Thursday, August 31, 2006

What a great week!

Wow! It's great when stuff just clicks.

First, a bit of background. As you can see on my profile, running is one of my interests. I'm not as passionate about it as some; nevertheless, in the last two and half years I've run 3 marathons and 2 half marathons, and I'm currently signed up for one of each. I run more as a tool for fitness (blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, all that) than for pure love of the activity. Still, I must admit that I like running more than, say, riding a stationary bicycle.

I mention this because I want to make an analogy. Lots of the time when I'm training, it's very routine. It's not bad, but it's nothing to write home about either. Just another day. The same is true about working toward the better world, whether it's blogging or wiki work or reading a book or surfing various relevant web content. Lots of times it's pleasant but not truly thrilling.

And then there are other times, both when running and when working toward my new mission, where it really IS thrilling, and both happened this week! On Sunday morning (having partied at Truls' 40th b-day party on Saturday night), I got up about 5:50 in order to join some friends (I was invited by Juls) at a hilly local running spot. Not usually the recipe for a great workout, but this particular Sunday I was in a different place and had one of my best runs of the past year. Just gotta love that!

Then on Wednesday morning my wife, Nilofer, and I got together for coffee with a woman (we'll call her "Della", just because that's her name) that I had heard was on a mission somewhat parallel to mine. Well, I don't know about you, but sometimes those connections just don't quite work. This time, however, it really did! Della is co-founder and president of the nascent Institute for Infinite Peace, which is current a stealth-mode non-profit start-up. (That combination of hyphenations is meant to be wryly oxymoronic.) The Institute will be stepping out in the next few months, but if you look for a website at this very moment you will come up empty. Hold that thought for a month or two, and you'll get a different answer. Probably get an update here, for that matter, so I know you're going to watch this page. Right?

Once I got a sense for our resonance, poor Della had to endure the pent up gushings and ramblings I had been unconsciously tucking away for several weeks (months?). The good news is that Della is extremely gracious and tolerated my exuberance with good humor. Even better news is that there are probably some real opportunities for collaboration. We are both very much optimists, and will tend to see possibilities everywhere, but I bet a nickel that the possiblities in this case are more than illusions.

Coming directly out of this very auspicious (pardon my unbearable wiki-ness of being) beginning, Della connected me to my (wait for it...) doppelwiki! It turns out that the Alliance for a New Humanity has also had the (truly inspired) notion that a wiki could be the ideal tool for connecting and informing well intentioned world changers! Theirs is called (shocking!) ANHwiki (Ed note: sure I'm biased, but I think WinWinWiki has a weensie edge in coolness of moniker. But what do you think? To vote for your favorite, dial...)

Sorry..., kind of lost it there in "link land". So I went to to ANHwiki and had me a look-see. Turns out they have some need for wiki maintenance folks; I have some desire for some web visibility. I think there's some real potential for a joint effort! That is to say, as far as I'm concerned, there's a great opportunity! Could be that's just me, though (after all, I'm a known optimist), so we'll need to wait and see whether ANH sees it in a similar light. I've dropped them a note. Keep your fingers crossed! Could be a win-win, and wouldn't that be perfect?

So, as you can perhaps tell from my subtly (uh-huh) lighthearted tone, I've been experiencing a slight "pinch-me" feeling all week. If this is what comes from pursuing one's passion, I have to say, I recommend it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Culture of Peace v. Millenium Development Goals

No, this isn't a remake of Godzilla v. Mothra or the latest Grisham novel. This is a glance at two huge initiatives, both now under the auspices of the UN, though they got there by different paths. The Culture of Peace (there are several apparently authoritative sites, and I've just chosen one) was spawned within UNESCO (though I'm sure the initiative had deeper origins). The Millenium Development Goals originated in other (non-UN) international organizations.

Take a look at how the two large initiatives are broken down:
The Culture of Peace has these eight goals:
  1. Foster a culture of peace through education
  2. Promote sustainable economic and social development
  3. Promote respect for human rights
  4. Ensure equality between men and women
  5. Foster democratic participation
  6. Advance understanding, tolerance and solidarity
  7. Support participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge
  8. Promote international peace and security
The Millenium Development Goals (MDG) are made up of this set of eight:
  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote Gender Equality and empower women
  4. Reduce Child Mortality
  5. Improve Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other Diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Is that cool, or what? (I'll give you a hint: it's cool!)

