this site Knowledge Connect » Book Reviews Thu, 29 Aug 2013 06:10:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Book Review: This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases Fri, 23 Mar 2012 00:22:47 +0000 Andrew Kos Continue reading ]]> By Jakob Schneider, Marc Stickdorn

Schneider, J. and Stickdorn, M. (2011) This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey

Guest Reviewer:  Jacqueline Wechsler

Design is not the narrow application of formal skills, it is a way of thinking.
- Chris Pullman

This is Service Design Thinking presents an inter-disciplinary approach to service innovation. Where the distinction between product and services is disappearing, and where the services sector within Australia accounts for approximately 70% of the GDP (Entrepreneurship in Australia the Missing Links (2011), Wood, F., p.4), designing for services is fast becoming an important capability across every sector.

The book has an interesting format, whereby the authors utilised service design thinking to inform the design of their book. They sourced information and opinions from practitioners and academics within this field through the use of contextual interviews, forums, group discussions, blogs, and practitioner and social media portals to inform its development. They even uploaded images of a ‘prototype’ book to the social photography site Flickr to get feedback about its design. The book’s primary content came from 23 practitioners from all over the world, yielding not only thorough background material on service design but also easy to follow tools and methods illustrated by real-world case-studies. For example, find out how the Scottish agency Snook designed a service for the UK police force, or follow the design approach of the Carnegie Mellon Design School when re-designing a health service for a hospital. Whilst many would argue that service design is not new, as a consequence of this crowd-sourced approach this book articulates very well the thoughts, opinions, practices and reflections of contemporary service design practitioners about their work.

Part one of the book entitled ‘Basics’ discusses the history of service design, its interdisciplinary nature and its different associated disciplines, as well as the 5 principles of service design thinking;
(1)    User-centered – services should be designed from the perspective of the customer
(2)    Co-creative – services should be designed by all stakeholders
(3)    Sequencing – services should be considered as a series of interdependent actions
(4)    Evidencing – intangible services should be visualised in terms of tangible artefacts
(5)    Holistic – the entire context of a service should be considered.

The second part of the book discusses service design tools and the iterative process of service design and its non-linear phases i.e. exploration, creation, reflection, implementation. The 25 service design tools and methods outlined are easy to understand, flexible and varied. They felt more to me like a pantry of varied ingredients than a packet cake mixture, as the book states “this is a toolbox – not a manual”. The tools are linked to the four different stages of the service design process and explain what the tool is, how it is made and when it is used along, with an example. Some tools discussed include; the business model canvas, customer life-cycle maps, storyboards, service role-playing etc. For me, the linking of tools and methods with case studies is an important characteristic of this book as it helps the reader understand the tools in the context of their usage as well as get some insight into some of the domains of service design.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to gain an understanding of the emergent field of service design and understand the type of work that service designers do. This is the first text-book on the subject and provides an excellent resource for students, educators, design practitioners or anyone interested in designing or improving a new product or service through collaborative design methods.

Jacqueline Wechsler is a user centered design consultant and teacher at UTS and the UNSW College of Fine Arts. She is passionate about the use of service design methods for the design of products and services which have positive social outcomes.

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Book Review: Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovation Fri, 23 Mar 2012 00:21:55 +0000 Andrew Kos Continue reading ]]> By Tim Brown and Barry Katz

Brown, T. and Katz, B. (2009)  Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovation, Harper Business, New York

