Design Forum: what is it, and why does it matter?

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The first step. This is what I saw when I looked down at the start point of the second leg of the 10 City Bridge Run on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 20 and a bit laps later I would complete the 24 km and prepare to move on to Singapore.

I’m on an epic journey. It is a quest. But it is not about me. It is about us. Together.

This is about you, not me.

Only you can say that we are on this journey together. It is your decision, not mine. I’ll write more about what that journey is shortly, but first let me explain why the decision you make is important.

This is a quest.

This is a quest to make a difference. Quests come in all shapes and sizes. This one is to improve the delivery of child survival.

This is about child survival.

So let’s begin there. I have loosely defined child survival as enabling children to flourish past their fifth birthday. Not just live, because I don’t think that is enough, even though we seldom stop to think twice about the opportunities that life brings us. If you are reading this, you really are one of the fortunate on this one earth we all enjoy. You can read which means you have had the privilege of education, and you have access to a computer, which means you have access to electricity. If you have access to education, technology (a computer), and infrastructure (electricity), it probably suggests you enjoy a wide range of other benefits that a majority of the human race can only dream about. Yes really, everyone else is not just like you. You are special.

This is about building bridges.

My good mate Scott O’Brien has an idea he is working on to connect the top billion with the bottom billion on the planet. It is the ultimate bold endeavour in building bridges. There has been a lot of interplay in the ideas he and I share. And I really enjoy the challenge and inspiration that comes from hearing near ideas or having my old ideas questioned. That is how we find new horizons. It is how we make progress collectively, and it is how we grow individually.

This is about philanthropy.

My question to you is what will you do with the privileged status you have inherited. Yes, there may well be every reason to complain: job security, relationship issues, too little money, health is not where it should be, stressed to the max, and maybe even your latte arrived cold. Those are real issues. Even the latte. But compared with others, you are fortunate and special. Philanthropy is described as having a concern for human welfare, and mostly this definition is associated with giving away money. But here I want to challenge that definition. What about if we consider other resources we enjoy that we can draw upon to use to good effect to benefit human welfare? True philanthropy. Using your time, your talents, your networks, your imagination. Connecting with others so as to help address someone else’s problem in the interest of their welfare is a selfless act of generosity. It is also shown to be the best, fastest, and most reliable way to obtain a sustainable state of happiness. That is, happiness comes from working toward the betterment of others. And don’t worry, the way the world work, these things come back you you in spades. To paraphrase Churchill: “it is by giving that we get.”

This is about making a difference.

UNICEF calculate that every day more than 16,000 children under the age of five die. That figure is called child mortality. Most of those deaths occur within the first 24 hours of life. Many of these deaths are preventable. So why don’t we just prevent them? Can it be that hard? Bill and Melinda Gates have used their recent Annual Letter as a stunt to bet that this figure will fall below 8,000 in the next 15 years. That is good news and would represent the fastest rate of benefit to humanity in history. But this won’t just happen on its own. Yes, significant progress has been made across the last 10 years especially, but let’s not leave change to chance. Innovation comes about through intervention. We need to act to bring about this difference. Returning to the point about philanthropy, this is about more than just giving money. Some of us don’t have money to give. The most valuable contribution any of us can make is through the collective genius of our shared imaginations. Are you going to hold back on us?

This is about us.

This is getting to the part that I said I would come back to. This is where you need to make a decision. I am no longer on this journey alone. Together, a larger community has formed, and we are now ‘us’. The question is, are you coming with us on this journey. Many reading this post know they are. It is easy to get involved if you haven’t done so already. You just have to make a decision to join us, to make a difference together.

This is about a journey.

This is about the 10 City Bridge Run. An idea hatched by myself in 2010 to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to address an important question asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” It took a while to commence this journey, and it was far from easy. I began running in Port Moresby on 16 September last year and concluded the running late on a dark, wet and cold night in New York on 3 January this year. But the running was merely the device to get us to the beginning of this epic journey. This journey is actually marked by a series of Design Forums that will be held in all of the 10 cities where running took place as a way of addressing this question about improving the delivery of child survival. You can join at any time. You don’t need to come with us every step of the way. That is the advantage of the ‘us’. We share the labour. We call all reach the destination, and no matter the effort you could contribute, we can all say with much satisfaction “we did this together!”