It's cool because, difficult as these two big initiatives are, they have a lot of overlap, so it's not like we would necessarily have to choose between them. And certainly it's not like they conflict with each other (that would NOT be cool!).

And just to cheer you up even more (no, you're not dreaming), our pals Bill and Warren have working hard toward #6 on the MDG hit parade. (I told Bill he was doing a good job with his foundation when I bumped into him in July. He said "thanks".)

I just thought you'd like to hear some good news for a change.

And, yes, this all somehow plays into the whole wiki thing.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

It's growing!

I'm in the middle of reading Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach to my 3-year-old son. That peach gets big really fast! And that's also what's happening with WinWinWiki! The one page wiki has become a 20 or 30 pager. Give it a look and add an idea! If it's easier for you to post a comment here, by all means choose that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

WinWinWiki Groundbreaking!

Well, even though my posting has not been as daily as I'd like, it's likely to get even more spotty. Why? Cuz I'm going to be baby sitting a new baby! I've just started WinWinWiki as a mini wiki at the Wikia scratchpad. As you will see, the wiki is not even a full single page yet, but all journeys begin with a single step, and I did not want to delay in getting the community involved.

So, please join in and get your hands dirty!

Somehow my metaphors are getting mixed. But I'm sure you understand :-)

Please add the WinWinWiki to your favorite links, and drop by regularly to add a paragraph or page. Or, if you want to provide some guidance, come back here and post a comment.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Building a Better World, the Wiki Way

Recently, in my Elevator Pitch, I talked about creating a webified version of "Building a Better World for Dummies" (again with apologies to Wiley & Sons), a book which does not (yet) exist. More recently I wrote about foundations for peace. How do those tie together? Glad you asked!

As I mention in my profile, I've reached a point where I'm ready to start working hands-on (in addition to donations) for progress toward a better world. I'm particularly attracted toward making a difference internationally, and yet I'm not currently in position to do my best Paul Farmer imitation and jet off to other countries and get my hands dirty. But I'm convinced that I can make a difference, if I can just figure out how. After all, I seem to make a difference in global climate change, right? I make a difference in the US trade deficit, too. These are unconscious, or at least unintended, impacts. I'd like to adjust my behaviors in small and big ways to have a more intentional impact. What if I buy coffee from a different country? Should I buy shirts made from imported cotton? Wine from Chile? Boycott something? Eco-tourism? Why would these things be good or bad? Do I believe in the reasoning behind the action? In addition to lifestyle tweaks, I want to do small direct projects as well.

So I started working the net trying to find something to engage with, and man what a lot of work that was! (Ever googled "world peace"?) I've found tons of sites, and some are quite intriguing to me. Still, the most interesting ones (like this one to help provide clean water in third world countries) are impractical for me. (Basically, I really want to go and do things in third world countries, but I just can't right now.)

In my searching, I realized that I often don't understand the impact of a particular recommended action. In other cases, I'm given a high level idea, but can't see how to translate it into action. In some cases, there are ideas that I just know have been worked out before, but no real guidance is provided. In other cases, I'd like to figure out how to some how connect with others in my local geography who have similar interests. You know, "enter zip code" kind of thing.

Somewhere during this searching process, scattered randomly across weeks or months, I naturally bought books on Amazon, and read various product reviews, and book lists, etc. I also searched for running events in various geographies and timeframes. And I studied various things in Wikipedia, a truly amazing collaborative effort. A glance just now shows that 1,300,000 articles are now included in English alone, essentially all written by volunteers since January 2001. The site infrastructure is maintained by a (relatively) tiny staff. Anyone can edit an article; a "neutral point of view" is always the goal, and there are ways of arbitrating disputes about such things. Just an amazing example of a Tipping Point in terms of technology (wiki), infrastructure, and willing people, including a lot of experts in their fields.

