise renewed. Please keep your encouragement coming. I need that support.

Is the seemingly impossible possible? Muhammad Yunus and the idea of a ‘poverty museum’

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Debris in the streets of the Port-au-Prince ne...
Streets of Port-au-Prince following recent earthquake: comparatively, the loss of child mortality is equivalent to an incident like Haiti occurring every 10 days.

Professor Muhammad Yunus who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, during the Skoll World Forum of Social Entrepreneurship held at Oxford earlier in 2006 spoke of his idea of a ‘Poverty Museum’ to be built in the future when extreme poverty is finally eradicated. As I listened to him speak, I remember thinking that this was an interesting idea, but maybe too fanciful, even impossible. But think again: we can now read Charles Dickens and learn about a form of poverty that is all but historical in the UK, or we can visit a museum in South Korea and learn about the poverty experienced after the 1953 Truce across a country which had a GDP the same as Ghana in 1960, and is now recognised with a strong economy.

Much has been written about this issue. Not everyone agrees with each other.

Five years short of the 2015 reporting date for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and how is our progress?

In 2008, 8.8 million children died before their 5th birthday. 0.1% of these deaths were in the “Industrialised World”. A staggering 50% of the deaths occurred in  sub-Saharan Africa alone.

This equates to more than 24,000 children who tragically die every day.

The silent killer is preventable illness caused from the effects of extreme poverty.

What might this be compared with?

To put this into some perspective, consider that this might be seen as equivalent with:

  • 1 child dying every 3.6 seconds
  • More than 16 children dying every minute
  • A 2010 Haiti earthquake occurring every 10 days
  • A 2004 Asian Tsunami occurring every 10 days

(Source: UNICEF The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 2009, p.18-19)

It is not all bad news either. Taking a longer term view, since 1960 (when child mortality numbers were first being recorded) the annual number of child deaths has more than halved, from 20 million in 1960 to just 8.8 million in 2008. However, even though child mortality figures have shown a declining trend across the last 25 years, the situation which the world faces compounded by multiple systemic crises is still nothing short of outrageous: the effects of climate change mixed with the hyperinflation of world food prices, complicated by a looming economic stagnation of the West…

Progress has been made, but it is unevenly distributed. We continue to live in an imperfect world. Neither the UN nor the G20 has any magic wand to solve problems. The allocation of aid on its own will not solve this problem. Money makes a difference, but it is far from all there is. This year, natural events in places like Haiti and Pakistan show the constant demand for aid and support. Realistically, how much of this issue will be tackled by the G20 in the short space of time the leaders have together? How much impact might a ‘pictorial petition’ have with leaders meeting around an agenda influenced by complex issues with significant momentum? We could always do nothing and just complain about what a mess the world is in…

Let me provide an alternative and suggest you join us and become a bridge builder. Contributing a photograph while this crazy ’10 City Bridge Run global endurance challenge’ is being conducted might not seem like much, and might well represent nothing more than a symbolic act. However, what is the cost to you? It takes no time, and besides it is free. So snap off a photo and send it to us for inclusion in the book. And while you are at it, maybe open a conversation about this issue with others. More than likely, this is already something you are working on or have contributed towards. We recognise that many excellent initiatives are being undertaken by humanitarian workers quietly and selflessly making a difference. We would love to hear you thoughts.

Read about the outcome we hope to influence and the outputs we will be crowd-sourcing and co-creating through crowd-funding the necessary financial resources to make this work.

24,000 children died today, and yesterday, and will also tomorrow…

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UNICEF reported in 2009 that 8.8 million children under the age of five died during 2008. Tragically this would be the same as 24,000 children dying every single day. For comparison, it is worth noting the stark contrast that 50% of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa while only 0.1% occur in the “Industrialised Countries”.

UNICEF, the United Nations funding agency for the relief of children in need, is a reliable source of information. In their November 2009 publication The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives insight into how different the lives of others can be, and how great their need can be often in comparison to our own. For example, UNICEF report that in 2008:

  • 2.5 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation
  • 1 billion children were deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
  • 148 million children under the age of five in developing regions were underweight for their age
  • 101 million children were not attending primary school, with more girls than boys missing out
  • 22 million infants were not protected from diseases by routine immunisation
  • 4 million newborn babies worldwide died in the first month of life
  • 2 million children under 15  years of age were living with HIV
  • 8.8 million children under the age of five died, equivalent to more than 24,000 children dying daily
  • 500,000 women died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth

(Source: UNICEF The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 2009, p.18-19)

Anup Shah produces a website with much of this information presented clearly for easy reading and can be found here.

How should we respond to this information? Shock, disbelief, vigilance, anger, compassion, sadness?

Maybe the bigger question is what are we prepared to do about it.