Hans Rosling

Now, Not Later.

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Photo of Hans Rosling: Challenging people’s preconceived ideas (TED)

“If you could live forever, would you?” This is the opening question in an exchange between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King.

An interview between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King, shared by my friend Nat, and originally posted by an intriguing personality and photographer called Hicham Bennir.

“The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love, now, not later.” This statement was the reason for doing given by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He goes onto say that “the knowledge that I am going to die that creates the focus to being alive.”

Here is the interview here:

I thought those comments were poignant in the wake of hearing news that I listened to Hans Rosling had died.

I never met Hans in person. Maybe you have never heard of him until today. Hans was and remains an inspirational person who shaped my thinking on the journey that became the 10 City Bridge Run. Back in 2010, he wrote to me with these comments:

I wish you good luck Matt.
The seemingly impossible is indeed often possible, but be aware that the impossible is impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom to see the differance between the impossible and the seemingly impossible. We follow you with interest!
Hans Rosling (17 September 2010)

Those words from him were a source of great motivation. It was in the early days of this epic quest in which I had undertook to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities in 10 countries. The purpose of the running was to create a stunt that might allow a conversation to be opened. That conversation was to focus on a question asking: “How might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

In fact for the last few weeks, I have been meaning to get back into this blog, because this year I intend to finally convene these conversations which now have taken a broader view beyond just child survival to consider the larger issue of the Sustainable Development Goals. I had in the back of my mind the thought that I could report back to Hans with news of a completed journey after the conversation had been joined.

Now, it is not possible to share this news with Hans, but the conversation must still continue. Hans’ legacy will be seen in many different ways. The renewed motivation to pick up this challenge is but one small expression of that.

To recap, here are some thoughts from Hans:

Here is Hans speaking at a recent TED event with his son Ola.

We can’t afford to wait until “the right time” to do stuff. And more importantly, delaying is costly when it comes to a better world. We must act now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Hans.

I’m back with a fresh resolve, continuing this journey. It’s time to be the difference that makes a difference. Now, not later.

Let’s get to work.


Crossing the River of Myth

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The avuncular Hans Rosling was back recently staunchly arguing why child mortality is more readily overcome now than ever before. He shows that it is our dated perspective mistakenly informed through myth we cling to that which holds us back. We are closer to a solution than we think or know.

Let Hans tell the story himself below:

Running for a cause

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World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka - ...
World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka – Marathon winner Catherine Ndereba on her last 50 metres (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People run for many reasons. Among the most common reasons are: (1) because they can, (2) because of the feeling of freedom, (3) because they get to challenge themselves, and (4) just for the enjoyment of it all.

More recently, now at any road race or fun run you attend you will see that many people are also doing it to raise money. “It is for a good cause.” This has been an innovative money spinner for many not-for-profits, and why ought they not to benefit? It is a good thing.

Since 2010, I have been working on running for a cause. The running serves as a stunt to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

This is an important question because of the magnitude of child mortality alone. If the entire Australian cities of Sydney and Perth were completely wiped out this year, it would be a figure less than the number of children under the age of five who will die this year alone. That is just wrong. Worse, many of the deaths are from preventable disease.

The running is to raise awareness. It is not a ‘charity’ run in itself. It is seeking to create social impact by opening a conversation where best practice can be gathered and then shared, especially to the people where it matters most. Note that this is a difficult problem. A lot of people with money can fly to New York and have the same conversation, and a lot of good will come from that. My sense is that in some cases the problem remains unabated. This is my point: we need to improve our capacity for delivery.

What I am proposing is an enormous undertaking. So too is improving child survival. Maybe you might say it is unreasonable to try to tackle too much (which I contend to be possible). I say it is unreasonable to do nothing more than raise a few thousand dollars for charity. Because we have the capacity to do more, we must also act. We really are the privileged few…

The outcome is all important. Designing a ‘wellbeing-wiki’ to help those most in need to improve the delivery of child survival. A series in Design Forum in each city visited (along with gathering advice and information from around the world) will shape out capacity to find best practice, and determine how this is best shared. It is the running that opens this conversation. That is why in this case running is important. That is why in this case it is running for a cause.