Guest Reviewer: Joanne Hutchinson

If you are attracted to design thinking, and wondering where to start, then let me introduce you to one of my favourite books in this area:  Change by Design – How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation.
This book is a pleasure to read – practical, coherent and replete with interesting stories that bring the joys and challenges of design thinking to life.  It is one that I keep close to hand in my office for guidance and inspiration.  It is a great starting point into the broader design thinking literature and practice.
Tim Brown is the Chief Executive Officer and President at IDEO, a global design firm in the United States that designs products, services and experiences across public and private sectors tackling challenges as diverse as re-imagining the school day, re-designing the banking experience and re-engineering transport systems for clean water in India and Africa.
Change by Design reflects Brown’s professional evolution as a designer and his search for an inter-disciplinary, human-centred design approach.  If you are the sort of person who is open to new schools of thought, isn’t precious about professional boundaries, likes to make links between ideas and people and has a good feel for how people actually think and behave in real life, then design thinking may be for you.
At the heart of Brown’s design approach is ‘putting people first’.  While this of itself is hardly a revolutionary concept, it is the way Brown and his team think about how to understand the needs of others that is so encouraging.  For instance, in order to better understand the patient experience in a hospital one of his team acted as a patient and discretely recorded the admission and treatment process with a video camera hidden in his gown.  While the hospital saw the patient experience in terms of ‘insurance verification, medical prioritisation and bed allocation’ the video recording revealed that the actual experience was a lot more tedious and stressful for patients than previously understood, with blank walls and featureless ceilings dominating the recording.  This insight resulted in a new co-design process with the hospital to improve dimensions of the patient experience that had been previously little understood, and therefore, overlooked.
My favourite chapter in the book, and one I recommend for those days when you feel a little mental tune-up is needed, is chapter six – A mental matrix, or these people have no process! This chapter takes you through the various intellectual and creative steps that occur when thinking like a human-centred designer.  Brown argues that ‘to experience design thinking is to engage in a dance among four mental states’.  These are divergent and convergent thinking; and analysis and synthesis. It is the rhythmic exchange between the different phases that is the hallmark of the design thinker.
Finally, visualisation and visual communication is a large part of the fun and power of the design thinking process. Brown delivers on this for the reader by including an attention-grabbing illustration on the inside cover which shows, in both words and pictures, the ‘what’ and the ’how’ of design thinking.  Even if you read no further than the inside cover you will have a handy road map to guide your thoughts and actions.
But I recommend you dive in between the covers, it is well worth it.

Joanne Hutchinson runs Social Innovation Branch in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Her interest in design thinking stems from her work, early in her career, in using universal design principles to promote access and inclusion for people with disabilities.

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Book Review: The Illusions of Entrepreneurship, Scott A. Shane, 2008, Yale University. Mon, 31 Oct 2011 03:22:11 +0000 Anne Continue reading ]]> Reviewed by Cheryl Kernot

UK social entrepreneurship and social innovation pioneer, (currently CEO of NESTA), Geoff Mulgan recommended this book as a useful and interesting read. I wanted to see whether the same “illusions” might apply equally to social entrepreneurs.

Specifically written for the diverse audience of entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers Shane’s motivation in writing is to challenge the repeated and unhelpful myths surrounding entrepreneurship discourse: how so many  “penniless dropouts become multimillionaires” , how “entrepreneurs are a rare breed” “a kind of genius who is born, not made”. Social entrepreneurship discourse has also often been quick to embrace the notion of the “charismatic hero leader” such as Muhammad Yunus.

Shane also says that the myths that “start-ups are a magic bullet that will transform depressed economic regions, create a lot of jobs, generate innovation and conduct all sorts of other economic wizardry” have led to (poor) government policy choices in favour of all sorts of concessions, subsidies and exemptions to people who start businesses.  “Any businesses.”

He challenges these myths by compiling and analysing data: “good data”! In fact there are thirty-three pages of notes about the data at the end of the book. 

Chapters cover such topics as: Who becomes an Entrepreneur? How Well Does the Typical Entrepreneur Do? Why Don’t Women Start More Companies? Why is Black Entrepreneurship So Rare?

Some interesting findings include:

  • The U.S. isn’t a very entrepreneurial country; Peruvians and Ugandans are three-and-a-half times as likely as Americans to start their own businesses;
  • The typical start-up isn’t innovative, has no plans to grow, has one employee and generates less than $100,000 in revenue;
  • The typical start-up is capitalised with $25,000, taken primarily from the founder’s savings; (very similar to social enterprise start-ups.) Studies show though that the size of a business’s start-up capital enhances new business survival;
  • The outcomes are worse for businesses started by women and blacks;
  • Knowing your industry/sector matters; working in an industry/sector before starting a business in it will improve your odds of success.

The chapter on what makes some entrepreneurs more successful than others has great applicability to social entrepreneurs if they are to avoid making decisions that actually reduce their chances of success.

Crucial to that success is the importance of financial controls, of focussing activities on a single product service or market when first starting out, and avoiding the folly of competing on price when it might be better to compete on service or quality, or in the case of social enterprises, unique local knowledge and presence.

