Child survival

Turning Point Or Tipping Point?

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ny image The Impossible
Graffiti on a bridge crossed during the final leg of the 10 City Bridge Run in New York. “The impossible will take a little while” it read. It will, but we’re getting there, step by step.

December marks the exhibition of my next public art work as part of a themed exhibition at the local gallery titled ‘Turning Point’. Turning Point is deliciously open to interpretation. Maybe your imagination begins considering a change of direction, then a change of season, a rite of passage, a traumatic event, a particular moment in time. Let your mind wander for a few moments and consider the possibilities.

I will be creating a work drawing upon my journey towards achieving this quest to improve child survival. My first submission to the curator was challenged with some great questions, and I have refined where and what the Turning Point means for me.

The work will be titled ‘The Next Step’, and points to 100 moments in my journey to date, any of which could be ‘the turning point’. The point of the work is that none of those moments, or neither the complete whole story told through this narrative of the 100 photos, is of itself the Turning Point. The Turning Point remains an elusive moment represented by the realisation of the collaborative effort necessary for this task of addressing how we might use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival to be addressed. The Turning Point won’t be the completion of the journey. Far from it. The Turning Point will be the beginning of a new chapter in this journey, and only made possible by my efforts that were often inadequate at best in the past.

ny image will take aThe work points to the hope that comes about from action, an action that is arrived at by being unreasonable in an ambition for change, and change that can only occur with radical collaboration with others. To achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.

Let me just explain how these 100 photos will be presented, because it is important to understanding a nuance in this work. They will form a 10 x 10 matrix in which the photos are close together, but not joined. Each moment is separate from the others, but at the same time part of a bigger journey. If a picture tells a thousand words, then this will speak volumes.

As I create the idea of work in my mind, I am becoming aware that somehow this gridded matrix of 100 photos will be bookended either side by two discrete grids, both also containing 100 tiles across the same 10 x 10 matrix. Every tile or photo will be the same dimension: 10 cm x 10 cm, and the two bookended grids will be empty containing no photos at the beginning of this work.

ny image little whileThroughout the duration of the exhibition, these two adjacent grids will slowly take form. Photos will be added to each of the 100 tiles in each, ending up with three grids each containing 100 photos. 300 photos in all.

One of these adjacent grids will take the form of the 100 Champions of Change that I am seeking from the broader global community. People can nominate themselves, or even share the invitation to their networks. This is not just assembling a list of monitors to help with a project, but is an exercise that is rich with possibility. Who would we, from our small corner in Auburn of this expansive global community, like to see represented in this collective of Champions of Change? Is the request even too ambitious itself?

Seeking this participation of 100 Champions of Change to be assembled during the life of this art work draws upon another favourite quote from the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger who I referred to in my post yesterday titled “Hope Is The Consequence Of Action” . “To establish a transformative imagination at the centre of our understanding of society” is the task which Unger speaks boldly about. This art work is not just about my efforts and perspective during this project, but it demands the participation of others to be complete. That is risky. That is reality.

The other grid of 100 tiles will also begin absent of photos, and during the life of the exhibition will come to represent the 100 photos of human bridges that will comprise the photo essay to be featured in the book Life Bridge that is central to the completion of the 10 City Bridge Run. This will also be a co-created process, inviting people to contribute, and encouraging people to help assemble a wondrous deck of photos to tell this story of a human bridge drawn from people across the globe. Will we settle for less, or will we seek to attract an awesome collection of 100 photos of human bridges that will defy what the imagination at present even believes is possible?

It is the beginning of a conversation. It is both a statement and an invitation to collaborate.

A good mate today reminded me of the book ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell. Our friendship goes back literally decades. It was with two of our classmates from school that the kernel of this epic quest began. The journey has taken a completely different direction from the discussion of that evening, but it does go to further illustrate where we identify a Turning Point. Phil’s point is a good one, and I think that the Turning Point and the Tipping Point for this epic quest will be reached at the same time.

Hope Is The Consequence Of Action

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sunrise over manhattanThis has been a time of inspiration. Perhaps this is unwarranted, because it also has felt like a time when the sands of opportunity seemed to be avoiding my grasp as they slipped away through my fingers.

