bill and Melinda gates

The Five Best Books On Making Change Happen (published 2014-2015)

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imageYesterday I published a blog with my list of the five best books for making change happen to improve the delivery of child survival. You might have read it already, but if you didn’t click here to read.

The response has been positive, and on reflection what I like about my books (apart from the fact that I really like the books I selected!) is that few of them are so-called best sellers. In fact, reading reviews on Amazon (check out the blog) you can see that they are not all acclaimed as great. That doesn’t much matter about what other people think. It is about what value they are for you, or in this case, for me.

Also, reflecting on the list, I noticed the most recent book was published in 2012. Books don’t get worse with age. Sure, some books are contextually relevant to the time they were written, but many stand the test of time. The books I selected fall into that latter category. Even though events have changed since The End of Poverty was written, it remains a good book to consider looking back what has transpired across the last ten years. In his book, Sachs takes a strategic and longer view. We are not there yet, and the challenge he writes about remains. If anything, his suggestions remain a provocative taunt to some who would argue that aid is wasted, and to others who might argue that change is never going to happen.

But what has happened in the last year that I have missed out on? I am not suggesting I ought to have included the last two Annual Gates’ Letters on the list, both of which addressed child survival as a key priority. But I am interested to know what books have been published during 2014-2015 that are worth sharing around because of the difference they can make.

So now the conversation is over to you. This question began directed to Bill and Melinda Gates, and for the time being while we wait for a response from them (which we may or may not receive), we can do some of the heavy lifting ourselves and share our own information. Don’t keep the good oil to yourself! What have you learnt in your reading in the last year, and why is this important to help us learn how we can improve the delivery of child survival?

You can see the original request I made to Bill and Melinda below. Alternatively, you could also forward this blog along and do your bit to get it one step closer to being in front of Bill and Melinda Gates so that we might also benefit from there answer, regardless of when their list of books was published.

Thanks for reading, and especially, thanks for sharing!

Five Books For Change

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IMG_4655Last December, I was standing on a bridge crossing the Clyde River n Glasgow which was completely shrouded in fog. I stopped a moment to record a short video to Bill and Melinda Gates, and asked them for their recommendation of five books to help make change happen.

Maybe you saw this video if you were following my journey. It was the day after I had run the eighth leg of the 10 City Bridge Run that concluded in January this year where I ran across 10 cities as a stunt to open a conversation about improving child survival.

The video is below, and while I have forwarded it through social media, I don’t now that I have exhausted every avenue to pass the message to Bill and Melinda Gates. And even if it did reach their gatekeepers, there is no guarantee that they would see it personally, or even have the time to respond.

IMG_4657Well, I haven’t given up on them, and will keep looking for ways to send this “message in a bottle” to them.

In the meantime, I made my own list of Five Books For Change that have most influenced my thinking as I worked through the 10 City Bridge Run epic quest ahead of a series of Design Forums to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

And here is the list, and in no particular order. They are all great books!

IMG_4658There were other books as well that I had to cut from the list. I asked Bill and Melinda Gates for five books, and so I limited myself to five books too.

You might have a different opinion, or some other books that I didn’t consider. I hope you do, and I hope you might share them here too! Write a review of your favourite book for making change happen as it relates to improving the delivery of child survival, and I’ll add it here on the blog (you write the blog and I can post it without editing it).

As for getting in touch with Bill and Melinda, well I’m sill trying. You can help by forwarding this blog, and the video message to the Gates’ is shown below. Personally, I like the list I have already, but this journey is about building a conversation and sharing how we see the world, so it would be nice to know how they think and what they would recommend we read!

Human Junk

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imageReturning to Osaka, it was like coming back to visit an old friend. That’s the effect of running around a city. Long distance runners will know the feeling. The city opens up its secrets. Back streets and observations of life that pass the ordinary visitor. Osaka is a lovely city, with lovely people, a proud history and natural beauty.

It was with this in mind that I wondered what to make of the small community of people who I gathered with on Sunday morning after arriving on Saturday evening. Inside an austere hall, they greeted me warmly as I arrived. I hadn’t met them before, and someone might have been excused for thinking that there was nothing at all special about their very-ordinariness at first glance. How might they be described by others? Lonely misfits, trash, human junk, cripples. Not world beaters.