The book’s conclusions are as challenging as the myths!

Shane argues that rather than believe that we will be better off both as individuals and as a society simply if more people become entrepreneurs, we need to change our basic assumptions: it is naive to believe that all entrepreneurship is good; only a select few entrepreneurs will create the businesses that will take people out of poverty, encourage innovation, create jobs, reduce unemployment and address market failure/competitiveness.

It would be better, he argues, to identify the select few new businesses, out of the multitude of start-ups created each year that are more productive than existing companies and invest in them – as entrepreneurs, as investors, and as a society. I would contend that when we add the measuring of Social Return on Investment to the initial selection criteria we will see more public policy support for social entrepreneurs. He’s not against entrepreneurship; he wants to create better entrepreneurs and public policy through a better understanding of what needs to be done.

Time to challenge the entrenched orthodoxy of not “picking winners!” [Ed]

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Book review: Philanthro-capitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World Wed, 27 Jul 2011 05:19:50 +0000 Andrew Kos Continue reading ]]> Book by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, published by A & C Black,

London, 2008. Paperback edition published 2010.

Reviewed by Elena Douglas

In politics, most debates focus on two questions: What are you going to do? And how much money are you going to spend on it? Too little attention is given to what is often the most important question: How are you going to do it?

President Bill Clinton, Foreword to 2010 paperback edition

‘Philanthrocapitalism’, ‘venture philanthropy’, ‘catalytic philanthropy’, ‘momentum philanthropy’ are all new descriptions of an ancient practice – giving wealth in the service of humanity – now being combined with the mental models, frameworks and processes of the investment of financial capital.

Bishop and Green take us deep inside the world of the ‘philanthropreneurs’ whose mission is to transform philanthropy and the creation of social benefit and public goods just as they have disrupted other traditional markets. This is the world of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Soros, with Bill Clinton as cheerleader. These are the plutocrats who have taken the ‘gospel’ of Andrew Carnegie to heart, and believe as he did “the day is not far distant when the man who dies leaving behind him millions of available wealth, which was free to him to administer during life, will pass away ‘unwept, unhonoured and unsung,’ no matter to what uses he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict can be: the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced”.

So the race is on by these givers to find the ways to spend at least half of their wealth before they die as the new pledge, which already has more than 70 billionaire adherents, requires. But just as Carnegie discovered and as did Aristotle two millennia before him, “To give money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in everyman’s power nor an easy matter.”

‘Philanthrocapitalism’ acutely observes this new incarnation of a now century old theme. It takes us behind the scenes in the vast world of 70,000 plus foundations. It explains for us the new ecology of giving in the US where the art and science of philanthropy are practised at all levels of society from the middle-class up and in all regions of the country. Observers have often accounted for this phenomenon by noting the absence of an aristocracy or royalty which left philanthropy as the ticket to social elevation. It is certainly hip to be a philanthrocapitalist, or a ‘celanthropist’, celebrity-giver or cause-highlighter like Angelina Jolie.

Brickbats are also in order here as well. First published in hard back in 2008 in the middle of the GFC, some of the observations jarred with the reality. The promotion of the investment banking industry, for example, as a paragon of ‘rigorous research underpinning investment decisions’ was ripe for ridicule in 2008 as the sub-prime scandal unfolded. And the book never really grapples with the proper relationship between philanthropists and the State in public good provision. Global philanthropy is dwarfed by global spending by governments. In the US, the world centre for philanthropy, total giving is approximately USD300billion per year, compared to a total annual government budget spend of well over USD1 trillion. Philanthropy can inspire and catalyse activity by the State, but to think it will ever replace it is a plutocrat’s pipe-dream which this book does little to dispel.

Many will be sceptical of the new world dawning as far afield as Australia of ‘MBA-enabled executives in suits into the Birkenstock world of charity’. However there is no doubt that the trend to a far bigger role for different professional skills in all aspects of the giving, asking and investing philanthropic lifestyle will continue to gain momentum. As the authors put it, what the new generation of donors seek is ‘the sort of transparency and accountability that exists in financial markets’. Of course, those of us on the ground know that we are a long way from having genuine, robust measures of ‘social value’ to enable real comparisons to be made. As happens from time to time in the investment world, the pitch gets ahead of the analysis, but we know we are moving in this direction, and fast.

