University Of Canberra...

It has been far too long since I wrote my thoughts here on this page.  Let's rectify that immediately.

Thank you, dear University of Canberra, for the incredible honour of the Chancellor's Young Alumni Award.  Both for the award itself and for considering me Young just a few days removed from my birthday.  You always knew how to make me smile, UC.

I've been a university student now for 15 years, and as I enter the last couple months of my law degree (that'll confuse the people who know me from Johannessen Legal), I'm starting to develop a little separation anxiety.

UC was where I learnt just how fanatical people can be about politics, real or contrived.  I learnt how to anticipate questions, how to deal with apathy, how to deal with excessive enthusiasm.  I learnt about deadlines and personal responsibility for work, time management, people management, self management.

I was inspired, motivated, pushed and prodded by a collection of incredible people, from academic staff in the Law School such as Jan Lennard, Dr Gilchrist and Professor Sainsbury, who, after being appointed head of the School of Law, still so graciously and selflessly took my calls and emails and provided advice as to my studies and career, to the Journalism and Communications staff, who were so instrumental in providing hands on experience and encouraging me to always search for more information, seek more knowledge.

I spent so many hours on courts representing the University in basketball and American football, and perhaps even more hours in the library or refectory with fellow students, pouring over books and articles in search of the perfect answer.  Later, while studying from a distance due to career, I've realised that UC cultivated such an incredible atmosphere that every second spent studying or writing was truly a joy because I wanted to be there.

One of my favourite memories to this day is roaming the halls and rooms of the Law School very late after hours; as President of the Law Society, I was often in the office late attending to some plan or project, in between completing (or rather, starting) assignments.  Walking the halls late at night, when no one else was around, was akin to reverence at times.  I had grown up respecting the institution of university so greatly that the thought of being in a law school was always a little surprising and humbling.

I know it sounds corny, however it's the truth.

UC also sent me to the University of Georgia.  I need far more time to put into words how incredible and fulfilling that experience was.

To now be recognised publicly by the University is a great privilege and honour.  Thank you.

Sincerely.


A Blessing And An Honor...

Spend enough time with your teammates, and words become unnecessary.  Communication is elevated from the direct to the non-verbal, simple, subtle nuances in body language being enough to express a broad range of emotions to those around you who are now much more than teammates.
So we sat, my brothers and I, around a small laptop, with an internet connection so poor that only 1 or 2 of every 6 or so seconds of the 2013 Finals could be seen with any clarity.
We sat around this small laptop, on a small table, in a small corner of a small town in Senegal, sweat dripping off of our weary bodies, mosquitoes gorging themselves on our swollen limbs, heads heavy from the heat of the day.  We sat, and were silent.
We are teammates and brothers not by birth or by chance; we call ourselves the Big Bangs, a misleading name at the best of times, and are united in our passion, dedication and love for this not for profit which uses basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage around the world.
We had just spent a full day at a children's center in Mbour, taking care of, feeding and playing with 100's of street-children, during a week in Senegal where we were training our new team there to carry on our programs and adopt our methods.  We had come to this country, as we do with every country in which we establish ourselves, with love and happiness and a great enthusiasm for the potential of the young people within it.
Yet here we sat, the enthusiasm and love and happiness on hold; through the blistering heat, we had frozen.
As lovers of this beautiful game it was an inevitability that we would love the Spurs; that my family are native to San Antonio and I have been a lifelong fan was a happy coincidence.  Our focus, therefore, was on OUR team, the team we have emulated not only on the court together, but also as a Program, as a way of being.
Even before The Shot, we had an unspoken foreboding about what was to come.  
The loss, delivered to us some 15 minutes after it had really happened thanks to connection issues, hit us hard.
I'm often asked across the board why sport, particularly basketball, is such a big part of my life, why I use it in every facet of my work not only with the Big Bang Ballers but also when helping others establish their own community or not for profit organisations, why does something as seemingly small as a basketball game have such an effect on me particularly when contrasted with the vast developmental and societal challenges we face as an organisation on a daily basis.
The answer is simple on the face of it, but so much more complex when unwrapped; basketball is a microcosm of life.  Our organisation has used it to inspire and motivate and support over 42,000 kids in 12 countries over the last 5 years.  I've personally used the game, the lessons it teaches and the ways it tests character to coach 1,000's of boys and girls.  My brothers and I have grown up learning from this game, and in turn taught through it as well.
Basketball matters because life matters, and what better example of how to live one's live with honor, respect, loyalty and focus than the San Antonio Spurs?
The loss hit hard, yet the mood some hours later, when the roosters had woken the others from their slumber, was not one of anger or sadness, but of hope, of expectation, of excitement for the future.
The game teaches us that no matter how many times the opposing team scores on you, you ALWAYS get the ball back.  There is always another opportunity to change your situation, to improve and learn and hopefully excel.  We started the day then not forlorn at a loss but rather looking ahead to the next opportunity to do better, to be better.
It's easy to "be a team" when you're winning; it's an entirely different beast when faced with a loss or a difficult situation.  In those moments, one's character is tested, and once you realise just how powerful a team can be compared to an individual, once you commit yourself to the greater good and persevere not for yourself, but for the betterment of those around you whom you have the privilege of calling brothers, then no loss ever seems that great, no hardship ever seems permanent, no barrier seems to monumental to overcome.
As the confetti rained down this season, there was an air of inevitability among my brothers.  That it took 7 years was of no consequence; the Spurs had persevered, had remained true to their values and their morals and continued to run their Program in the way they believed was for the betterment of their entire team.  Excellence is a habit, and a habit of excellence is infectious.
We watched the game in our own corners of the world, from Australia to Philippines to France to Malaysia to Senegal to Nepal to the US, and though we were elated at the result, no words were needed to express our true sentiments.
I write this today as I glance over my organisation's achievements over the last 5 years.  I see similarities, and can't help but chuckle a little when I think of just how much I have emulated Coach Pop and the Spurs, or at least tried to, in both my personal and professional life.  Of how within our organisation we have persevered through stumbles and failures and losses, of how personally there have been seemingly endless losing streaks, yet through it all I, and we, have committed ourselves to the system, to the Program, and never wavered on our loyalty to it and the certainty that the hard work will pay off.
That the system will deliver.
That though the pounding seems endless, the sculpture is there, below the surface, and that all it demands is for the artist to keep on pounding away.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a lifelong Spurs fan.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a Big Bang Baller.
To celebrate both 5 years of the Big Bangs as well as the 2014 NBA Championship is both serendipitous and oddly inevitable.