There a three distances to be run:

  • 2.4 km: A highly participative run to engage groups in different locations running the same distance. This idea to involve collage students across the world came from a conversation from my running coach Bob Williams. While 100 people running 2.4 km in under 30 minutes illustrates that many people coming together can run the distance I will travel across 10 countries, there is a more meaningful symbolism here. ‘2.4’ is an approximation of the number of under-five deaths to be reduced before 2015 to meet the Millennium Development Goal. 2.4 million. The focus is to run this in mid-September from New York ahead of the United Nations General Assembly which is coincident with what I have called ‘Mortality Overshoot Day’: the date in 2013 when we as a global community exceed the number of child deaths aimed for in 2015.
  • 24 km: the 10 City Bridge Run is organised with 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km run in 10 cities across 10 countries. ’24’ relates to the mortality rate from 2008 which in 2010 (when this idea was hatched) was the cited figure for child mortality. The good news is that we are making progress. Hans Rosling, the avuncular statistician, has even demonstrated that it might be possible yet to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The 10 countries where the running will occur are among those where child mortality is at its worst, or where the capacity to leverage child survival is at its best.
  • Marathon (42 km): This is the reason for this blog. There are two wonderful women both called Zipporah in this story, both from Kenya. My Facebook friend Zipporah back when I first announced the countries to be run asked why didn’t I have more focus on Africa. That has since changed. The second Zipporah is a friend I met on the recent Commonwealth Study Conference. She was very insistent that I go to Kenya and invite runners from elsewhere in Africa and the world to join us there. I have been encouraged by other friends, such as John Thuo also from Kenya. During all of these conversations, what emerged was the idea of finishing the 10 City Bridge Run off with a full distance marathon in early March 2014. It is a way of celebrating: celebrating the completion of the 10 City Bridge Run journey, celebrating progress made in improving child survival, and the running community celebrating a sense of unity coming together to make a difference. It would have a proposed international entry. The question this blog seeks to have answered is whether it is desirable or necessary to run a full-length marathon? Wouldn’t it be less trouble and make more sense to complete the 10th leg as also a 24 km distance?

And yes, there are a lot of questions to which we don’t have answers.

There has been some excellent discussion and contribution, and the reason for this post is to put those questions on the table for everyone to talk about and pick apart. We want to hear your thoughts. Good ideas, bad ideas, trouble and problems. Also opportunities.

This is a little clunky because we are all around the world, but it is also part of the task we are on. Thanks to everyone for your views:  Warra Thahla Mpondo Ncipha, Victor Flores, Eduardo Antonio Marquez Vera, Robert Malseed, Korgoren Erick, Emma Tepha ,  Muthaura Purity, among others for your help. Here is a list of four questions- there are more, but this is a start:

  1. Is running a marathon in Kenya in March 2014 achievable? Noting the additional marshals, distance and logistics, would we be better to run a 24 km distance instead? It might make more sense to keep the 24 km distance: less stress on athletes who might be training for other races, less burden to organise. The only real advantage of keeping the marathon is that Kenya and other countries in Africa are well known for their runners across marathon distance. I think we could safely kill off the marathon, and still uphold the spotlight on African athletic reputation. Let’s come to a decision quickly!
  2. Where is the best city/village in Kenya and route to chose? This will obviously depend on the length. Again, 24 km makes all of the organisation much easier.
  3. If the run was across 24 km, it would be a ‘challenge’/’fun run’, but not a championship race as very few other runs cover this same distance. What are your thoughts as to the purpose?
  4. What prizes structure would be best to organise? This will impact on how sponsors are approached, and this will be affected by our relationship by organisation with Kenyan Athletics. Again, there are some first order questions to be addressed: distance, location and purpose. Once these are addressed, we can open a more meaningful conversation with sponsors and Kenyan Athletics.