As a window into the new ecology of philanthropy, especially for an Australian online casino reader for whom this is likely to be a window into the future, this book can’t be beaten.

(An interview with the authors, Bishop and Green, was the focus of a Knowledge Connect article in our first edition in Spring 2008 – see the article here)

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Book Review: Volunteers: A social profile Fri, 14 Jan 2011 04:45:37 +0000 Anne Continue reading ]]> Book by Marc A. Musick and John Wilson. Published by Indiana University Press, 2008

Reviewed by Prof. Ram Cnaan

Twenty years ago I was able to read everything that was written on volunteers; today, Musick and Wilson demonstrate that it is no longer possible. This book is the most successful attempt to provide an authoritative review of the state of knowledge on volunteering, looking at hundreds of sources. For many reasons outlined in the first chapter, the field of volunteer study has reached maturity, with numerous scholars producing quality studies. The field is so diverse and rich that Musick and Wilson focus on a limited, although substantial, subset. The authors provide us with a thorough review of mostly sociological studies that attempt to answer the questions of who tends to volunteer, how much they volunteer (time and frequency), and for whom. This is the most authoritative text ever written about the sociology of volunteering, and I do not know of any other source that comes close to it in depth and coverage in any other discipline.

Musick is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, and Wilson is professor of sociology at Duke University. Wilson has published more than fifty articles on volunteerism, many in collaboration with Musick, and together they offer some of the most substantial works on volunteering, including the social resources theory which explains why people with social and human capital are more likely to volunteer. This book is an attempt to use their vast knowledge on the subject to review a large part of the existing literature.

The first two chapters of the book are general and can be useful to any scholar of volunteering. The authors devote a full chapter to the definition of volunteering. It was somewhat disappointing then that they elaborate on the complexity and difficulty of defining volunteers and leave the reader with no comprehensive definition.

The following fifteen chapters (3 to 17) are an amazingly rich journey into the sociology of volunteering. In addition to the review of the literature the authors provide the reader with their own results using a set of available surveys. Wisely, they do not include endless tables but instead refer the interested reader to a website where the relevant tables are provided.

The final chapters attempt to provide a quick review of the experience of volunteering and cover issues which are more relevant to volunteer managers. Chapter 13 is on volunteer recruitment and examines effective ways of recruiting volunteers and who is more likely to respond. Chapter 17 looks into recent trends in volunteering, focusing on volunteering by different generations. Part 5 of the book, “The Organization of Volunteer Work”, includes one chapter on volunteer tasks (what volunteers actually do and who is likely to do what); and a second on the role of the volunteer. The chapter on the role of the volunteer is the most interesting for practitioners, as it covers different aspects of volunteer management including motivating and retaining volunteers, incentives and recognition, relations with staff and clients, and job satisfaction.

Although the managerial chapters are well written, they are not at the same depth as the earlier sociological chapters. Numerous studies devoted to volunteer management and volunteer consequences are not cited in this part of the book. This section does disservice to the book as it misses issues such as the most recent forms of volunteering, including virtual volunteering and volunteer-tourism. Finally, the context of volunteering could have been enhanced by a discussion of group dynamics and the power of recruiting and managing volunteers through cohesive groups.

My various criticisms are minor and pale in comparison to the great achievement of this book. What Musick and Wilson have done is little short of a miracle. They assembled hundreds of sources and shed light on a major theme in the study of volunteering. This book is a very useful tool for all volunteer scholars and students. I take my hat off to the authors.

Prof. Ram Cnaan is the Senior Associate Dean and the Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research in School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania. He is also the immediate past president of ARNOVA.            

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Book Review: In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea Thu, 18 Nov 2010 03:34:05 +0000 Anne Continue reading ]]> Book Review: In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea

Book by John Armstrong, published by Penguin Books Australia, 2009

Reviewed by Dr Joseph Collins

In Search of Civilization helps us explore a philosophical journey about the idea of civilization.  It begins with seemingly benign propositions: civilization ‘shapes its members’ sense of right from wrong’, ‘it’s all to do with the sophisticated pursuit of pleasure’ and ‘it requires a high level of intellectual and artistic excellence’.  These are developed in an entertaining narrative that draws on a variety of ethical perspectives making a compelling read.

