Child survival

Dear Kevin…

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img_6547Dear Kevin,

For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about your recent disappointment. You passion for the top job was clear. Maybe too clear.

I know the impact of unwelcome news can be demoralising. No one likes to be let down by the institution.

It has taken me a while to respond because I didn’t know what to make of your expression of grievance by turning to the media as a direct channel to express your sense that this was somehow unfair.

I know some people will disagree with my opinion here. I know that you were passionate to help the global community in the top job at the United Nations. And you clearly have a lot to offer.

Your strength of having a sharp insight into the dynamics of international affairs is well regarded, and no doubt this would have been beneficial for the myriad of challenges tackled by the United Nations, not the least of which are the wicked problems which the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals seek to address.

I have an interest in where the United Nations goes because I, in my own small way, am trying to contribute to game changing impact relating to child survival. Some might say and with good reason that to date I have been unsuccessful in my pursuit, but I continue to see what I difference I might make.

As I was reflecting on your grievance, expressed so publicly through the media, I remembered the seeing collateral that the Australian Government was using a few years ago when it was lobbying for a non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council. Some this collateral use photos showing the work of many of our Australian veterans who were on deployments under the banner of the United Nations. Many sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen deployed away from their family, often in danger, for long periods of time. Privation is part and parcel of service to country. And yes, we were all volunteers.

And it made me think about how some veterans feel. Many veterans feel completely abandoned by the government after they take off the uniform. And often these feelings held by veterans are not unjustified.

Often the grievances the veterans have relates to government decisions or government policy. Certainly, this often is a matter of interpretation by the veterans involved, but when people have given so much, aren’t they entitled to have this opportunity to express a grievance?

Sadly enough, most of the time their complaints seem to be stonewalled by bureaucracy. Or they get treated like just another number, their surname the unremarkable heading of a file or a letter. There is no sense of dignity reflecting the uniform they once wore in the service of country.

The military culture can be unforgiving at times. Often, in the face of a complaint or grievance the advice from superior officers is to get over it. Suck it up. Move on. Deal with it.

I have listened to the exasperated comments of many colleagues, and more other veterans who I don’t know but who have been brought into my circle of friends through social media such as Facebook. Their complaint is genuine, even if the technicality of their grievance has no basis according to government policy. I know this, and I suspect you know this too.

Worse still, it is these unanswered complaints held by many that I suspect has often been a large factor in many veterans deciding to take their own lives through suicide. Such a tragic waste and loss.

I mentioned that I am committed to making change about child survival. I am spending a lot of time thinking about my approach, and am writing about my experience in the form of a memoir that I think will be of value to others. This memoir will also point to a way forward. In the meantime, I am training up for a marathon at the end of October in Washington DC where I will focus my energies on raising awareness for the need to improve mental health among veterans. As I get more experience in having success in raising awareness in an area I am familiar with, I will deploy that knowledge into this pressing problem of child survival.

It hasn’t been easy, but I think back to the number of veterans who are suffering in silence and know that more needs to be done.

I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t use your platform in a more constructive way after you became aware that it seemed that the rug had been pulled from under your feet in your endeavours for the top job of the United Nations. There are so many problems bigger than your own grievance. Why did it need to come down to political point scoring? Why back yourself? Even if you were right, was there not a better way to have used that opportunity better?

And I think about all those photos of veterans used as collateral for campaigning to the United Nations that wove into your story to strengthen your platform for credibility as a contender for the top job. Many of those photos of veterans who now suffer in silence. Have you thought they feel let down, used and abandoned too? They have no platform to go to the tabloids.

We need better leadership in Australia. This begins with me and you. It is a responsibility for all of us.

I’m sorry for your disappointment. Suck it up. I hope you might contact me as there are more important fights that need your help.

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The Credit Belongs To The Man Who Errs: An Update, Part 1

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ny image The ImpossibleAfter some recess from the blog, it is well time to continue this narrative.

The 10 City Bridge Run was conceived in 2010 to help address the problem faced by high child mortality. It emerged from lessons learnt following an initiative called the 9 City Bridge Run. The 9 City Bridge Run was focused on using resilience and wellbeing as a counterpoint to depression and suicide.

In many respects, the two issues faced by the 9 City Bridge Run and the 10 City Bridge Run were distinct and unrelated. At the same time, these were two issues linked by a similar thread of design and social impact.

I wrote a discussion paper after the 9 City Bridge Run. If you want a copy of an abstract from the paper, leave a comment below and I will forward you one and point you to where it is located. For a range of reasons, I thought that I had left the issue of suicide and depression behind, and was cracking on with addressing child survival as much as I was able.

