End of Poverty

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.


12 Steps For Practical Problem Solving

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Cover of "Out of Poverty: What Works When...

Did you ever read the book from Paul Polak: ‘Out of Poverty: what works when traditional approaches fail’? It is a great reference book, and practical.

Paul Polak has worked addressing the needs of those most in poverty for over three decades, and has made a significant impact.

This video shows Paul describing 12 steps for practical problem solving.

Take some time to watch it. It will be worth it.

Don’t forget the Americans! 1985

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USA for Africa
It's true we'll make a better day, just you and me

…and then there was USA for Africa.

The refrain actually makes sense: “It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me“. This is perhaps the sentiment at the core of the 10 City Bridge Run. Joining together, the many thousands, even millions of you’s and me’s in the world can really make a difference. The question is of course, will we?

After Band Aid for 1984 and USA for Africa, did anything change? I think to say ‘no’ would be to miss the point. Sure, it wasn’t a silver bullet…but did anyone actually think that would be the case? In 2000 the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to by world leaders at a meeting with the United Nations. I don’t believe that achievement would have occurred if the profile from 1984 and beyond hadn’t have taken centre stage.

The sales from both albums showed the incredible interest in this issue, even if cursory.


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Macquarie Park Ticket Hall
Macquarie Park Ticket Hall

I was speaking with my friend last night, Armen, who lives in a part of Sydney known for its relative poverty. The area around Macquarie Park has changed radically over the last 11 years. Now there is a train line nearby, and with the university and shopping centre a short walk away you would hardly think it was once among the worst areas for crime and social neglect.

We spoke about poverty for some time, and about how complex this issue is to understand. Armen made a distinction between a physical poverty and spiritual poverty, and how this is sometimes overlooked. People can see the obvious signs of physical poverty so clearly.

Does this distinction matter when the physical needs of extreme poverty are so profound?

Counting down (to 2015)

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Millennium Development Goals
Millennium Development Goals

Check out the link to the Countdown to 2015 initiative I received sent through from my mate Stephen Mayers here in Sydney.

Another example of some of the great work and focus people are bringing to the urgency required to address the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

A summary might be that there are many reasons to be optimistic about progress toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, however the progress has been unevenly distributed. It is time to seriously focus on a countdown toward the time horizon set to achieve these goals of 2015.

Take some time to click through this site and watch the embedded video. What is your response?

Inspiration…why do this to yourself?!

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Percentage of world population in extreme pove...
Percentage of world population in extreme poverty as defined by the World Bank (income of less than US$1.25 per day)

What has most shaped me to want to commit to the 10 City Bridge Run?

The idea for the 10 City Bridge Run was thought of and developed by myself (Matt Jones). My experience running a similar event called the 9 City Bridge Run last year left me with a sense of responsibility from the lessons I learnt to do something meaningful with that knowledge in 2010 which over time emerged into the 10 City Bridge Run.

My outlook in relation to this project has been largely influenced by my experience through my previous extensive service as an Australian Army Officer. This is broad and includes encounters with ‘unseen’ neglected and dilapidated Indigenous communities in Central Australia during the late 1980‘s, and later deployment on Active Service in East Timor seeing the often wasted efforts of a number of inefficient charity projects aside good examples of well run government and charity interventions.

Additionally later responsibilities as Desk Officer standing up and managing Australian Army response to the 2004 Aceh Tsunami relief effort showed the incredible power of media and the ‘fund raising industry’ to reap focused attention and financial contributions globally. The level of accountability following such efforts is often overlooked, along with less glamorous, unaddressed, longer-term, systemic issues which fail to have the capacity to ‘sell’ themselves. In these circumstances I witnessed the awesome efficiency by which the corporate machine is able to mobilise brand, but sadly often with disturbingly very little real impact on the ground to boast about other than a handful of photographs and well conducted fund raising efforts.

While this might seem overly critical, having worked in support of the United Nations in different capacities while serving in the Army I am concerned about the likely outcome of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) due to be reported on in 2015.

Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty paints a picture where the eradication of extreme poverty might be possible to achieve by 2025, which is to some degree based on the successful achievement of the MDG in 2015.

Can we be sure that the necessary attention can be maintained by countries and institutions to achieve this? The influence of the global financial crisis is likely to be disruptive, and the outcome of Copenhagen last year was not a promising indicator.

Meanwhile, every day children continue to suffer and die as a result of the conditions of extreme poverty they are borne into. What can we do to change this?

Is giving more money enough? Should we start up more ‘not for profit’ organisations with a focus to eradicate poverty? Should we turn our backs on the situation? What will it take to move action forward on the MDG? Will a conference of leaders in New York this September cut it?

I recently conducted in person an informal survey of contacts I met across five countries between March and May this year. I was surprised that most people had never heard of these MDG. Even so, every person I spoke with was fully engaged when presented with the statistics on child mortality.

I contend that action needs to come from the global community, with people acting as bridge builders. What might this look like? I am not sure, but through the 10 City Bridge Run I intend to stimulate discussion to identify a crowd-sourced list of 10 actionable items that people can engage in to make a difference. Is this naive? Possibly, but nothing ventured, nothing changed. Two-thirds into the first time period for reporting on the MDG, progress is slow and maybe falling short. Maybe it is naive not to try all options which we are presented with, regardless how facile they might seem.

The significant output from the 10 City Bridge Run will be a book published featuring the photos of 24,000 ‘bridge builders’- people who are building a bridge between themselves and another- which will be presented to the G20 leadership as a pictorial petition.

Maybe you have a different view. Go ahead and prove me wrong, or give me a better option. I start running in 19 days.

Fundraising…the answer? More aid?

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A glossy brochure, a high rate of fundraising, a slick looking five-year strategic plan and vision/mission statement.

Is this the answer to eradicating extreme poverty?

I contend that the greatest poverty of our time is poverty of spirit, and that if we can address that in ourselves and across our communities, much of what we need to do might become more evident.

Dan Pallotta has an interesting perspective in this regard. I discussed this with him briefly at the Social Capital Markets Conference in 2009 held in San Francisco. His current writing is bold to say the least. I am not saying I agree with everything he writes; in fact I don’t. But engaging in discussion around this issue is important…Time is short, and we must be sure to match words with action along with a great sense of urgency.

Building marketing potential? More aid? Increased effectiveness/efficiency in fundraising?

What do you think is important and needed to make change happen?