Design Forum

The Mission Continues: An Update, Part 3

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img_7196The first two blog posts to this update described where the 10 City Bridge Run initiative came from, and then how I intend to proceed to complete the journey through the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge.

The posts spoke broadly about these issues, and didn’t describe a plan to achieve these objectives in any detail as such. And so we come to this third update which I hope might help to address some of those queries.

Some of you might know that I previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, and am a veteran owing to the deployments I was sent on during that time. Issues of veteran health are something that matters to me. Veterans health is a complex issue. Too often it is reduced down to something like “the government sends people off to war and doesn’t take good enough care of them when they come home.” There is some truth to this, but it is also disturbingly suggestive of a victimhood culture that I don’t think rightly reflects the dignity of those who served their country. This of course if my opinion, and others will have a different view and might even heatedly disagree.

One of the disturbing trends has been mental health among veterans, which I believe is a function of transitioning from the military into life outside the military. I don’t know that you can ever really describe veterans as plain old citizens because they will always have a particular outlook on life that no one else will really understand unless they have too served. And it is not like we are robots. Everyone is different, but there is a trend of alienation which is disturbing.

Partly because  of this trend, some people have suicided. Again, the reasons for this are many and complex, and so it is not sufficient to have a linear logic that makes correlation between veterans and suicide. I think we can all agree that it is a tragic and unacceptable situation.

While I was serving in the military, I had the sobering duty of investigating a number of suicides. All were tragic.

Whether the military system was at fault is something that can be argued and argued. I have an opinion, but because of the sensitive nature of the issue this is not the forum to discuss it, and it won’t be an opinion I will be offering to my friends, just in case you want to ask.

A figure has emerged from the US where it is alleged that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Admittedly, their military is very large, but even so this is outrageous. Particularly for a community who ought to have greater reserves of resilience and camaraderie, why should this be the case?

I had been thinking about this situation for some time, and coincidentally my good friend who lives in Washington D.C. at the same time invited me to take part in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting the American charity The Mission Continues. I had a lot of admiration for The Mission Continues, and while their efforts are focused on the US, the reach of their activity by example of what is possible extends globally. We can learn from best practice wherever it is found.

The timing of the marathon was good for me. I was wanting to reconcile my disappointing performance (in my eyes) during the 10 City Bridge Run with a subsequent run, and the launch of the Design Forum would occur around that time. Additionally, there was some crossover with the focus on the 9 City Bridge Run, and additionally I felt there was still more I could do with what I had learnt from that experience on the issue of depression and suicide.

I am also drawn to a big idea which Clay Shirky who is a favourite thinker and author of mine expressed called ‘cognitive surplus’. You can see a video from Clay Shirky on the home page to the 10 City Bridge Run site where he talks about collaboration and the role of institutions. Cognitive surplus argues that as a collective community, we have a capacity of social capital and intellectual rigour that could be applied to worthy projects rather than just watching TV. I believe that the issue of cognitive surplus is at the root of addressing this issue of child survival, and I also believe it is key to addressing mental health and a sense of purpose among veterans after they transition from the military. Additionally, I believe there is unexplored potential to examine the benefits that the veteran community might bring to issues that tackle extreme poverty, such as child survival. These are hunches and need to be teased out more.

Not that I need a watertight reason for every single decision I make in my personal life, but consequently I decided to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting The Mission Continues.

The marathon gives me a very real deadline, and also the challenge of how am I going to make that work. (To date, I still have had no luck with the magic carpet, and will need to work out how to afford this travel yet). It provides a good framing timeline around which to orient the publication of the book Beyond The Backswing, as well as to announce how the Design Forum will unfold. In short, I see these things occurring on 24 October in Seoul marking UN Day. If you want more clarity, please leave a comment and I can answer your questions.

While I was in New York in July this year, I was hoping to have completed the manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing. It took longer than I anticipated, and resulted in me heading out to Newark where I had spent a fair amount of time about 10 years ago while I was hanging out with some friends who were working in that city. I figured it would be cheaper to stay in Newark than New York, and might also be a place with less distractions.

Unexpectedly, I befriended a number of locals who sewed an idea for how the book Life Bridge might be curated. I am still giving this some thought, but I believe it will work, and is also timely following the conclusion of the Marine Corps Marathon.

