Anti-fragile dad

Dads are the best. My one tops the list, obviously.

Life’s thrown him challenge after challenge after challenge. Loss of loved ones, hardship and all manner of complex situations.

Yet somehow he bounces back, time and again, stronger and stronger. With more and more love in his heart and a greater spring in his step.

Many would be fragile and collapse under the pressure of life. Others would do the mere basics to stay standing, or find ways to numb themselves from the discomfort. No, not dad — he’s anti-fragile. He takes each new challenge and becomes stronger and more vibrant.

Wherever he goes, he lights up the room and brings a feeling of joviality in the air. He works hard, travels widely and easily makes friends wherever he goes.

Recently for his 65th birthday, family and friends recorded video messages for him. The one consistent quality shared about him through these messages is his ability to bring energy to whoever he meets.

What’s for sure is that this is not by any accident. He has worked hard on himself for decades. Life throws great curveballs and yet he finds a way to consistently embrace them, get even stronger and fill the room with light.

I see this in my brother too — he is an incredible loving father to my nephew and has anti-fragility woven into every fibre of his being. Leveraging life’s knocks and bouncing back powerfully, you’ll find that wherever he goes, Sawan fills the room with light, with love and with joy.

Also my friend Leo who practices this at home and in his work, delves deep into his well of compassion to serve millions of people and even trains his community in anti-fragility.

As I look to my dad, my brother and my friends, I’m inspired to train in anti-fragility, with deep calm and great joy.

Gifting fearlessness

Animals are life, just like you and I, We determine when their time is up, one day even we will die.

We know what pain is and work hard to limit our own, They too feel much pain, must we work them to the bone?

When we open our eyes and see all life as our almighty God, We might look in their eyes and give them a friendly loving nod.

For each being that we encounter is here to complete an interaction, So let us not brush them aside or consider them a distraction.

Our work is to open our arms and offer a warm embrace, To live and let live, to give them their space.

Consider an approach to life that frees others from the fear of suffering, May that be your gift to this world, gracefully serving and boldly empowering.

Elder abuse – recognition and action

Behind those care home doors - Adeline Dalley

Care homes provide essential support and companionship for those in later life, particularly those who have lost their mobility or mental capacity and are unable to live independently or have the necessary assistance from loved ones. Everyone’s circumstances are different and in many cases, care homes are just the right solution. Of course, not all care homes are run as you might hope.

Reading this fascinating book by Adeline Dalley, written for care staff and relatives of patients, helps to shine a light on what goes on behind those care home doors. In the chapter on abuse in care, it shares how to look out for abuse (a concern when putting a loved one into care) and what action you can take.

Key takeaways:

  1. Abuse can be carried out by anyone who has contact with the victim: management, carers, social workers, relatives, friends, neighbours, priests.
  2. Types of abuse include physical, financial, sexual, psychological, discriminatory, general neglect, or institutional.
  3. Speak up: As hard as it might be, don’t just run away (or pull your relative out of the care home) without saying something – it might be happening to other patients / residents.
  4. There are also many cases where people are confused and mistakenly say abuse has happened – by listening intently and looking at the patterns, you can see if that’s the case, why it’s happening and how to calmly and lovingly address it.

Having spent time talking with organisations that serve older people, it turns out that these types of abuse are not just restricted to care homes – it even commonly takes place in family homes. By facing it head on, remaining vigilant and looking out for the signs, we can collectively help to end elder abuse.

Interfaith week community wellbeing in Harrow

Hosted by Mind (the mental health charity) in Harrow, members of various local faith groups came together on Friday 17 November to embrace mental wellbeing during Interfaith Week.

It was a relaxed and welcoming session that encouraged us to talk about what makes us happy, how the 5 Ways to Wellbeing relate to our own faith, outlook or personal philosophy, and to share our own favourite quotes and inspiring stories from our own culture.

Scientific studies have shown that happiness will increase when we follow the 5 Ways to Wellbeing: (i) Connect; (ii) Be active; (iii) Keep learning; (iv) Help others; (v) Taking notice.