So there is a lot of work to do. I just looked at the Marathon 2014 website and something caught my attention. I believe it speaks to the unequal distribution of focus which itself directly impacts our ability to understand what poverty is and its impact.

In 2014, there are zero marathons planned to be run in Kenya according to the site. I don’t know if this is correct, and I haven’t asked Toby Tanser about it. But it is interesting to note that in the US or UK or even Australia there are a wealth of marathons people can attend.

To end, one last comment. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. We are part of a global running community, and should all help each other. If there is an existing race that this can be part of, or if we can partner with someone to make this easier to organise, then let’s talk about how that is possible. There is a particular focus to what we want to achieve here, in improving the delivery of child survival globally. But let us be open to what each other has to say. Harambee!

Change your thinking: it is a matter of perspective

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Hans Rosling at TED
Hans Rosling at TED (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The avuncular Hans Rosling joins us again to explain where the focus on child mortality ought to be placed across the world’s 7 billion people, and whether tackling this issue will make a difference.

In his idiosyncratic way to craft a story that is as simple as it is engaging, he presents one of the most pressing and complex problems very clearly.

His message: Yes, there is hope for the future! We can make a difference in this lifetime to child mortality.

He does leave us with one request: change your thinking. Stop thinking about developed and developing countries, because it is unhelpful in focusing on those people where the real need is found.

Good message to reflect on next time you go to grab a coffee mug: we can make a difference.

Africa- A Difficult Place to Do Business

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Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...
Satellite image of Africa

Extreme poverty and business development strangely enough go hand-in-hand. Effective business development can help to replace the burden on aid, but it is by no means a silver bullet.

Writing in the Financial Times, Michael Keating last week provided a good reflection about perceptions. This picks up an idea which the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling speaks about often- that is, the term ‘developing country’ is less relevant now than it was in the past. More so, looking at continents are ‘developing’ or ‘developed’ is just plain inaccurate.

The explosive growth of commercial activity in Africa, both local and international, cannot hide the reality that the continent remains a difficult place to do business.

Africa tends to get a worse press than it deserves, much to its own business community’s frustration. No one talks about Asia as a homogenous block in business terms, lumping Myanmar in with Malaysia, or South Korea with Nepal. Africa is equally diverse. Business conditions vary widely among its 52 countries.

Understanding ‘the other’ is an important step towards the eradication of poverty from our world.

How much is enough? Are there no limits?

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Suzuki signing a copy of his works.
David Suzuki

There were the two big questions which David Suzuki led with when he spoke at the Sydney Opera House last night. Thanks to my dear friend Virginia for taking me along.

It was a talk called ‘Legacy’ based on the thesis of his present book. Actually, I have been profoundly shaped by Suzuki’s work. This whole journey (all of it, not just the 10 City Bridge Run) began after reading Suzuki’s book “Good News For A Change” while I was posted in Darwin during my time in the Army… It was good to come full circle and hear him talk in person.

He covered many themes skilfully woven together in a seamless talk. Population growth, our preoccupation with jobs, who we are as humans, economics, and why this matters to nature.

Suzuki challenged our idolisation of lifestyle through our worship of the market: Do we actually put the economy above human life? Have we missed the opportunity that was presented with the global financial crisis over the last three years?

Is the economy the source of everything we need?

In economic systems, unless money changes hands the transaction for something is thought to have no value. He uses the example of the environment and nature. In a similar way, this appeals to how I have been thinking about ‘developing countries’ and the 24,000 children who each day will die largely from preventable disease. All ‘externalities’.

We have enshrined economic growth as our highest priority. By itself, growth is nothing. It is not a definition of progress. It describes a cycle, not progress. Does all of this stuff make us happy?

We never ask the important questions, Suzuki lamented, returning to the questions that had framed his opening comments.

As a biologist, he observed that death resulted from things growing forever. As humans, we have defied our own limits to growth becoming the most populous mammalian species on earth (I haven’t checked this figure, can this be true?)