The author, John Armstrong, is Philosopher in Residence at Melbourne Business School.  He has been recognised for his ability to engage general audiences in debate about complex and often provocative philosophical issues.  This book reinforces his ability to engage with people ‘who would never be scholars’

There are some engaging self-deprecatory anecdotes scattered throughout this work.  He was bullied as a boy, felt simultaneous lust and shame after a seedy encounter in a Parisian brothel and seemed in real pain recounting a childhood sensitised to the ways in which his parents caused each other miserable anguish.  There is an honesty, fluent style, sharp wit and sensibility in these vignettes.  While readers might well draw their own insights about these incidents they unquestionably expose a passionate man who is sensitive to personal intimacy and able to see the folly, barbarism and ethical vulnerabilities of civilization in himself.

Armstrong argues that readers’ attempts to understand complex philosophical constructs are likely to be hampered by a lack of time and other commitments, rather than a lack of intelligence or some other failure.  He accommodates this astute insight as he explores ‘civilization’ with a well structured analysis in four main sections; civilization as ‘Belonging’; as ‘Material Progress’; as the ‘Art of Living’ and finally as ‘Spiritual Prosperity’.  

 Armstrong does not strongly attach himself to any one of these ideas but favours a more sophisticated notion of civilization that draws upon all four.  Each section does however have sufficient examples grounded in various branches of moral philosophy to encourage the reader to form his/her own view.  For example, in answer to an issue as basic as one’s own identity, i.e., who am I?, Armstrong argues the importance of a civilization having a common or collective core set of values, as this creates expectations and behaviours without which civilization would disintegrate and its members would lose their sense of worth.  There are interesting lessons here for understanding how ethical dilemmas might arise in small peer groups or in our wider arenas of personal, business and other communities of interest, particularly in a time of globalisation.

During the discussion we are encouraged to ask a series of questions including:  Are there intrinsic core values in a flourishing civilization?  Do our individual values and principles matter in what it is to be civilised?As with most complex ethical issues, such questions rarely yield a simple answer but do help us explore the idea of civilization, making it easier to recognise and value civilization as an idea that matters.

One core idea with a persuasive ethical undercurrent consistently arises. Armstrong’s emergent thesis is that spiritual prosperity has not kept pace with material prosperity with the result that today we may be alienated, bereft of either meaning or happiness in our lives. Too much focus on material prosperity may not allow us to have a high quality relationship with the spiritual prosperity we might otherwise enjoy and vice versa. The relationship between the two is the key to genuine civilization.  They are inexorably intertwined in a ‘mutual enhancement’.

Armstrong underpins his idea by looking at how great works of art and other higher things cause us to ask: What is my life about?  What have I done with my existence?  Extending his questions beyond the individual to corporations may be a rationale for today’s increasing focus on corporate social responsibility.  Going one step further, might companies more courageously become a catalyst, in the same way as renaissance patrons, for quantum leaps in both material and spiritual prosperity of civilization?  Time will tell.

Armstrong does not seek to fulfil his purpose by focusing on definitional precision or completeness in his desire to answer the philosophical question ‘What should our idea of civilization be’?  He does however succeed in engaging his audience.  His ultimate conclusion about civilization is startlingly simple.  Armstrong artfully leads us to a proposition that fulfilment in the promise of civilization is in ‘the book of life’ that we all are writing.  Tarnished or not, civilization is definitely an idea that matters.

To view a video of John Armstrong talking about his book, visit here

To get your copy of the book, visit  Penguin Books Australia

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Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Sun, 20 Jun 2010 20:29:55 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]> Book by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, HarperCollins, 2009. Reviewed by Barbara Merz.

This book was my companion while delayed at an airport recently. Right beside the Starbucks café at LAX airport waiting for my flight to Sydney I noticed an advert with a small Afghani girl with bright eyes and a determined face. It read ‘Role Model.’ Fellow travelers were stopping by, perhaps jarred by the message. The poster was part of a broader campaign by an international humanitarian organisation to highlight the inspiring stories of young people from the developing world who overcome barriers they face. These barriers include lack of adequate food, security, or education. They highlight young people who are finding ways to overcome poverty and depravity of opportunity. The campaign’s message aims to engage Western donors respectfully with those who face lives of hardship.