I found that the session was a wonderful space for connection and a place to enjoy common ground with members of other faith groups. Discussions led to the surfacing of some great gems from the Jain faith such as “athithi devo bhava” (translates to “a guest is God”) and the cultivation of qualities such as universal friendship, appreciation of others’ virtues, compassion for the suffering and equanimity for behaviours we might otherwise struggle to deal with.

This interfaith and wellbeing coffee morning arose from a three day training course I had attended in September for Community Wellbeing Champions, again run by the Mind in Harrow Bridging Cultures project. It was such a joy to meet my fellow course mates from within the local community, continuing to strengthen bonds we had formed in the initial training course.

Keep a look out for other mental health and wellbeing events taking place in the Harrow area over the coming months. These are being run by fellow course mates who are themselves inspiring and dedicated volunteers and professionals.

A fond thank you to the team at Bru Coffee and Gelato for providing a homely space for us and to Emily Danby (Bridging Cultures Coordiator at Mind in Harrow) for organising such a wonderful coffee morning and for treating us all to a coffee!


Emergence of Artificial Intelligence in Charities

On 15 November 2017, FARM Digital hosted an evening for charity professionals to learn from Microsoft, Age UK and Cancer Research UK about platforms and prototyping of artificial intelligence to better support service users.

My background in leveraging personal data to deliver service improvements through personalisation drew me to this fascinating event.

Microsoft’s platforms for building artificial intelligence solutions

Faris Haddad, Cloud Solution Architect and “Data liberator” at Microsoft gave an overview of the platform that Microsoft has developed (including Cortana Intelligence Suite and Azure Machine Learning) to enable organisations to test out and implement artificial intelligence for better access to relevant information, for fundraising and for better support through enhanced Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Of particular interest was the speech API called Language Understanding Intelligence Service (LUIS) and Microsoft Payment API available within the bots framework, taking away some of the challenges of PCI compliance.

Faris shared an interesting nugget from Gartner: “By 2020, the customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.” It’s interesting how customers will not only be used to interacting with a non-human by 2020 but will likely come to expect a high level of speed and accuracy for most operational tasks.

Age UK’s approach to quicker access to information via chatbots

The digital team at Age UK have been working hard to deliver important information and useful resources to older people and their carers, as demonstrated through their recently relaunched super accessible website

We heard from Rob Mansfield (@robram), Head of Digital Content at Age UK, about how they set up a virtual assistant on their website for their service users to easily access answers to more general questions. This freed up their call centre staff to address the more complex queries, bringing about cost savings for the organisation and user journey improvements for older people.

Key learnings about chatbots shared by Rob from Age UK:

  1. While most people don’t understand what a chatbot is, it’s OK – internally help them see the time and cost saving benefits, and for service users, let them experience a better service through quicker responses and improved signposting.
  2. Bots give the impression of simplicity, but it will take effort and ongoing enhancements to deliver a truly great user experience.
  3. You can never answer everything – some queries will just be too complex, or unrelated – in those situations…
  4. Build a safety net to allow your chatbot user to get through to a real person – whether it’s by phone, filling in a contact form, or patching them through to a live online assistant.
  5. It’s important to dedicate time and resource to the planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance (content and technical) of the chatbot.
  6. The easiest thing you can do is think linear and utilise a decision tree to lead them down one of a pre-defined set of paths to help you help them.
  7. When interacting with a non-human, it needn’t be a sterile environment. Add some delight where appropriate, using emojis, GIFs, even a video.
  8. It’s good to make your chatbot sound human, but not too human! The aim is not to fool your users, but simply to deliver a better service to them.
  9. Real chatbots are still quite some way off. It can be really complicated to work out how to handle misspelling and mistyping and to really understand the context of what someone has typed. As technology and AI APIs develop, we’re getting closer.
  10. Know what success looks like by gauging happiness of the end user through some kind of feedback mechanism, such as a poll at the end of the chatbot interaction.

Cancer Research UK’s use of a voice-activated virtual assistant

The Innovation team at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) identify and test out ways to bring about efficiencies and a richer user experience through the use of artificial intelligence, such as for external customer service, internal customer service (IT helpdesk) and fundraising. They use product-focused start-up approaches to build organisational readiness.