This is about Design.

We are going to use a method called Design Thinking to address this question about improving child survival. Come as you are, you don’t need special qualifications. We will draw upon the wisdom of the crowd for knowledge. We need your imagination to help us in the process of designing a better future for many.

What does this look like? Read the posts which follows (and a link will be added shortly), to talk about what is involved. There is no cost. You don’t need to travel. You can do it within whatever constraints you currently have. But first you need to decide. You can watch and observe, but why not participate?

We need you to bring whatever magic that makes you special to the table. You are more than enough just as you are. Let’s see what alchemy we can create when we literally put our minds together.

Please join us on this epic quest as we prepare to embark on the Design Forum so at the end of the journey we can all look back with satisfaction at what we have achieved and say: “we did this together!”


Super-Rich Are Appalling!

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dick smith
Dick Smith

Has the GFC made rich people mean and stingy? So says Dick Smith…Is his argument reasonable? What do you think: Should the rich give more money because there are people living in extreme poverty?

Here is what Dick Smith had to say:

What’s disgusting is there are some incredibly wealthy people around, people who are billionaires, people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars – for some reason they don’t give anything. The press release I sent out mentions how our wealthy are appalling and greedy. And that’s pretty right.

Because rich people in America donate more money than the Australian wealthy (according to Dick Smith), should rich Australians give more? Read the article from the Sydney Morning Herald here.

I think perhaps we should first deconstruct the use of the some of these words and expressions used: “incredibly wealthy people”, “people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars”, “wealthy”. What do these expressions mean for you? How do we give value to people in our community?

It is true that the people he is talking about have a lot of money. I consider that I posses a great treasure which makes me ‘rich’, but I can tell you I don’t have anywhere near millions. I don’t measure my value, my worth, by how much money I have. Neither do I judge another in the same way. Our treasure should not be defined by how much money we have. If we are calling someone worth well over a hundred million dollars, should we then consider someone with no money worthless?

Dick Smith argued also: “that good things come to those who donate. If they were giving their money away, it’s amazing what happens with karma. The right things would happen for them.” He said most of his wealthy mates were “miserable” and that for the past 15 years he had given away “well more than 20 per cent” of his own income.

So what should be the motivation of these rich people to give more money? Karma? To get good things because they give a lot of money? To avoid being miserable?

I would think none of those reasons are of themselves ‘charitable’. Those reasons are all self-interested, to gain what the giver might get from donating money. True philanthropy is about serving a love for humanity, not tax-relief. True charity is about serving the needs of the other above ourselves, not gaining kudos or happiness. Certainly giving has its own rewards which should be enjoyed, but these should not be the reason people give money.

The Reverend Bill Crews, who runs Sydney’s Exodus Foundation, which helps the poor and needy, said a $1 million donation would give 80 kids a new life. He said: “For them the whole world would change. What a lot of these wealthy people don’t see is that in giving you do change the world.” Bill Crews said that the GFC had reduced overall donations to charities.

While both Dick Smith and Bill Crews might have a point, we should neither confuse the true meaning of charity. Charity is a verb, not a noun. Charity is an action, not an organisation. Charity should definitely not be a club with which to manipulate rich people into giving more money. How charitable is that?!

The democratisation of philanthropy

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Peggy Bacon in mid-air backflip, Bondi Beach, ...
A new way of seeing

Katherine Fulton speaks from the heart in this inspiring TED Talk about re-perceiving philanthropy. I heard Katherine speak in San Francisco in 2008 and she was just as inspiring.

Is there “a wrong side of philanthropy?” Is it time to reinvent as the global philanthropy industry emerges?