Trying something, and it not working. It is a very common experience. A quintessentially human experience. Is it strange that we have forgotten all of the failures from the early years of life during a time when walking might have seem to have been an impossibility? Perhaps it is stranger that we can get so hung up on a point in time when it would appear a plan has ended in failure. Not that we can remember, but if we were to think back to childhood, we would know that through perseverance we would eventually overcome.

I’ve been caught up in the words of a Brazilian philosopher called Roberto Unger recently. The title of this blog comes from a quote of his that I like:

Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”

This post is an update about an epic quest I undertook in 2010 and have yet to complete. I called that quest the 10 City Bridge Run. The purpose of the quest was to address an ambitious question through a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The method was all the more ambitious to the point of ridiculous: I proposed a stunt to highlight the conversation about child survival where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries.

Long story short, I have completed the stunt, but not yet done justice to the conversation. And in between these two events there is a book I am yet to publish and send to my supporters. That book is to be called Life Bridge, and will feature a photo essay with 100 pictures of human bridges to illustrate that it is through our connections that change can take place.

I am very aware of ways this could have been simpler, or ways the execution to date could have been more effective. It has been lumpy in parts, but that too is part of the journey.

And so that brings me to this point about failure, about inspiration, and about hope where I began the post. A reasonable person would at this point in time cut their losses and apologise saying that it was all too much trouble, and that they were not up to the task. As I write that, I know that I cannot accept this as failure, and hear the words of George Bernard Shaw. You know the ones: “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”

And so yes, I have been staring down failure as I interpret what this journey has meant.

Staring down failure because there is inspiration. Inspiration from the fresh initiative called the Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of this year. Inspiration because I know there is purpose in holding this conversation, and that hardship is part and parcel of trying to achieve difficult things. And inspiration from a conversation I had in Newcastle recently where someone challenged me to look again at what I had achieved.

Let me explain this incident from Newcastle briefly. Back in 2009, I ran what was the initiative that preceded this 10 City Bridge Run initiative. In 2009, I called it the 9 City Bridge Run, and it was undertaken in response to the suicides of many friends as an effort to show that resilience and community wellbeing could be counterpoints to the conversation that was prevalent about depression and suicide. Long story short, that journey was personally a success, but a complete failure in attempting to have some impact on an issue which I considered to be important.

Unger refreshingly argues that change can be piecemeal, fragmentary, gradual and experimental. His words help to reframe our perspective: “we should not associate radical change with wholesale change, and gradual change with inconsequential change.”

The strength in Unger’s words to me is this: “To grasp what it can become” is necessary to embrace is we are to overcome the failure of structural imagination. To be sure, I have take Unger’s words out of the context they were written for, but I believe that remain entirely relevant to this situation.

And so from that conversation in Newcastle, I realised a few things. And this is where you come into the picture.

I realised that my efforts have been too much me pushing. As valiant as that might be, it leaves little room for the ‘us’ to truly collaborate on this epic quest.

I realised that concluding this quest through the publication of the book Life Bridge and the holding of a series of Design Forum to address this conversation about child survival required more input from others. It was possible, but it wasn’t just a matter of pushing harder from where I am now. I need to relent a little to invite others in to this space.

I also realised that what I achieved in 2009 and in the recent 10 City Bridge Run was worth exploring further. And this has pointed me to the next steps. And I’ll come to that shortly at the end of this blog.

Mao famously had a quote to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ which was actually a ruse to out the intellectuals within Chinese society so that their influence could be purged by “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” I think that Mao was definitely onto something. Not the crackdown of dissidents, but an openness to others being involved.

One of the last acts of the 10 City Bridge Run involved me delivering a letter to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asking her to be the champion for this initiative. Her staff replied in time, and I recorded a video when I was in Korea earlier this year just after receiving their message. Watch it below:

And this is where you come in. I’m asking for some help. I’m inviting 100 people to be our champions of change, to pick up the slack where Julie Bishop is unable to put her shoulder to the wheel. Returning to Unger, I note his words: “Great ideas are not beyond the reach of ordinary people.” So please note that I am looking for 100 champions of change, and you could be one. There will be more on that in a later blog post.

But here is the final comment, and the point of this blog post. Hope is the consequence of action. What I am proposing is to return to my initiative from 2009, and next year in March 2016, to run 16 runs in 16 towns across NSW in 16 successive day, and in each of those towns it is conducted where there is a group, individual or organisation that is prepared to host a Design Forum. The issue will be the same one I championed in 2009 which was to address the taboo issue of depression and suicide. The reason for this activity in March is to provide a rehearsal for the big event in September/October 2016.