So of course I've walked you down my garden path and you can see where I'm headed. I want a combination of a Wiki that allows everyone to join in and work on articulating what they think would be a way to make the world better. I'd like to see a top down structure that starts very big (World Peace) and carves up the problem in various dimensions. Sequential dependencies (we need this before that), and levels of responsibilities (this will need to be handled by bureaucrats, this can be done by corporations, that can be done by individual citizens). Etc, etc.

When I wrote about foundations for peace, I recognized that many of the areas (building understanding, opening lines of communication, peace education) can readily be translated into actions I and other individuals can take right away, if we can get access to guidance from willing experts.

The "Build a Better World Wiki" (let me know if you've got a cooler name) will help us dig right down to specific actions. For example, it can include a sample outline for a presentation on building peace to present at a place of worship, or a community center. It can be a repository for expertise on providing clean water to 3rd world villages. It can include links to organizations that engage in the work you want to do. Indeed, I see links as a key piece of this wiki, since a lot of good work has already been done by numerous organizations. What's missing is a centralized inclusive "clearinghouse" that can be maintained by the community, which will allow it to be kept authoritative and up to date.

Inclusivity is a key point. The biggest and best known wiki, Wikipedia, strives for a Neutral Point of View (NPOV). This aspect of Wikipedia is a critical factor in making it a credible reference, but there are other options, such as including multiple points of view, as pointed out in this Wikia page. Different volunteers may have differing opinions about various issues (e.g. distribution of condoms), and a good clearinghouse can support multiple views and enable volunteers to understand and connect with those efforts that they align with.

I'm not sure if it's a formal pre-requisite for a wiki, but it seems a good idea to develop some first-pass policies and guidelines, such as what content belongs in the wiki, and what doesn't. I'll post on that (please send suggestions!), then I'll take a swing at a proto-wiki (you know I like prototypes) and you all can join the party! After all, a viable wiki requires a fair-sized community of participants to fly (as mentioned in the Wikia page above).

Related to that, it's time to make some noise about this idea. I'm going to start following the recommendations of the Blogger help page. I surely appreciate recommendations and support from you as well!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rolling Up Our Sleeves on Peace

In my recently posted Elevator Pitch, I mentioned the idea of a wiki to build a framework of articulated thoughts that I believe would be useful in aligning and motivating interested parties, and helping to lead toward coordinated action. To give you a taste of what I had in mind, I've captured the following 8 foundations for peace. These come from David Adams' site, Toward a Global Culture of Peace. David Adams was a key director at UNESCO, so as you might expect, other UNESCO references include substantially similar lists.

  • understanding, tolerance & solidarity, instead of enemy images
  • disarmament, universal & verifiable, instead of armaments
  • democratic participation, instead of authoritarian governance
  • the free flow & sharing of information, instead of secrecy and propaganda
  • dialogue, negotiation, rule of law, active non-violence, instead of violence
  • equality of women, instead of male domination
  • education for peace, instead of education for war
  • economies of peace with equitable, sustainable development, instead of exploitation of the weak and of the environment

This is an excellent list. I want to live in a world like that. On David's site, he mentions that this list may seem Utopian. It can certainly seem very challenging. Nevertheless, I approach with a practical mind and say, okay, is there a way to break these down, prioritize them, sequence them, etc, so that the list seems more manageable? My approach here is partly Project Manager, partly comparative history. I want to figure out what to tackle first, try to figure out inter-dependencies of the items, etc.

Item 1: Understanding, tolerance & solidarity, instead of enemy images

Certainly understanding and tolerance are required at some level to allow coexistence. The two seem "co-dependent"; understanding supports the development of tolerance, and tolerance is an aid to understanding (intolerance is an obstacle to understanding). Solidarity seems pretty important for enduring peace, but it also seems like quite a reach for parties in conflict. So, start with tolerance and understanding and build toward solidarity over time.