William Kamkwamba’s story in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a testament to that message in action. Kamkwamba built a windmill in his village from scraps of metal and an old bicycle. By doing so, he brought electricity and running water to his community.

The beginning of the book paints a picture of growing up in Malawi in the midst of drought, famine and corruption. This is not the Africa of a distant past; the latest drought gripped Malawi in 2002. Without a social safety net one season of drought tipped small farming families into starvation.

Kamkwamba’s family could not afford to send him to school. He began a small business in fixing radios, allowing him to experiment with the electrical components. While his friends were at school he began reading trade magazines and textbooks at the local library about power generation. In one such book he recounts the words which changed his life: “Energy is all around you every day…sometimes energy needs to be converted to another form before it is useful to us.”

He knew that wind was a consistent but untapped energy source in Malawi. We learn that only 2% of Malawians have electricity. The few who do have access to power have it supplied by the government. Obtaining a connection requires long applications, approvals, and tolerating frequent blackouts. Lack of electricity for the majority of Malawians has lead to massive deforestation as wood is gathered to stoke cooking fires. Bald landscapes have no protection against heavy rains, which then wash away topsoil and its minerals. This in turn leads to lower crop yields. Runoff also clogs river dams, shutting down the turbine which fuels central power production.

Kamkwamba recounts how he slowly assembled his materials to test his idea for turning the wind into electricity. He then built a sixteen-foot bamboo platform to attach a mass of blades, scrap metal, tractor parts, a bike chain, and rubber wheel. His experiment worked. He powered four lights to his family’s home and another windmill pumped water to his family’s fields.

This book can be criticised as a romanticisation of poverty. The author is a poster boy for grassroots ingenuity. However, without support, those roots could not grow into systemic change. What the book does not address is the important but tedious work to bring local solutions to scale. Without a social safety net, Malawi remains vulnerable to bad weather which forces many of its people into widespread suffering.

It was an African journalist who uncovered Kamkwamba’s story and began spreading it through newspapers and blogs. Eventually, the co-author of this book, Bryan Mealer, translated the story into a perfectly paced airport hardcover. Meanwhile, Kamkwamba was invited to meet other African entrepreneurs. He was introduced to computers and the Internet for the first time and was then invited to share his story overseas. Kamkwamba is a role model. Stories like his need telling to reengage stakeholders creatively on ways to reduce poverty in Africa.

To watch a short video of Kamkwamba telling his own story see:

To get your copy of the book visit:

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Book Review: Blessed Unrest Sun, 20 Jun 2010 20:12:20 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]> Book by Paul Hawken.
Reviewed by Jonathon Fisher.

“Only connect,” wrote the British author E.M. Forster. This is the message I take from Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, a book which has important lessons for those of us catalysing social change movements.

Blessed Unrest suggests that although there are vast numbers of people and organisations who share the desire for a transition to a saner and wiser culture, most of them are not connected with each other. We live in a time where many people feel profound isolation. It leaves me with the question: “What could be possible if we became really aware of the size of this movement and then found ways to connect and support the emergence of a new narrative in ways that are enjoyable, entertaining, and innovative?”

I believe the role of genuine leadership is to provide the spaces for people to connect and have permission to freely share new narratives around the notions of ‘success’, ‘luxury’, and ‘fulfillment’.

People are yearning to connect in new, entertaining, and optimistic ways. They are not interested in angry protests, demonising people or becoming burned out using ineffective means. They want a new kind of activism – one that is filled with beauty, artistry, inspiration, science, and utilises modern technologies.

While Blessed Unrest makes a powerful case that the current sustainability and social justice movement is the largest movement in the history of human society, over 100 pages of the book is dedicated to listing over 1 million types of non-profit groups involved in this movement. Why would someone devote over 100 pages of a book to listing organisations? Could it be a demonstration of widespread fragmentation? Could it be that one of the big missing pieces for the creation of a wiser and saner culture is connecting like minded people who might be feeling alone or isolated?

I continually encounter people from all walks of life who support a whole new worldview and yet feel that they are the only ones in their circle who view the world the way they do. This was one of my key motivations for establishing Wake Up Sydney. I personally wanted a place to connect with other like-minded Sydneysiders who seek change in a whole new way. I also wanted to provide a place for the disparate groups and organisations to come together. For too long the worlds of social change, sustainability, yoga, the arts, and science have lived in separate worlds.