But within a few minutes, I saw a different side to them all. Warm, friendly, generous, talented. Not trash. Not junk. Gifted.

And while I had experienced the friendliness of the city on my previous visit when I ran in Osaka last October, this community showed me a hospitality I previously hadn’t recognised here.

To write anyone off as junk is more than unkind. Similarly, to think that to solve important social problems is only for those with a certain talent or income is equally as wrong. Bill and Melinda Gates have become poster idols for making change happen, but they are not unlike you or I. We are all human, and we all have the same capacity to care. Money has little to do with the equation. It is a question of commitment.

Who is invited to the Design Forum? Only the beautiful people? Just innovators, thought leaders, and forget the rest? No, there is no qualifying credentials required. Everyone is welcome.

The Design Forum is an ambitious journey of its own. It is the destination of the 10 City Bridge Run, and defines a conversation asking an important question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Drop in at anytime. Please bring your manners. And your imagination.

The conversation is about child survival. That is keeping children alive and flourishing past their fifth birthday. UNICEF calculates there are over 16,000 children under the age of five every day, and a high percentage those deaths occur within the first 48 hours. And we really have to ask ourselves: do these deaths really matter? Can we really be concerned? Or are these babies are just human junk and trash?

Do we care enough to act? I’m not talking about a donation to UNICEF or any other aid agency. Can we really take action to make a difference? Can you? Will you?

Dear Bill and Melinda, It’s About The Fog That I Write To You

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

Dear Bill and Melinda,

It’s about the fog that I write you you. Not the real fog, mind you, especially now that it is colder in the Northern Hemisphere. I know you are both busy, and need not be bothered by a trifling commentary about the weather.

Knowledge helps to lift the fog which prevents us from seeing clearly. I am particularly interested in knowledge based on the experience of others that will help improve child survival.

I applaud you both for your last two Annual Letters. The commentary and insights you provided about child survival is important. Would you please point us to five good books that might help us to know more about improving child survival?

I asked you for a recommendation of five good books in the video I recorded below in Glasgow on the Clyde River in late December last year just after I completed the eighth leg of an epic quest which I had called the 10 City Bridge Run. This involved running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

This question of child survival will be addressed though a series of Design Forum, held in each of the cities where running took place. They begin today in Osaka, and conclude in Seoul in October. We will be exploring is question about child survival and doing what we can so that as a global community we achieve the bet you have made for the future. But we need your help.

Would you please list the five best books that have helped you both best understand child survival? We would love to read those books and also make sure others can too.

It would be great if you would join our journey by sharing with us your favourite list of five books that might help us understand child survival better. The best way to share these would be by Twitter through my address at @socialalchemy.

Thanks for your help!

Matt Jones, writing from Osaka

Question Everything, Even The Experts

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IMG_3218
Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for sharing this provocative photo of inspiration!

2010 was the year an idea about challenging the action that was being taken to address child survival was conceived. The idea was bold, and from the beginning sought participation from others.

It was grounded in a plan to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

The reason for running 24 km was in response to the emphasis made by many organisations in 2010 promoting the 2008 figures of child death per day which had been released by UNICEF. The figure was 24,000 children dying on average daily. A wholly unacceptable figure, which has since been reduced by a third, and progress for the future shows signs of being promising.

I wasn’t an expert in the field, and it struck me that few were. Canvassing my friends about the importance of the issue showed the effectiveness of marketing campaigns from institutional aid agencies, but apart from that little more knowledge. I thought that in a networked age where communications and health infrastructure was better than ever, was there not more we could do to crowdsource and then implement some form of solution or positive intervention?

This was the point of the running stunt. I would run in 10 cities, simply to highlight the year 2010, and conclude with what I had loosely defined as a ‘Design Forum’ at the end to address the issue. There was no budget, no institutional backers. Just a mad Australian with a little bit of passion, who had been given legs by many friends each contributing a small amount through a makeshift crowdfunding campaign.

I took the idea to several institutional aid agencies and charities who had a vested interest in the idea. Would they partner, or was there somehow I could support their efforts? I wasn’t asking for money, and it just have been evident that perhaps lacked some experience in that sector. Their response, especially in hindsight having now completed that journey after much tribulation, was astounding. I was met with the same response, and that surprised me: “sorry, that is not consistent with our messaging”, “we can’t quite see how it ties in with our fundraising efforts”, and other such words that effectively closed their door to my invitation.