Item 2: Disarmament, universal & verifiable, instead of armaments

Disarmament seems similar to "solidarity" above. Hard to achieve in the immediate aftermath of conflict. In addition, I think there are nations with arms are "relatively" peaceful. (Here's where the wiki could come in very handy as experts could chime in.) Also, many ordinarily peaceful objects can be used as weapons (such as commercial airliners). So it seems to me that this is a secondary or tertiary step that can also be deconstructed into separate stages. That is, first achieve a situation of at least short-term stable non-violence, then work to reduce the WMDs and attack-oriented ("offensive") weapons, then eliminate them. If there are such things as a purely defensive weapons (would they be called weapons?), potentially they would not need to be eliminated. Weapons reductions programs have made progress in the past, and they can be successful in the future, though some other items here are probably prerequisites to successful disarmament.

Item 3: Democratic participation, instead of authoritarian governance

Maybe I'm biased, but I'll agree that democracy is a key part of a culture of peace. Questions: do we mean "true democracy" or is "Potemkin democracy" enough? Multiparty elections with freedom of expression? Is Russia a democracy today? Good wiki topics. Though there are some examples of relatively stable, relatively non-aggressive authoritarian nations, they don't seem sustainable. Typically the "benevolent (?) dictator" passes from power, and the suppressed animosity between different factions erupts into civil war. (E.g. Tito and Yugoslavia; note that the article's neutrality is disputed. In my view this is a cool feature of Wikipedia.) Despite democracy's key roll, civil wars typically must be stopped in order to enable the development of democracy. Some kind of stability is a prerequisite for democracy as well as, say, disarmament. Note: this item is apparently referring to governance at a national level, whereas other items in this list can apply across national borders.

Item 4: The free flow & sharing of information, instead of secrecy and propaganda

Openness and transparency are part and parcel of a true democracy. (If we assume that Item 3 refers to "true democracy" then this item seems redundant.) As a side note, Information Theories about the Causes of War view incomplete information across lines of opposing forces as a factor leading to war (I think about WMDs and uranium enrichment in this context). So, sure, free flowing information is important, is a corequesite of Item 3 and very supportive of Item 1.

Item 5: Dialogue, negotiation, rule of law, active non-violence, instead of violence

This is a monster item that is really the core of a culture of peace, and the other items are supporting this. Indeed, if you could somehow achieve this item sustainably without some of the other items, then presumably those other items would not be truly required. This item is big enough to be multiple items, and it could be broken down in a wiki. There is also room for more clarification as to what is meant here. For example, is the "rule of law" within a nation considered part of true democracy? If so, then this may address "rule of law" between nations... Under what auspices? Dialogue and negotiation probably apply both within and across national boundaries; I'll accept them as vital to culture of peace. I see some work to be done defining "active non-violence". Yep, big item, this.

Okay, so let's deconstruct it. Dialogue is primary; it's similar to Item 4, but is interactive between parties. Negotiation seems nearly primary, but there is some complexity around the legitimacy of representation. That is, who negotiates with whom? Does the governance factor comes into play here? Is elected representation (and therefore democracy) required to enable negotiation? Historically, some parties have insisted on dealing with a democratically elected representative, but this has not been universal. So negotiation has some complexity; I'll just leave it at that for now. Further consideration is also required for "active non-violence". As a start, I'll assume it means peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding.

Item 6: equality of women, instead of male domination

UNESCO has research support the idea that equality of women contributes to a culture of peace. However, some relatively peaceful countries have not achieved full equality (indeed, where has equality been fully achieved?), so I would say that the question of equality is a matter of degree. I hope at least that full equality is not a prerequisite for establishment of peace. In any case, equal rights for women is a desirable component of a culture of peace. The sooner it can be achieved, the better; it can be addressed in parallel with other items.

Curiously, this item (equality of women) raises questions about class, religion, etc. Are these civil rights questions not explicitly referenced in order to avoid contentious debate within UNESCO or with member nations? Perhaps, but I don't see women's equality as less contentious, and I expect racial and religious rights as important to avoiding violence. Wouldn't a true culture of peace include civil rights of those kinds? Clearly some wiki opportunities here.

Item 7: education for peace, instead of education for war

I see this as the most under-invested area. In his book "I'd Rather Teach Peace", Colman McCarthy references the four A's related to the stages of learning a subject: Awareness, Acceptance, Absorption and Action. My sense is that 90+% of the US population has not yet gotten to Acceptance, and perhaps 50% are not even at Awareness yet. Is this true? If so, why? Is it something about human nature? Or is it lack of exposure? Some opportunity for wiki discussion here, of course.