One year down the track, thousands of Sydneysiders have joined this movement and come together to be inspired and to connect with other people who feel the same way they do. What brings these people together is a common set of values and concerns around their personal, community and societal wellbeing. They defy typical demographic stereotypes, but are more of a psychographic of people who want to be part of a new kind of renaissance.

The disconnection people are experiencing is supported with the research of sociologist Paul Ray who found that a quarter of people identify sustainability and social justice as major elements forming their worldview and lifestyle. Despite the strength in numbers, the research also points to a pervasive feeling of isolation. These people rarely express their opinions outside of their closely knit groups. This is why Blessed Unrest refers to this movement as under the media’s radar. History shows that it only takes a handful of creative and concerned individuals gathering to trigger positive large scale change. Whether it was the French Revolution, the Renaissance or Earth Hour – they all unfolded from small groups of people connecting to share new ideas and narratives. Blessed Unrest clearly illustrates this with its story of a dozen people meeting in a small print shop in London to discuss the abolition of the slave trade. “They were reviled and dismissed by businessmen and politicians. It was argued that their crackpot ideas would bring down the English economy, eliminate growth and jobs, cost too much money, and lower the standard of living.” However, this was the beginning of a movement that would change the world forever.

So what is the role of leadership in fostering the emergence of a new narrative built around kindness for each other and the natural environment? I hesitate to put forth a definitive answer; however it may not be as difficult as it initially appears. The visionary leaders are the ones who have the courage to invite new, courageous conversations within their families, organisations, or network of friends. We do not need to change the entire world or country. Just one family, community or organisation could re-imagine itself and this small group would inspire others to start down this road. Feelings of disempowerment and cynicism would disappear. The key is to keep enjoyment, curiosity and fun at the forefront of whatever we do. Like Emma Goldman, a well-known political activist, once said: “If there won’t be any dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming!” So instead of serious meetings under florescent lights, what if you had a picnic with nice wine, invited a local musician or simply organised online for a dialogue about positive changes and connection in your community. Here’s the thing: we could rapidly change direction. The only thing that constrains us is our creativity and courage to start a risky conversation with a friend, family member or senior manager. This conversation would be one of thousands of new conversations. We would begin a new narrative centered around kindness towards ourselves, each other, and the natural world. My dream is for Sydney to become the global hub for this new narrative.

Jonathon Fisher is the founder of Wake Up Sydney! for more check out

To order the book and read it for yourself, see:

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Book Review: Creating a World Without Poverty Mon, 31 Aug 2009 14:00:43 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]> Book by Muhammad Yunus. Reviewed by Barbara Merz.

Creating a World Without Poverty could easily have been a retrospective. After all, its author has plenty to reflect upon. Instead, the book is unmistakably forward-looking. This book presents a compelling vision for the future of capitalism. It envisions a market where social businesses emerge to address social issues.

Muhammad Yunus could have rested on his laurels when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He could have simply recounted his quantitative achievements, such as: 7 million people served, more than 73,000 villages reached, at least 640,000 homes constructed, and more than US$6 billion in loans served through his Grameen Bank. He could have headed for the international lecture circuit with 30 years of stories and a nickname like the Sage of Dakka. Or he simply could have looked at the global movement that had grown up around microfinance and felt justified in taking retirement. Instead, Yunus continues to pursue his audacious vision to fight poverty through market solutions. He has not relented on his tireless work to realize new ways that capital markets can more humanely serve the poor. The thesis of this book relates to social businesses- a venture which limits personal financial gain to pursue specific social goals.