Philanthropy is not just about money. It is also about time and talent. The democratisation of philanthropy is about what all of us will contribute to the future of philanthropy. We are all capable of making a contribution- how much money we have is immaterial. This is why I find the term “High Net Worth Individual” which is used by many large ‘philanthropic’ organisations so offensive.

Aggregated giving and mass collaboration will shape the future in philanthropy. What assumptions do we make presently that inhibits our ability for innovation?

This is not thinking our way into a new way of acting. Rather, it is acting our way into a new way of thinking.

Last night at the Sydney Opera House I was fortunate to hear David Suzuki speak about his recent work “Legacy” which was evidence of an emergence of a new moral hunger.

We stand at a new frontier to make a difference through our contributions. To reinvent what we understand of ‘philanthropy’ and ‘charity’ we need a new generation of citizen leaders to make this change. It is a question about hope.

What is the story that will be your legacy?

What is charity?

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When I mention what I am doing through the 10 City Bridge Run to many people, often the response is “are you doing that for charity?”

We have corrupted and confused the meaning of the word charity by have too much emphasis toward a consumer focus. We have confused the word (verb) charity for the description (noun) of ‘a charity’. But does this really matter?

I think it does. We have made ‘doing good’ a commodity. Philanthropy has become for many a means of finding reward and status. Brand and agency now define how we understand value and trust. I think that is all wrong.

Are these things right?

  • ‘Charities’ ambushing people on the street and signing them up onto monthly direct debit forms to their credit cards.
  • Corporate events seeking sponsorship to the right ‘charity’ because of the reputation gained.
  • Treating those who give larger sums of money with extra-special care because of their ‘philanthropy’.

What happened to the neighbourly culture of helping out your mate in Australia? The proverbial cup of sugar when it was asked. Helping out when someone is in need.

Where I live in Kings Cross there are many people who stop and ask you for ‘change’. Is the right thing just to give them what they ask- a few bucks- or is it more appropriate to ask how we can help them? All too often the stereotype (and often the reality) is that these people will just go and drink the money away, or worse score and shoot up. Surely if we really cared we would look to their needs beyond just throwing them a couple of coins so they were off our conscience.

I believe we need to be bridges to help those in need. We can’t meet everyones need, and neither will we want to all of the time. We have our own concerns to look to as well.

10 City Bridge Run presents a new approach to philanthropy. Philanthropy doesn’t mean ‘not-for-profit’. It means doing good in the interest of others.

In the 10 City Bridge Run sponsorship received supports the production of a book, “Above the Line” using a social enterprise business model. Proceeds enable the 10 City Bridge Run to occur and to meet the Six Outcomes. Sponsorship is received by Social Alchemy, a social business as defined by Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Muhammad Yunus. Please join us on the journey and become a sponsor.

This is a participative and altruistic initiative. It is charity in action.

Philanthropy at work

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City Union Railway Bridge
Image via Wikipedia

The 10 City Bridge Run is philanthropy at work.

Philanthropy doesn’t mean Not-For-Proft. It means doing good in the interests of others.

Please sponsor the book “Above the Line” for $24 and help make a difference to poverty in our world.

This will enable awareness to be raised, a petition to be present to the G20 Summit, and leverage to fund projects that address the two biggest killers of children globally. Diarrhoea (through water and sanitation) and malaria (through mosquito netting).

The 10 City Bridge Run is an initiative of Social Alchemy, a social business established in 2006.  It is cause-driven, otherwise defined as for-benefit and for-purpose. No profit made by the organisation is able to be distributed in the form of dividend.

The Double Bottom Line

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Check out this video circulating about social enterprise with a case study of D.Light Design.

Well articulated and presented.

Social Alchemy is a social business, also known as a social enterprise. But what is in a name? All too easy for people just to slap the label across their charity activity?

What does this mean for opportunities in the eradication of poverty, not just extreme poverty, but poverty in general? How can this also relate to the human dimension beyond physical need for everyone throughout the supply chain?

A silver bullet? Perhaps not, but definitely a step in the right direction.