So then in mid-September through until mid-late October over the course of a month, I undertake to run 17 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 17 cities across more than 10 countries. In both the March and the September/October dates, I will be inviting others to run with me, and more about that later. And importantly for the September/October event, in each of the cities, and in other cities even where running doesn’t take place, I will be asking people to organise these Design Forum for me. Why 17? Because that is the new number of Sustainable Development Goals. What about child survival? That remains a key focus, but also we will be taking a holistic focus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many friends have given me very good counsel about my execution of the 10 City Bridge Run, noting my shortfall on a reliable team, social media strategy and media coverage. Those are all very good comments, and I completely accept the need for improvement in those areas as well as many other. We now have an opportunity to get this right, but I seriously need the help from others.

We are at a Turning Point where Hope is the consequence of Action. And to achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.

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!

ReThinking The Design Forum

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IMG_3803In 2010 I had an idea to do something that would both address child survival, and at the same time show the capacity we have together for collaboration, even if the beginning of our efforts is an individual act of decision.

The plan was to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, and at the end convene a Design Forum to somehow find ways to impact the issue.

Four years passed until I was able to commence in 2014, during which time there was frustration to be found in spades, hopes dashed, thwarting by circumstances such as injury and access to resources.

Then in mid-September 2014 I commenced the journey. It was prudent not to have commenced before then, despite the misgivings this might have created in the minds of other people. I didn’t have the resources to complete the journey, and if I had began it would have been a disaster for me personally.

Long story short, I completed the running journey late on a cold, dark and wet night in early January in New York. The running was always a stunt to frame the Design Forum. In the meantime, what I learnt was that I still needed more time to prepare for this conversation.

The running at took place at the end of last year informed the conduct of the Design Forum. Doors were opened, I saw many places, experiences shaped my thinking. It was a personal journey that was extremely instructive. And now it is time to turn attention to the Design Forum.

The Design Forum have actually commenced already. It is a series of 10 events that will occur in each of e cities where running took place to open a conversation, and this conversation will be extended into other places through the participation of others. The first Design Forum was in Osaka, and that is being extended presently by a number of teams of great people with whom I am engaged in a process of examine Human Centred Design through an introductory course from IDEO/Acumen Fund.

Until last night, I had a plan to commence the remaining Design Forums as early as next month in Port Moresby, with others following in May. If I learnt anything from my running it was that action is important now, but that good preparation beforehand will ensure that action has impact. I have been ReThinking the Design Forum as I plan out my year ahead, and now recognise that there is some personal maintenance issues I need to attend to called ‘working to earn some money’ before I can suitably commit my time and energy more fully to convening the Design Forum. Besides which, to conduct them right now would be a financial stretch. It doesn’t mean not possible, but perhaps in the immediate sense, not prudent right now.

The good news is that this gives more time for preparation. And the second (next Design Forum) is likely to be held in early August in Port Moresby. That might seem like a long time away, but there is a lot to organise before then and the time will pass quickly. Following Port Moresby, the remaining eight Design Forum will occur to conclude in Seoul towards the end of October. It will be a pretty intense period, but will also frame a particular window of activity inside of which many people can engage to help us address this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

We are making progress, maybe not immediately like some people might expect, but we are getting there. Come August, I would expect a few other things to have been addressed to:

  • Engaging with media
  • Making it clear how people can get involved in the Design Forum
  • Building a robust team to help with the conduct of the Design Forum
  • More fully engaging with an inspiring community of practitioners who are already involved to help improve child survival
  • Building support for a petition to go to Australia’s Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP asking her to be the Official Champion for the final Design Forum to be held in Seoul
  • Completing the book Life Bridge which people’s earlier contributions have helped fund as a way to enable to conduct of this epic journey. I anticipate the book might be completed and handed over to the designers/publishers in late June, aiming to have it ready for distribution after publishing by early August. That is an ambitious timeline, but also achievable.

There is always merit in ReThinking your position, not to change your mind every five minutes, but through a process of iteration to come up with a better and more workable solution.

With your help, together we can engage in these series of Design Forum and work to improve the delivery of child survival.

Details about how you can engage coming soon!

This Is Not New

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IMG_4409During the 10 City Bridge Run, I might have been pathfinding a new journey for looking at the issue of child survival from a different perspective, but I was not the first person to go this way. In fact, I am following the reliable footsteps of others.