I was at a loss as how to respond to this response from the aid agencies that so effectively had appropriated the issue of child mortality. Was I mistaken, and maybe my ideas were ill-conceived and ridiculous?

Reflecting on their response, I remembered back to Boxing Day 2004 when a catastrophic tsunami would smash against Aceh and many other towns in the Asia Pacific. It was an unprecedented event. At the time, I was still serving as an Australian Army Officer and then had a responsibility for planning emerging operations across the region. From the moment the first phone call was received on Boxing Day afternoon and being probably the first person in Australia to hear about the incident, we spared no effort for the following weeks with literally no rest or respite so as to respond with critical support to assist the logistical, recovery and humanitarian needs which were many.

Aid agencies of every manner were part of what I describe as a third wave of tsunami after a second wave of tsunami crashed around the world as the general public awoke to the horror of what had happened. Many aid agencies were quick to adjust their messaging to receiving funding from an empathetic public.

A short while later, reports in Aceh were of degraded roads and bottle-necks from the inundation of traffic of aid agencies wanting to be the first organisation to be seen to arrive and distribute food and blankets. This hampered getting water and other critical supplies to remote areas. It would have made more sense for the aid agencies to coordinate their efforts in Kuala Lumpur and deploy as a collaborative effort without concern for which person from what organisation arrived first.

Now, a decade on, we look back on Aceh. There are questions about where some aid money ended up. Such questions are worth examining, but not too pointedly perhaps. The generosity that allowed the aid in the first place does deserve accountability, and that is a separate issue from that which is being raised in this post.

Child survival is an issue which has been strongly advocated for, from politicians such as Hilary Clinton to actors the like of Ben Aflick. All have spoken with the same staunch plea, demanding urgent attention, mirroring the words of Tony Lake the Executive Director of UNICEF who in 2012 rightly described child mortality as a “moral obscenity” and a “moral abomination”.

Earlier this year, we saw a very positive report from Bill and Melinda Gates in their Annual Letter which has taken a different approach to the ‘alarmist’ view of an appalling situation that has underpinned the messaging of institutional aid agencies to date. We have turned a corner. He future looks bright.

There is no better time to conduct the Design Forum for an issue like child survival. Just because the future is painted as a bright place to visit, it doesn’t mean the road is downhill from here. There is still a lot of work today, but through collaborating with those interventions that we know work and learning from interventions that have been less successful.

The Design Forum is a conversation that will last nine months and beyond. Is picks up a conversation which has started many decades prior. And everyone is welcome. I expect many people will watch to see how it unfolds, and then get involved once it takes shape closer to May. In the meantime, there is a lot of information out there, there are many people with first-rate experience to draw upon, there is a lot of data.

There is no ownership in this conversation. It is a collaboration. Part of that involves challenging and questioning that which has been said in the past. Even Bill and Melinda Gates’ aspiration should be challenged in order to understand it better. Theirs is a bet. I don’t propose we refute it, but we definitely should examine and scrutinise it rather than just accept everything because it is already on the interwebs. What better form of respect can we give reasoned thought than to challenge it with our own intellect, rather than just accept it blithely?

We are breaking new ground in a conversation that is long established. We give ourselves permission to question everything, even the experts.

Map Check: preamble to the Design Forum

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IMG_1461The 10 City Bridge Run Design Forum is a series of 10 events that will be convened in the 10 cities where running took place during the 10 City Bridge Run. The entire focus of the Design Forum is to address the central question to the 10 City Bridge Run which asks: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Making decisions, and working out how to collaborate are two key tasks which we will need to work out how to do together. There are some obvious difficulties with that: we are in different time zones, we are not in the same location, not all of us speak the same language, access and ability to use technology is not evenly distributed. But we all share one trump card that can help us overcome any challenge: our imagination is the freely available resource that will make this possible.

Success will really come down to imagination. Imagination will drive the solutions to challenges of communication, collaboration, decision making. Resource issues, access to people, gaining information and knowledge are practical challenges and very real, but will also be overcome through imagination.

How to communicate and collaborate, and the platforms we might adopt to best enable this, remains the biggest immediate question to answer.

It is not simple, but it is possible.