Rob Leyland (@robliteration), Innovation Manager at Cancer Research UK, discussed some of the approaches their charity has taken to implement artificial intelligence, using it to provide health information to the public and to influence behaviour change.

It is scientifically proven that 40% of cancers are preventable. Knowing that overconsumption of alcohol can lead to many types of cancer, CRUK prototyped an Alexa ‘skill’ that allowed people to interact with their Amazon Echo to set goals for the maximum units of alcohol they were going to drink in a given period and to record their actual drinks consumed over that time, just by speaking into the device, with Alexa providing ongoing positive encouragement.

Rob’s team at CRUK set up a five day design sprint, using the Google Ventures Sprint approach, to build a prototype. This involved:

  • Day 1: Map – mapping out the problem and picking an important place to focus
  • Day 2: Sketch – working in isolation and sketching competing solutions on paper
  • Day 3: Decide – making difficult decisions and turning ideas into a testable hypothesis
  • Day 4: Prototype – hammering out a high-fidelity prototype
  • Day 5: Test – testing out the prototype with real live humans!

Jake Knapp, formerly of Google Ventures, explains the process well in this video:

Key learnings about prototyping an Alexa skill, shared by Rob at Cancer Research UK:

  1. Keep the scope down and start simple. Make it quick to build by minimising how much content you’re initially offering.
  2. When using voice, be concise – so that the person using it doesn’t switch off 🙂
  3. Challenge to overcome: there might be confusion about invocation (how to initiate Alexa) and intents (e.g. add a drink to my log, not my shopping basket!)
  4. Soft launch it to the skills store and then take it on the road to test with real users (e.g. within charity shops)
  5. Acknowledge (make peace with) the limitations – test it, soft launch it, trial it, enhance it.

Current thoughts about using artificial intelligence in charities

I sense that while the use of artificial intelligence is starting to emerge in charities and the applications appear to be useful for service users, AI will really shine when the data that the charities and the platforms have about the supporter or service user is clean and is used mindfully. Watch this space!


Patient emerging of purpose to uplift a community

For the first decade of my life, I grew up in Wealdstone, an area of Harrow that has since significantly changed over the years. With some spare time this afternoon, I visited Wealdstone and sat on a public bench opposite the Holy Trinity Church, a building I was always intrigued by when I was a young boy.

As I sat, alone on the bench with a hot coffee in my hand, keeping my backpack close next to me, I recollected the times growing up in the area, the trip to the local bakery or the bank or the shoe shop with my mum and brother. I remembered going to the park, accompanied by my dad who taught my brother and I how to ride a bike.

As I continued to sit this afternoon, on World Mental Health Day, I observed the local community, some on their way back home from a long day at work, mothers and their children walking home from their after-school activities, others humming while cycling, or those walking while engrossed in their phone screens.

I also witnessed young men subtly exchanging what looked like small brown packets and bank notes. I noticed other young men, sipping on a can of beer concealed by a plastic bag. I saw elderly men, some sitting alone, appearing so lonely, talking to themselves. I saw other elderly men in groups, prising open a bottle of whisky and twisting open a bottle of water to dilute the whisky (thereby making the drink last that much longer).

Witnessing all this loneliness, this lack of purpose, this need to numb their pain through alcohol or drugs of some sort, made me feel very sad. In some ways, I wanted to help them out of their suffering and in other ways, I wanted to just let them be.

Looking closer, I noticed something beyond the sadness, beyond the loneliness, beyond the pain. I noticed that majestic spirit, trapped, concealed, enslaved, but still there. It was present in the everlasting beyond the transient. It came through in the way the man sitting alone tapped his legs on the paving on the ground. It showed clearly in the way the group of men engaged with each other. It was apparent through the interactions, through the gestures, through the eyes, through each breath.

It’s in that moment that I felt a sense of calm, a sense that the town I grew up in, has perhaps not degraded in the way I first thought, as it still houses the very spirit that has the potential to uplift the entire community. In that moment, I witnessed hope, joy, wisdom and a sense of purpose, eagerly seeking to emerge.