And child survival is not a new phenomenon. Historical records showing the impact of changing medical, infrastructure, social and economic conditions in Europe during the Industrial Revolution points to a time when the incidents of child survival was high much like it is today in the worst places on earth. There was no magic fairy dust to make this change happen. And the impacts can be seen to reliably influence quality of life, wellbeing and population levels across Europe. That historical data points to why improving child survival is important.

Back in 1982, the Executive Director of UNICEF who was then James Grant launched what was called the Campaign for Child Survival. Jeffrey Sachs in his book “The End of Poverty” writes about how this campaign promoted a package of intervention known by the acronym GOBI: growth monitoring of children; oral rehydration therapy to treat bouts of diarrhoea; breastfeeding for nutrition and immunity to diseases in infancy; and immunisation against six childhood killer diseases.

Sachs writes:

The results were striking. Child mortality rates fell sharply in all parts of the low-income world, including Africa, where rates were (and are) by far the highest. The campaign was estimated to have saved around 12 million lives by the end of the decade.”

UNICEF leading a coalition of all nations was able to deploy a great mass of resources to achieve this outcome. “The results were striking”, and even so the problem remains today. Bill and Melinda Gates wrote recently in regard to child mortality that “Things can be better”.

The Design Forum which the 10 City Bridge Run is focusing on are not proposing some magical solution that until now no one has ever thought about. The Design Forum are not suggesting that until now there has been no progress. No, the Design Forum readily recognise that this effort is built on top of the excellent work of others. Good progress has been made, but there is still much to be done.

In particular, the 10 City Bridge Run Design Forum argues that there is considerable untapped resources through our own connections which can be engaged with that stands to contribute to the improved progress that is making today. This is not a stand-alone effort, it is part of an existing collaboration to improve child survival.

This is not new, but we stand before an opportunity to perhaps uncover new approaches to help improve the delivery of child survival. Join us. And maybe more importantly, if you are already engaged or know of great work to advance child survival, then bring us into the picture. Let’s open those connections.

Few Will Have The Greatness To Bend History Itself

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IMG_4100“Who are you doing this for?” This is perhaps the most frequently asked questions of me as I set about the epic journey which I had called the 10 City Bridge Run. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. I wasn’t doing it for myself, and I wasn’t doing it for an organisation. Truth be told, I was doing it for the many millions of children born and unborn, along with their parents and communities to give them hope and the enjoyment of a good start to life by combatting child mortality. Audaciously, I proposed that through this crazy stunt that we could open a conversation to improve the delivery of child survival.

Initially, I did think this question about “who or which organisation was I doing it for?” was entirely reasonable. I now look back and see that instead that question is based on a flawed premise that it is only through having the juggernaut of a fundraising institution behind you that our efforts might have any credibility. We don’t need anything other than our own sense of daring and will to make change happen. It doesn’t mean will will be successful, but then again, not everything the large institutions do is successful either. Certainly there are questions about probity that need to be addressed, but that is also a matter of trust between those that might support me and my own personal integrity and conduct.

Can we really give ourselves permission to tinker a little as individuals collaborating together so as to put a dent in the universe?

Yes, it is about us as individuals and what we will do together. This thought returned to me as a startling epiphany today while I was re-reading “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs. “The End Of Poverty” is a great treatise on how poverty can be eradicated by 2025 from the perspective of an economist. What struck me as profound in Sachs’ book is the final paragraphs are dedicated not to how the UN or the IMF or the World Bank will save the day, but he writes very pointedly:

In the end, however, it comes back to us, as individuals.

He amplifies this comment by quoting Robert kennedy:

Great social forces, Robert Kennedy powerfully reminds us, are the mere accumulation of individual actions.

And he goes on to end his book with a powerful quote from Kennedy, repeated below:

Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…

It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different enters of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

I’m inviting you, asking you, challenging you, and imploring you to do something that maybe you might not have done before. Do something daring. Go ahead and take action, become an activist. Do it as yourself, an individual representing yourself, but as part of a collective experience. What that something daring is will to some degree be up to you.

We need your participation in the series of Design Forum that are unfolding. Let your little droplets of activity send out tiny ripples of hope, so that together we will build a current that will sweep like a tsunami of activity that might even bend history itself.

I dare you.