Writers on Yunus have commented that his brilliance is his understanding of the mechanics of markets. He has used the momentum of success to subvert the “theology of capitalism.” According to Yunus, businesses do not all have to be singularly profit-minded. There is room in the market for something other than what he coins a “Profit Making Business (PMB).” He calls for the growth of social businesses dedicated to solving social and environmental challenges but maintaining the structure of PMBs. He writes, “like other businesses, [a social business] employs workers, creates goods or services, and provides these to customers for a price consistent with its objectives.” The book begins with Yunus at lunch with Franck Riboud, the CEO of Danone in France. There, Yunus and Riboud agreed over a handshake to create a multinational social business. They agreed to sell Danone products affordably to the poor in Bangladeshi villages without any profit paid to investors. Profits would remain in the business to expand its reach to poor villagers or improve its product offerings. The overarching goal of this new endeavor was to improve the nutrition of poor families with the help of a successful market player. In Yunus’ mind, this was the first multinational social business – a partnership between Grameen Bank and Danone. Discerning readers might be left wondering about the conversations that took place after the big handshake moment. How did Danone justify reduced profits to its shareholders? Would this venture be left to soft marketers with public relations as their goal or would it be treated like any other Danone business unit? What key performance indicators (KPIs) would they establish? How clear were their shared measures of success? What would “serving the poor better through reinvested dividends” look like? How might this intersect with debates in social capital markets about triple bottom line reporting structures?

Some of these questions are addressed, others remain unanswered. Nonetheless, the agreement between Yunus and Riboud raised the bar on the possibilities for corporate partnerships with social purpose.

The Epilogue to Creating a World Without Poverty contains the Nobel Prize Lecture Yunus delivered in Oslo, Norway on 10 December 2006. It is entitled “Poverty is a Threat to Peace.” In it, he lays out a view that peace is threatened by an unjust economic, social, and political order. He closes with a metaphor that sustains him on his indefatigable quest to eradicate poverty: “Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty. To me poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you have planted; it is only the soil-base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on. All it needs to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly…”

You can quibble with this man’s vision for the future, but you have to respect the progress he has made thus far.

To order the book:

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Book Review: The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty Sat, 28 Feb 2009 14:00:12 +0000 admin Continue reading ]]> BY Peter Singer, Text Publishing , Melbourne; 2009.
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Liffman, Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy, Swinburne University.

Peter Singer’s latest book should be one of his least controversial – and, paradoxically, therefore one of his most important.

Singer’s ideas inevitably excite heated debate, largely because, notwithstanding their extraordinary lucidity, logic and respect for facts, they rest on premises – the priority of avoiding suffering, the interests of animals, the rejection of the sanctity of human life, the lack of any higher spiritual order – which many find challenging, emotionally as much as intellectually, and react against in a deeply visceral way. In contrast, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty is based on a fundamental premise which no ethical or religious system could find fault with. It is virtuous to be generous. This is followed by as second similarly incontestable premise: many of us can afford to be more generous than we are.

Of course, Singer does not leave the case at that level of simplicity. He tackles head on the arguments and rationalisations that people (and governments, and business) then offer for not giving as much as they might, and here his argument is characteristically informed and sophisticated. We – and our governments – are in fact generous enough; donated money does not reach the poor; those close to us have a greater claim on our care than those with whom we have less connection; why should some give if others won’t; aid needs to be directed at changing systems rather than helping individuals: these and other similar propositions are examined and incisively challenged in the rest of the book.

Singer also looks at the psychology of generosity. Particularly interesting is Singer’s discussion of ‘default generosity.’ Singer cites the differing rates of organ donation in the seemingly similar counties of Austria and Germany – 100% as against almost 12% – observing that the reason lies in the simple fact that Austria requires people to opt out of donating whereas Germans are required to opt in. Similar dynamics operate with such mechanisms as workplace giving. Underlying this is the reality that an act of generosity is more likely when an individual must act decisively in order to avoid being generous, than where the individual must act decisively in order to be generous.

Singer concludes by suggesting a realistic standard for how much can be asked of people, proportionate to their income, and asserting that widespread observance of this standard would come close to eliminating world poverty. He proposes a progressive scale, starting at 1 percent of annual income for those who are middle class and earn less than $105,000 a year, and rising to 33.3 percent for those earning more than $10-million. He describes this (very reasonably, it seems to me) as “not overly demanding.” In a strange way, my first reading of this book led me to feel that, as always, Singer was being bold. But, I reflected, what is bold in making a case that every old-time Sunday school teacher would feel comfortable proposing? The boldness was, I concluded, that a leading intellectual would choose to promote such a manifestly obvious idea. Can a heavyweight thinker not find a more morally and intellectually challenging case to take on?

The reality, of course, is that despite its truth, the case Singer makes is resisted, or perhaps avoided, infinitely more often than it is accepted. Singer has made that evasion far more difficult. This is why I believe this book may be his most influential yet.

To order a copy of the book see:

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