It is worth noting that my efforts in both cases were well-intentioned, albeit Quixotic. What is one to do? Give up because they don’t have enough knowledge, or desist because the method chosen is not entirely workable at first?

I had sought to partner with large institutional organisations before committing to action, but I found that their capacity to embrace the sense of change I was looking to find was mired because of their obsession with messaging and fundraising.

In hindsight, it is easy for the critic to lean back in their comfortable chair and point to all of the flaws in what I chose to do. This could have been done differently, it would have been better to do that. But the journey of the 10 City Bridge Run is now in its sixth year. There has been untold and tremendous levels of heartache and sweat equity poured into this, and while it has been clumsy at time, there has been learning along the way.

Most of the financial risk was borne by myself. Essentially, this was a foolish move, and I was fortunate to receive the support from many generous people who contributed during a series of fundraising campaigns. The amount of  money raised was modest, but enough to steer me through such that I would not give up.

The 10 City Bridge Run was based on a stunt: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside the space of a month so as to open a conversation about improving child survival. That was 2010, and it wasn’t until a dark, wet and cold night on 3 January 2015 in New York that this running stunt was completed.

The stunt was to enable something else to occur, and that was what I had described as a series of Design Forum to open this conversation about improving the delivery of child survival. To help fund the initiative, the crowdfunding was based on the pre-sale of a book that would feature a photo-essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate that it was the connections between us was the greatest resource at our disposal to make change happen. What that change was and how it would occur was unanswered during this process, and is indeed the work of the Design Forum.

Here’s the thing: unless we try things, how will we know if something is going to work. Theodore Roosevelt was right in his frequently quoted address about the man in the arena:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This has not been an easy journey, but progress is being made. Maybe the issues have yet to be impacted upon, but then again neither is the deeds in the arena complete.

Picking up this conversation again through this blog, I wanted to backtrack a little so you could know where it has come from.

The next post will talk about where the 10 City Bridge Run stands at the present.

The Next Step

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It’s been a while, in fact too long.

I’m not sure I posted since December around the time I completed an art work that was on display at the local art gallery. The work titled “All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm” was part of an exhibition themed “Turning Point”.

This art work featured my interpretation of the naval signal flag for “I require assistance (non-distress)”. This flag is identified by a red diagonal cross over a white background. The point of the work was that through the painting and exhibition of this canvas, I was signalling my acceptance that I could not do this journey on my own. It was an admission that I need help.

I need help. Three words that are easy to write, but difficult for me to express. As a statement, it is fine. As a request, it is as though I even need help to ask for help. I think that qualifies me for the category of lost causes and basket cases…

More on that painting later. Not in this post, but later. Here, I want to talk about what I have been doing in this past few months, and update you about this project: the 10 City Bridge Run.

So firstly, what have I been doing? I have been taking stock of a few things, as if I needed to allow the momentum of the previous journey to reach its culmination and come to a halt along that trajectory before riding the fresh movement towards the the next steps. That sounds like complete claptrap, and if that is what you are thinking then you are probably mostly right. Those who know me best would sense my idiosyncratic avoidance.

So why avoidance? Why didn’t I hoist the painting on this blog?  What was holding me back?

All good questions, and to be honest I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I do know, deep down. There has been some make and mend needed. But epic questions are epic because they are inherently hard. If there was no struggle, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. Hiding from difficulty is I think a fairly common experience among humans. I’m guessing that you might have done this too at some point in time. If that is the case, then maybe you can relate to what it is I am trying to describe here.

The painting is still here. It is sitting in my living room, and as I promised I will write about that soon, but not right now.

I want to tell you what else I have been doing in relation to this journey.

If you have been following this blog in the past, you might remember that I was going to describe this past journey with 100 photographs. It became an overwhelming aspiration, and clearly that has not yet happened. In fact, that tapestry of 100 photographs ended up becoming the simply expression of the artwork featuring the naval signal flag for “I require assistance” which I mentioned above.

And so what happened to the 100 photographs? Well, those have taken the form of a book I am writing that reflects on what I have learnt from this journey to date. I am probably about half-way through, and I am keen to finish the book before the end of May, which is possible to do. The book features 100 chapters that outline the motivation for what became the 10 City Bridge Run, a commentary of the journey itself, and a third part which examines some of the lessons I have learnt about seeking to do something in order to make a difference.