As a consequence, I hope to achieve my objectives for the 10 City Bridge Run and also bring some important discussion to this troubling issue of veterans health. This blog post is only an overview rather than a detailed plan, but if you would like to know more, please leave a comment.

I value your feedback, and hope you might leave a comment to say what you thought about this update as well as the proposed journey ahead. Of course, if you want to know how to get more involved, I would also like to hear from you. img_7196

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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.

Checking In

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IMG_4100It’s been a while. It’s been a while since I last posted. I didn’t check, but maybe it was back in February when I last posted. That’s a while between then and now. But since then, I have been thinking a lot about you, our supporters, and also our mission here which is to ask a question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?”

And it’s also been a while since I first put this idea out there on this website back in 2010. I remember that day well. It was in August, and my friend Kelley was visiting from the US. She patiently sat and listened while I explained my doubts, and after I had finished talking she told me bluntly in her best Bostonian-New York style to just do it already.

Many of you will know how the journey has progressed. I commenced a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries last September in Port Moresby and then finished the running in New York in early January this year on a cold, dark and wet night. That stunt frames the question we are going to be asking in order to help improve child survival through a series of Design Forum.

There are still a lot of uncertainties as to how the future will play out, but we are forming a good foundation to engage on this question. The hard work comes now: it is ahead of us, and I want you to be part of that journey. How that will play itself out, as well as an explanation for my recent delay, will follow in the coming days and weeks, but for now I have posted a video to check in with our supporters and let you know we are still well and truly in the game.

The video was in Luoyang, Henan Province in China. I refreshed while away, and am coming back stronger. Thanks for being part of the team. Let’s get to work.

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!

On Becoming An Artist, Part 2

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“Order To Disorder” by Matthew Courtney

“All it takes to become an artist is to start doing art.” 

With these understated and at the same time profound words, my friend Dr Ellen Langer began her 2005 book ‘On Becoming An Artist”. It is an instructive and inspiring book I have read through cover to cover about four or five times now. Dog-eared and underscored, this book provides a reflective conversation that lives up to its subtitle: “Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity.”

I first met Ellen in Toronto back in 2007 when attending a conference at Rotman Business School. Roger Martin who I knew from attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship had invited me to participate in a conference he was convening about thinking. I knew there were great thinkers in Toronto before I arrived for that conference, but it was when I was attending I saw how alive that city is with fresh thinking, design and creativity. It was for that reason I decided to run there during the 10 City Bridge Run, and especially why it will be included as part of the Design Forums that will follow later this year.

Ellen is a big thinker, but not your usual academic or thought leader. She is an elegant woman who would seem to be more at home at Largerfield’s next Chanel showing in Paris, but she is just at home with big ideas and the opportunity to ask you to stretch your mind more. I was fortunate to spend time with her again in Melbourne in 2011 at the Australian Davos Connection ‘Future Summit’ which I am alumnus to.

She is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and is qualified to speak on matters concerning the mind. The book is a case study of her own experience from picking up paint brushes through Untaught Art and becoming an artist. She uses the writing to paint metaphorically a discussion beyond her earlier writing about how rampant and costly living a life mindlessly can be, to address how mindful creativity enriches and enhances your life.

Re-reading the book now, I find at this is our intention as we set about the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We will together tap into a process of engagement that will enrich our own lives, and through doing so we will be helping to literally save the lives of millions of people over the coming decades as part of a broader collective effort.

The photo is from a friend in New York, Matthew Courtney. He too is an artist with a colourful past I know little about. He lives in Brooklyn, and travels into SoHo to sell painting and drawings he has made. Most people are too busy to stop and look or to talk. Much like existing conversations that sometimes overlook dysfunction in making change happen in child survival, Matthew experiences a phenomenon that Ellen writes about observing people and critics flocking to “official art” with excessive emphasis on evaluation. Ellen writes:

“People don’t give up their current preferences or ideas easily.”

These are big ideas Ellen is playing with. It is not suggesting you throw away your bible, figuratively or literally, and I for one would encourage you to hold onto your values and beliefs. But importantly, learn to look anew, see with fresh eyes, and think again. This is the process we will embrace during the Design Forum. Please join us on this journey!

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.