Understanding how peace works, what it depends on and how it benefits everyone is as important as Algebra, which is taught in every high school, but what high school has an established peace curriculum? This item offers some great wiki opportunities as well. I'd like to see a collection of peace education options, such as seminars for places of worship, after-school seminars at various levels (both of which could presumably be led by someone without a teaching credential), community college courses, etc, along with links to organizations that might connect you with a qualified teacher. There can be links to sites with suggested outlines, sample curricula, and success stories. Eventually, I'd like to see some tools that help interested people in a particular zip code find each other so that they can join forces to promote / develop peace education options in their area.

Item 8: economies of peace with equitable, sustainable development, instead of exploitation of the weak and of the environment

Sustainability is a long term concept, in a couple of senses. It is necessary to make peace work in the long term. It will also require work over the long term to achieve! It is very interconnected with peace. Absence of peace has nasty implications for sustainability. Absence of sustainability has nasty implications for peace. This area is co-requisite of peace. One concern I have here is that a peace movement that is too aggressively green may be perceived as outside the mainstream and may hamper acceptance of the larger peace effort. So my bias is to support green policies through reasoned argument but resist the hard core rhetoric. Here, again, is a great opportunity for wiki input. Ideally we can accommodate and discuss a wide spectrum of thought here, and individuals can invest where they believe there is maximum impact.

This item also references "economies of peace"; it brings to mind Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex on the one hand. For Wilsonians like Michael Mandelbaum, peace and democracy are linked to a third leg: free markets. But that's not referenced here. Plenty of fodder in this item for discussion. Certainly the structure of an economy can either aid or provide obstacles to effective and equitable distribution of resources, and therefore impact a culture of peace.

I hope this loonngg post provides some ideas for the wiki-aware as to how a constructive interaction can be built around a culture of peace, in addition to translating the 8 chunky items into actionable steps. I'd like to develop similar, probably separate but presumably linked, cooperative discussions and actionable steps around world health, third world development, sustainability, human rights, and any other area ripe for progress.

I've done some poking around for good wiki hosting sites. I'd welcome any suggestions in this area.

Lame? Intriguing? Redundant? Unclear? As always, I'm eager to know what you think, so be bold and offer a comment!

Loved this book!

My daughter gave me Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is mostly about the early work and life of Paul Farmer. (I say "early" because Dr Farmer is slightly younger than I am, which means, of course, that he's still just a young man with lots left to do.) I finally picked the book up about a week ago and could hardly put it down. I've seen references to Paul Farmer in other blogs, so I expect some of you have read the book, but for those that haven't, it's a treat that shouldn't be missed!

Because Farmer is currently active and the context is recent current events, the narrative is very easy to connect with. In addition, Farmer is simultaneously both very human and peerless. A top medical expert in infectious disease, an accomplished anthropologist, a workaholic, a passionate and articulate visionary, a humanitarian, in short, a modern-day Albert Schweitzer, if not so religiously oriented. But fear not; this is not 330 pages of unadulterated praise for an idealized icon. We learn about how the world works in specific ways around providing health services to the very poor. We learn about the difficulty of accomplishing large scale programs on the tight budgets that are reality at the WHO. We learn how programs must be constrained in order to garner support, but how these constraints can have very deleterious, counter-productive effects. We learn about the economics and incentives around the manufacturing and pricing of second line drugs. We also learn about numerous other remarkable people besides Farmer. And, yes, we see some of Farmer's warts, too. We see that, despite so much bad news that we hear, there really are remarkable successes that can encourage us. We are inspired, yes, but also wiser.

Better than fiction; better than historical biography. This is my new favorite book.

If you're not a reader (well, okay, if you're not a book reader), then take a peek at the organization that he cofounded and which supports his work and the work of others: Partners in Health. And of course, there's a Wikipedia page on Farmer as well, but if you're like me you'll enjoy the book more if you haven't read the article first.