I was going to wait until it was complete before I started sharing this writing, but I now realise that in the spirit of the collaborative process, that it is much better to put some of what I have written out there here for you to read as I set about this task. I welcome you to read, comment, correct, share, add to, and even help illustrate with you own examples or art.

My aim in sharing this book here is to write with more gusto, knowing that some people are reading. I am writing it for you, not essentially for me. I would like to have this book finalised and published, ready for launch at the end of June. I think that is ambitious, but achievable.

And secondly, what has become of the 10 City Bridge Run? Let me again first express my thanks to everyone who has supported this journey. None of this was possible without your help. Thank you.

At the beginning of 2015, I completed the running journey for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have yet to publish the book “Life Bridge” which I owe all of the supporters. And I am less than satisfied that I have been successful in convening the conversation to address the question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?” That conversation was the point of the whole endeavour. I see the journey as still a work in progress, even if that means it is long overdue.

So what comes next? This book I am writing turns out to be necessary for me to complete in order to allow the other things to happen. It is a big undertaking, and I believe it is worthwhile. Thanks for giving me this space to explore this territory.

Without linking this to a timeline, the book “Life Bridge” will be completed this year and distributed to all the supporters. I also see a renewed effort taking place to pick up this conversation about child survival, again using running as a stunt to draw attention to what needs to unfold. At this point in time, that is all I want to say about what is ahead. The only other point is to say that the journey continues, and that it could not have been possible without your help.

I need your help. That is both a statement and a request.

Thank you. Let’s get to work.

The Slippery Target

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IMG_24582015 is fast drawing to a close, and with it the culmination of the Millenium Development Goals.

Among the eight MDG, Goal 4 which was to Reduce Child Mortality made progress but failed to be achieved.

The Sustainable Development Goals replace the MDG for the period 2016-2030, and continue with a more ambitious reach to continue to address the impact of poverty.

My good friend Trish shared this document today The Slippery Target for Child Survival in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from the Health and Human Rights Journal. It is a short document that is well worth reading to see how difficult it is to set targets in a world where there is great discrepancy in levels of child mortality between countries.

Information worth noting. It helps define the challenge before us.

2030 Agenda

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New World Order...
New World Order…

Did you hear about the plan the United Nations has for world domination? Apparently, the Illuminati are involved there somewhere as well. Yes folks, the New World Order is finally arrived…

Watch the video below. The guy makes some alarming and stunning claims. If they are true, we are truly doomed. I suspect we might yet be in good hands.

In actual fact, the 2030 Agenda is the subtitle for the United Nations for their ambitious plan to replace the Millenium Development Goals which are due to expire at the end of 2015. From the beginning of 2016 through until 2030, the United Nations will be focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The proper title I think is: “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Once upon a time and many years ago, I served in the Australian Army for many, many years. Most people know that ‘military time’ is read using a 24-hour clock. That is to say that 8.30 pm would be read ‘2030 hours’.

During my time in the Army when I was a young gunnery officer, there was a gathering we used to have when young gunnery officers on course at the old School of Artillery. Come 10 pm, we would drop our studies and meet in the bar for a few drinks and to share a laugh with a bit of a ribbing.

Recently, I had suggested that we could reconvene the 10 o’clock Club on Twitter by posting what we were doing and where we were at on that evening at 10 pm as if gathering for the 10 o’clock Club. It worked to some degree, although with less pick-up than might be seen as successful.

Now, with the change of this new agenda for a global partnership, or the imminent rise of a New World Order depending on your worldview, it is appropriate that the 10 o’clock Club should also reflect this change. Consequently, I’m inviting you all to the 2030 Agenda every evening at 8.30 pm. Post every evening with something that comes as close to addressing the issue of child survival with the #2030Agenda. I will be posting every evening (as often as I can) at 8.30 pm on Twitter (in whatever time zone I am in). I hope to see you at the #2030Agenda soon!

Change The World

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Street graffiti from the East Village near the dosshouse I was staying at in New York when I finished the epic running stunt earlier this year. Inspiration is everywhere!

What are we to make of Mark Zuckerberg?

If you have 20 minutes spare, I would highly recommend you take a moment to watch the video below where he delivers an address to Tsinghua University.

For me, what is intriguing is not the wealth or influence of Markey Z, or even that he has mastered language skills in Mandarin and speaks with aplomb to an engaged audience. I was really inspired by how much enjoyment, how much satisfaction, he is showing for his ability to being able to communicate and connect with the audience.

He speaks about how when he first build Facebook how he dreamt that one day there would be a similar tool built that would connect the global community. He says that at the time it never crossed his mind that he was in the process of building that platform.

