Eyes on the prize


Coco Gauff. Wimbledon, 2019.

I sat up and watched the first half of last night’s Women’s World Cup Final between USA and Netherlands, and it made great viewing. I’m no soccer pundit but I have immense respect for the idea of the game as a platform for many things. Exercise, competition, entertainment – it’s been called the most popular sport in the world.

A source of extreme sponsorship deals and extortionate salaries, soccer’s unique blend of controversy and celebrity continue to guarantee it a levitated brand status amongst millions of young wannabe players or ageing supporters.

In the UK, football is more important to some people than religion, family, work, or any truly higher plain or life calling. Without soccer, for these disciples, life would fundamentally cease to have meaning.

Where you fall on the side of loving or despising the “Great Game” itself, 2019 will surely go down as the year that the world woke up and recognized just how wholly discriminatory the world of soccer has been towards women. That will simply now never be the same again.

As disappointing as it is to realise that it has taken so long for this moment to come about – and, of course, we are way, WAY off of any kind of mainstreamed, cultural epiphany about actual equity in terms of men and women’s football – it has, finally, come about, and it must now never reverse and lose that momentum.

The Wimbledon tennis finals will also take place this weekend and, as I type this, Coco Gauff will be waking up somewhere in South West London, preparing to face her fourth round opponent.

Gauff is 15 years old. She dispatched Venus Williams this time last week, and is making history every time she wins another point. She is an incredible athlete. An inspiring, young fighter. And whilst I’d happily spend time highlighting the success of someone so young were she instead to be a young man, it really is that extra bit special that Coco Gauff isn’t.

Whilst Gauff’s inspiration is one that will naturally appeal to young women (Gauff admits to having always aspired to being as successful as the Williams sisters she watched as a young girl) let’s look forward in ten year’s time to hearing how Gauff’s role modeling helped shape the winner of Wimbledon 2029, or even 2039 – the person in question, perhaps, yet to have even been born.

As exciting and powerful as these sporting episodes have been of late, and as key as they will be in the future – milestones which chip away at our patriarchal structures and norms, barely altered for millions of years now – these public figures are only one part of a puzzle that still needs to be put together.

So many more pieces of which are yet to be connected.

It’s not anywhere near good enough that parts of the media might finally be promoting women in sport. Or that, say, future prize money might be adjusted in favour of equal pay.

It’s of no consequence at all, either, that a father of two daughters blogs his support of any type of conceptual gender equity.

It all comes down to institutional changes AND the changes we have influence over each day as individuals.

The choices and decisions we make for, and with, our children as they grow.

The ones we make with our peers on a day-to-day basis. What we do and say in public spaces, in the workplace, or on the football pitch. Each action and moment and choice counts.

Just as each serve, volley, forehand, smash and drop shot will, later today, contribute to Coco Gauff’s fourth round game, as well as to her story of change.

Like her, we must keep our eyes on the prize, try to do our very best, and hold on to the idea that one day this puzzle will be completed.


Just Keep Going


Last sunrise of 2018 in Saigon, complete with my favourite ferry crossing.

Happy New Year from Saigon!

There’s nothing like the arrival of January to spark action. Resolutions, I’ve had a few. The most plausible so far being a commitment to eat and drink more slowly, rather than inhaling meals and bottles of wine as if food rationing and prohibition laws were about to be imposed.

Less plausible resolutions include: writing more; drinking less; reading more; and looking at my phone less.

I say ‘less plausible’ in that I’m fairly confident of being able to strike a balance with objectives like these – it’s just a fear of setting myself up to fail by insisting on rigid, self-imposed restrictions. Moderation, it’s often touted, is key, but then so, too, is our ability to feel in control of what we are doing.

More’s the pity that, in many ways, I simply enjoy so many of these pursuits (including my job, and the ebb and flow of travel and time it requires) that I feel more practice is still required to find a useful daily cadence to accommodate all the ‘things’.     Continue reading “Just Keep Going”

Drawing Down

Running in the forests of Siam Reap this weekend

Over the weekend I was in Siam Reap and, for whatever reason, found myself enchanted by the trees and the colours and the red earth. Not in any particular novel way, but in a way that connected to something I may have simply been ignoring for my entire adult life: that simple truth about the fragility of life and changing our own lives whilst we are fortunate enough to be here.

It’s not as if I haven’t been listening to the scientists and the campaigners. Even on these pages I’ve been known to write poetry about nature, have routinely made calls to action on various related themes, and posted pictures of me and my daughter 9 years ago taking part in a climate change march (the same daughter who now, aged 10, just returned from a school camp fully signed up as a pescatarian.)

So, you know, I talk a good game and encourage others to do lots (plus I now have one daughter doing her thing to contribute towards lowering the demand for meat) versus I fly 1,000s of miles every year, like a bit of air conditioning in the Saigon heat and probably, on most other climate friendly criteria, would likely score pretty poorly.

And yet, the science on climate change has been public for years now. As much as a decade ago, I remember seeing a campaign in the UK to highlight the effects of climate change on the poorest communities the world over. The strapline’s call to action being: “turn down the thermostat – it’s getting hot over here.” The accompanying picture was of a pastoralist with his herd of livestock, sweltering in the heat of an African savannah.

Wind forward to the most recent round of climate change headlines (momentarily competing on the front pages with the familiar and depressing daily churn and circus) and the news about our warming planet remains bleak.     Continue reading “Drawing Down”

Money is Power

CARE colleague at a project visit to a Women’s Centre in the West Bank

What do you think of when you read the words ‘money is power‘?

Rich tycoons? Celebrity spenders? Men?

Maybe, maybe not. However, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume (and I believe there are solid grounds for such an assumption) that rich, powerful men represent a compelling ‘logo’ for the concept of money being powerful.

This post is about reframing that.

Now, CARE’s work is mainly couched in the language of poverty and injustice. These are far reaching and often misused words. I’ve written before about the way in which the international development sector overuses jargon, and we are still at it.

Within the wide parameters that ‘poverty’ and ‘injustice’ house, CARE delivers humanitarian relief, and we pride ourselves on our long term development interventions. More recently, we have been describing how we build resilience for communities.

There are then a bunch of derivatives used about each of these terms, which I’ll let you research yourself (as I’ve no doubt you now will).

This latest trend towards resilience is, in some ways, an attempt to combine the two historically distinct and typically separate areas of our work – namely, humanitarian relief and longer-term development.      Continue reading “Money is Power”