At the conception of this idea back in 2010, it was an impossibility at that time. Now we are closer to making it happen. And if we can come this far, how much more can we achieve that we don’t know is possible from where we stand now?

This post provides some preliminary thoughts to a framework for the Design Forum which follows in the next post. This post is like a map which we can refer to. But what is important is that we don’t confuse the map for the territory. The plan will be amended and change. Ideas will emerge that are more expansive than we know now.

There will be 10 Design Forums. Well, there may in fact be more should people take the initiative to organise their own in a location other than the 10 key locations which this post relates to. The structure and conduct of each Design Forum can be, and possibly should be, distinct from those which precede it. The length of time (in days and hours) for each Design Forum is almost unimportant. We will need ‘enough time’ to do what we need to do, and this will depend on having clarity on a desired outcome at each step of the way.

The Design Forum are a conversation. Anyone can join, at anytime. We all have busy schedules, and so it is completely expected that people might drop in and out of the conversation. It is across a duration of nine months, and many personal events will take place in that time, some good and some less so. As a community, it is reasonable to expect that we can celebrate and if needed to commiserate  in the news of others. The focus is child survival, but it is also a very human experience, and we should acknowledge that too.

During the Design Forum, we will look elsewhere to learn and to model what has worked and what hasn’t worked. While the subject is ‘child survival’, examining what happens in other disciplines will also be important. Inspiration might be found in unexpected places.

Before describing the framework for the Design Forum, I want to note two unfinished or unanswered items of business to date:

  • A petition has been made for submission to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, the Australian Foreign Minister, to act as the official Champion for the Design Forum. That petition stands and will be accompany the conduct of the Design Forum, and be reframed to request her to be the official Champion for the final Design Forum in Seoul towards the end of October. Regardless of events that may or not unfold in the coming weeks in Australia, she will remain the person who the petition is addressed. You can read (and share and sign!) the petition in its current draft here.
  • A video request has been submitted to Bill and Melinda Gates asking them to recommend a reading list of five books that might help to frame the issue of child survival. Even with the release of their recent Annual Letter, this has merit as Bill and Melinda Gates are two individuals who through their advocacy on this issue have developed a good degree of knowledge that deserves to be more widely shared through a reading list. As far as I know at the moment, this remains an unanswered request. I do think that more could have been done to make sure the video reaches them personally, and shortly I will write directly to them with a letter asking for their consideration. You can see the video here.

The biggest failing in my performance to date is my inability to engage media. There are many reasons for that and some of them relating to computer access or the serviceability of equipment, but it is worth noting that this is something I haven’t done very well. Based on that observation, it is a fair expectation that it will remain an area which I am not well suited to managing as we move forward.

I hope you might see from reading this post that this is a big task. Even before we get to talking about the Design Forum as a series of individual events, we can identify discrete tasks that perhaps can be better shared and managed across our team. How we organise ourselves for that is a task in itself, and let’s start to leverage our collective strength by each taking up a small piece of the strain so the effort is less for all as we put our shoulders to the wheel.

Child Deaths Will Go Down

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IMG_0294The opening headline in this year’s Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates outlines their reasons for betting there will be greater progress in reducing child deaths (improving child survival) in the next 15 years than was the case in the last 25 years.

It is a well presented argument, and you can read it here.

This is not just going to happen with an extra sprinkle of fairy dust. As I write this, thousands upon thousands of people are working in difficult conditions in unheard-of, remote locations to help make this a reality: to improve the delivery of child survival.

This blog is about a journey called the 10 City Bridge Run which started by asking a question: “what can we practically do to make a difference?” That question matured to become “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The question will be addressed through a conversation unfolding next month involving a series of Design Forum beginning in Osaka.

You can get involved, and it is free! So why not sign up. You don’t need to be in Osaka. There is also a free, online course to provide an introduction to Design Thinking which has been offered by Acumen Fund/IDEO which will help to frame this question. Participation is free, and you can get involved without any qualification. So why don’t you?

It is great as we prepare to engage with this question about child survival to have a document which so readily frames the issue for us. Please take a read of the first few pages of the Gates Annual Letter.

We are really going to have this conversation. And we intend to have impact. The question is, will you join us?

Sign up for the Introduction to Design Thinking here.

Sign up for the Osaka Design Forum here.