We don’t know the impact of our actions. Often, we will never see their impact as the ripples extend far beyond our sphere of influence in ways we will never know. But what this video does confirm is that for change to occur, action must first take place, and that action must be guided with a sense of purpose. For Mark, he shows his humanness by expressing a desire that everyone should just care more.

It sounds simplistic, but what a formula. First decide on what you want to do, then care radically in such a way that the way forward manifests itself out of our efforts to realise our purpose.

This is no time to be spooked by large corporates or big institutions. If the answer was known to this question framing this epic journey, someone would have done it already. It is incredulous that after so much money has been spent, so much need remains. But this is no time for complaint. Rather, lets elevate the intensity of caring more, and act with intention to change the world.

The Small Things

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A lady fills her water containers from a hose that is constantly running in a park in Ahmedabad, India. Is this good that she has access to running water, or a concern that she is doing it in a way that is possibly unhygienic? How do we know when change is necessary or even possible?
A lady fills her water containers from a hose that is constantly running in a park in Ahmedabad, India. Is this good that she has access to running water, or a concern that she is doing it in a way that is possibly unhygienic? How do we know when change is necessary or even possible?

Ok, here is a question for some discussion. Why is it necessary to do a ridiculous running stunt in order to open a conversation about child survival?

Are either of these two even necessary? Does it necessarily follow that by embarking on an ambitious running stunt that it will have enough significance as to open a meaningful conversation? Or to put it another way, would the resources of time, effort and money be better spent in organisation this conversation? And secondly, is this conversation about child survival even necessary, given that there is so much discussion on the world’s stage through institutions such as the United Nations about the issue of Sustainable Development Goals?

Again, to add to the conversation here I’m going to refer to the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger as I did in my previous two posts, and again take his writing slightly out of context but in such a way so that it still has a useful application.

Unger’s writing warns us of what he refers to as the ‘illusion of false necessity’, which is to say that a model or way of seeing is so structurally strict that it doesn’t allow the occurrence of any other adjacent possibilities. The question I am asking here is whether I have become fixated on the running stunt at the expense of the task itself?

I can see that there are better ways of going about the journey I have travelled to date, but I am also mindful of the richness of experience that came through the hardship and new horizons that I encountered during this quest. Without that hardship and expanded horizon, my awareness as to what is possible would be stunted and limited which would not be in the service of the task.

Retrospectively, it would be possible to see where I got it wrong and how I could do it better. That is a process called learning. Without the advice from others or my own experience, I must first explore and discover to find out.

I think it has been necessary because the closer I get to this conversation about child survival, the more I am aware of how enormous the body of work and experience that already exists. We should not be aiming at reinventing the wheel, but rather learning from experience to make a useful contribution.

Getting this process right I believe is a balance between the stunt and the conversation. I don’t believe I have succeeded there to date, and that is why I am again lining up for first a rehearsal exercise in March to work out how to do this most effectively ahead of a final push where we hope to bring this conversation to a head in September and October next year.

And there is a paradox in terms of what I am seeking to achieve from all of this. Again, my old school mate Phil prompted me to consider this yesterday by asking whether there might be some simple and small things that we could be doing that of themselves would have a disproportionate impact to improve child survival. I don’t know what those things are. And to be honest, I’m not sure whether for all of the conferences that have been held around the globe to date that we have really cracked this code.

It is an audacious claim, to the point of arrogance, that I propose that through these Design Forum next year we might unlock new potential to reduce child survival. Why wouldn’t that be the case? Breakthroughs happen all the time in many different fields, and not always by the ‘experts’ or the institutional gatekeepers. What is almost without doubt is that the answers, if we can find them, will be found from engaging with people who are most affected by the problem. We will need to draw upon a broad network to find out those things that we don’t know and then through a process of design thinking put together this information to potential arrive at new solutions to make a difference.

There are game changing ideas to be found. Unger declares in his writing that “deep transformations can begin in small initiatives.” So why shouldn’t we believe in the efficacy of what we are trying to achieve? What have we got to lose by trying?

My mate Phil pointed out that it is probably in the small things where a solution that will create a tipping point could be found. What if in the process of conducting these Design Forum we could unlock 10 small but important actions that through the combination of these being applied together they have a game changing impact?

The irony is that to find these small things, I’m proposing to do a very big stunt. Let’s hope it is a worthwhile exercise. We are seeking some simple and small things. Small interventions, which by their application can address the question “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

It’s the small things that matter.