Ideas

NEW YORK. Participants in the Millennium Summi...
Would this meeting in New York have changed if a bridge metaphor was used between the participants in the Millennium Summit where the Millennium Development Goals were developed?

Building human bridges
The 10 City Bridge Run is an intentionally ambitious “global design challenge” to document best practice in delivery of child survival.

Tim Brown from the design company IDEO argues that design should be inherently a human-centred activity, and that we should design in order to think. In spite of the problems that extreme poverty presents the world, designer Bruce Mau argues: “When things aren’t working the way they should be, you have the making of a great design project.

The unifying idea throughout the 10 City Bridge Run is that of a human bridge. This can be seen both as a metaphor, but also a pragmatic and functional construction. Our design philosophy echoes the call to action from designer Cameron Sinclair: “Design like you give a damn!

Aspiration for change

'First cut': The first human bridge photographed, taken at the 'Oddfellows' breakfast in Sydney
‘First cut’: The first human bridge photographed, taken at the ‘Oddfellows’ breakfast in Sydney

The aspiration for the book ‘Life Bridge‘ echoes how Paul Hawken describes his enlightening book Blessed Unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being and why no one saw it coming.

The individuals featured in this book all try to do good, but this book is not only about doing good… the book is inadvertently optimistic, an odd thing in these bleak times. I didn’t intend it; optimism discovered me.

“It always seems impossible until its done.” Nelson Mandela

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’, taken from Bill Shore’s book The Cathedral Within)

There is no silver bullet that will address child survival. There is a lot of great work happening around the world. Much of it is on a grand scale. But where is that taking place and how can we get involved to make a difference?

Why build a human bridge?
Why build a human bridge? Here are three reasons:

  • It changes things. The ability to overcome obstacles and explore new territory.
  • It creates something that wasn’t there before. While the structure of  a human bridge vanishes once people lose connection, its impact has the potential to be lasting through images, memories and the stories that we tell.
  • It takes some effort, and in the process creates force and momentum.

Bill Shore ends his classic book The Cathedral Within with six pieces of advice for ‘builders’. These are paraphrased here and provide a blueprint for human bridges:

  1. There is no formula for building bridges. No two are alike, nor would we want them to be. Formula is not the answer. Metaphor is important, but there also must be concrete action.
  2. The most successful efforts to create social change are more rather than less inclusive, drawing on the shared strength of not just experts but the entire community.
  3. Build on foundations laid by others. Collaborate and add to what has already been built.
  4. Create new community wealth.
  5. Commit to telling stories that convey values and best practices to those who come after.
  6. The time has come to give up searching for a single intervention that will be the one-time fix, the life-time inoculation. Take a broader view.

What is a human bridge?
A human bridge is where two or more people join together for a particular purpose and cross a gap or barrier. You might imagine that a conversation is a human bridge of sorts, although what is intended in this situation is that people are also physically connected.

The 10 City Bridge Run provides an opportunity for every person to be an architect, designer, builder, artist, changemaker, philanthropist, and activist.

Through your participation, we are in fact building a ‘life bridge‘ between every person involved, no matter how small their contribution might be.

Metaphor

Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank
Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank

The 10 City Bridge Run was built around a metaphor of a bridge. There were delays, which ultimately proved positive. The initial concept was more of a prototype. It has been a design project in itself.

The intention was to start the 10 City Bridge Run was originally on 24 September 2010, and to build a bridge between a high-level UN Conference in New York and the G20 Summit in Seoul. Delays followed initially due to funding, and later concerns around how the petition would be delivered delayed the proposed start date until mid-November, by which stage I had sustained an injury from overtraining.

Delays are not uncommon. The Millennium Development Goals are shamelessly ambitious, and may fall short. The global financial crisis is most recently cited as the reason for delays with the Millennium Development Goals. (at the time of writing this in 2010)

Leveraging the Commonwealth

We are seeking to leverage the considerable network of the Commonwealth across its 54 countries during the 10 City Bridge Run.

Around 40% of child deaths occur in only three Commonwealth countries alone (India, Pakistan, Nigeria). This is a staggering figure, and is worth pausing for a moment just to take this in.

Some of the countries where running will occur are members of the Commonwealth.

Some would argue that the Commonwealth is redundant in a changing world. Let’s take this opportunity to give some teeth and credibility for the Commonwealth to act and make a difference. It will only be possible with your help. What will you do after you read this page? Don’t just click off, but leave a comment below and get involved.

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