Last 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.
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!
- Glimmer: how design can transform your business, your life, and maybe even the world, Warren Berger, Random House Nosiness Books, 2009
- Reframe: how to solve the world’s trickiest problems, Eric Knight, Black Inc, 2012
- On Becoming An Artist: reinventing yourself through mindful creativity, Ellen J. Langer, Ballantine Books, 2005
- The End Of Poverty: how we can make it happen in our lifetime, Jeffrey Sachs (forward by Bono), Penguin Books, 2005
- The Imaginations Of Unreasonable Men: inspiration, vision, and purpose in the quest to end malaria, Bill Shore, Public Affairs, 2010
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!
During 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.
“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.
“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.
A lot has been written about the dispersement and efficacy of aid given towards addressing situations of extreme poverty. Some argue for it from a pragmatic analysis, like Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty. Some argue for more of it from an ethical perspective, like Peter Singer does in his book The Life You Can Save. Some argue for a radical review of the current situation from a critical process of inquiry, like Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa.
Either way you look at it, and you ought to look at it and have an opinion about this issue, a lot of money has been spent, and a lot of money will be spent in the future yet to come. Jeffrey Sachs provides a good overview of how little people live on ‘per day’ if such a calculation was to be defined, with this percentage of the Earth’s population defined as “The Bottom Billion”, because they exist on a bottom rung of income of slightly more than US$1 per day. This line of the economic pyramid, is also defined as people who live at The Bottom of The Pyramid, otherwise referred to as “living below the line”.
“Is more aid or money the answer to extreme poverty?” is reasonably and often among the first questions argued, explored or defended. That is an important question, but this post is not about that.
This post is about the distractions we have in our relatively safe and comfortable lives that take us away from addressing the ugliness of suffering that some people experience. It is reasonable to ask “should we care and is this our problem?” All the same, the power of the media is well documented for its ability to take and hold our attention. Often these issues where our attention is distracted to is very important: the global financial crisis, the failed negotiations in the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen last year, and more recently in Australia a hung parliament where the election held two weeks ago remains stalemated.
Last week I read more about a sexual harassment case that opened in Australia where a $37 million claim for damages was being contested. That is a lot of money, and before the case went to court an offer to settle was made of slightly less than $1 million which was rejected.
As a White Ribbon Foundation Ambassador this year campaigning for the end of violence against women, I take the issue of sexual harassment seriously. In this instance, I question the relative merits of the claim, and the precedence this might set for other claims of a similar nature.
Can we pursue the eradication of extreme poverty in our generation, and at the same time accommodate the values of greed that are so prevalent in our community?