Death awaits us all. What are the meaningful things in life? What really makes a home? Suzuki told us a moving story about his father in the last month of his life which exemplified the importance of relationships. The things that matter most are not valued on the economic system.

His answer sounds a little abstract, but I think needs to be practiced rather than planned:

  • Slow down!
  • Get to know each other.
  • Re-imagine the future.
  • Dream of what is possible.

Small actions matter. I found inspiration in his distillation of why it is important to act, which I would summarise as “because we are human and part of creation”. Similarly it gives good rationale to why we should care to address extreme poverty: we are all human- caring for others and relationships are what make us human.

The same economic argument for the environment presented by Suzuki applies for extreme poverty. They are directly linked. High birth rates in ‘developing countries’ that come from high child mortality creates an unsustainable population.

Hans Rosling has made comments about this population explosion which Suzuki portrayed using the exponential growth of bacteria in a test-tube. The lifestyles we enjoy now will become untenable not because of our cities, but because of the effect and neglect this is having elsewhere.

We all have a choice. What will be our legacy. It actually does matter.

Black Africa

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Who are you?

Hans Rosling argues that the time has come to stop thinking of Sub-Saharan Africa as one place. They are such diverse countries.

If we are going to change our perspective on extreme poverty, maybe we should first get better fidelity on where the problems actually are, rather than massing it all together: ’22 of the world’s poorest countries are found in sub-Sarahan Africa’.

I am as guilty as the next person to have looked through this generalised view.

No need to throw the baby out with the bath-water. I think sub-Saharan Africa still has its utility as describing a geographic region. I guess we should be careful that it does not become as catch-all for all that we here.

Let’s start looking for the good as well as the bad.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara, or those African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara.

It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world.

Winning the war against child mortality

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The foundation's logo

The Loveable and Avuncular Hans Rosling returns to give another outstanding TED Talk about how we are winning the war against child mortality.

Hans is a brilliant communicator and makes the complex simple. This 15 minute is worth watch to move beyond theory and understand how progress has been made.

The Girl Effect: The Clock is Ticking

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My friend Tiffany sent me a wonderful link from The Girl Effect called The Clock is Ticking.

Watch it for yourself- it is its own explanation.

Tomorrow I will put focus on Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015 . Let’s see what the assessment is from the United Nations on MDG 3. So far the scorecard looking at MDG 1 and 2 is not good for a complete successful achievement of the MDG.

This is why a focus on child mortality and women is so important. So many other factors are woven into the same solution. Hans Rosling explains this indirectly in this TED video in an earlier blog I recorded here.

The most productive 50 million ways to influence extreme poverty are primed ready to be enlisted in the fight. It is a resource and an opportunity that won’t stand still- it sits on a knife edge of time to be saved or exploited by the environment. Is there anything we can do to influence this situation?


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Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke


Hans Rosling, the intellectual heavyweight and Professor of Global Health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, wrote a really encouraging comment a few weeks ago on this blog. I thought I would share it here:

I wish you good luck Matt.
The seemingly impossible is indeed often possible, but be aware that the impossible is impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom to see the difference between the impossible and the seemingly impossible. We follow you with interest!
Hans Rosling

All too often, statements have been made then expectations failed about what was thought as possible. Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1987 famously stated that

“…by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty”

This has not been achieved, especially on many remote Indigenous communities. This comment should not be used for cheap political point scoring or neither used to judge the performance of Mr Hawke. In 2007 he claimed it was among his biggest regrets in his political life.

We should take Hans’ caution seriously. Do we have the wisdom to discern what is in fact impossible? And how do we then navigate the path forward past failed expectations?

Already, many of the Millennium Development Goals appear to be closer to impossible than possible. “Hope dims for universal education by 2015”. Can we arrest child mortality as one target to achieve?

Should we prepare ourselves now for a more realistic outcome in 2015? Is there more we can all do to change the situation in some small way? The disappointment at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2009 was significant. A different issue to extreme poverty. How will we respond when the Millennium Development Goals are accounted for in 2015?

What is impossible?