Chemistry

In basketball, coaches often worry about chemistry.  Chemistry is a difficult concept to adequately describe and even more difficult to cultivate.

Bringing people who are often very different together is so counter-intuitively difficult in spite of their common goals.

Chemistry also ebbs and flows; where there may be a week or two where the team operates as though they are the cogs of the same machine, there may also be a couple of weeks where everyone seems to be on different pages of different books… the mixed analogy is on purpose.

Fostering, developing, nurturing good chemistry is a long, arduous process, with a level of commitment involved above and beyond any other aspect of the game, which in and of itself is complicated and intensely grand in its scope.

I’m sitting in front of my laptop this morning, working on several things at once, and watching the San Antonio Spurs, my hometown team, the team upon which my beloved charity, the Big Bangs, my philosophy of basketball and even the direction of my life has been based, and I can’t help but be inspired…

If you haven’t seen this tribute yet, please pause and do so now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6NbJMq-QfU .

Chemistry comes from dedicating yourself not only to a common goal, but also from love.

Love and basketball?  Unquestionably.

This is a beautiful game, with so much intricacy and an eternal range of options on how it can be played, yet the most successful of teams, the most successful of franchises, operate not with a focus on one individual (sorry Cleveland), not with a focus on players themselves (sorry Brooklyn), not even with a focus on funds (sorry mostly every other team).

The best players always focus on love.  Love of the game, love of the competition, love for your teammates and your franchise and most of all, love for the legacy of this sport called basketball.

Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncun.

Love.

What did these great players have in common?  They so loved the game, so loved their teammates, and so loved the grand ideals of this sport that their very existence runs parallel to the game, not as a sideshow, not as a career, not as a source of fame.

The separation between them is also love; their successes on the court stemmed from their ability to either be within or create chemistry in their teams.

Kobe is a legend.  Tim is a legend.  Yet for both purists and statisticians, who has had the greater career?  My bias and my love say Tim on the Spurs, and both purists and Statisticians agree.

Your team, whether on the court, in the workplace, even your team at home, being yourself and your partner, will always require cultivation and management of “chemistry”.  Finding balance in opinions, managing expectations and relationships, ensuring each individual is both understood and understands those around them is a monumental task… however the rewards for prioritizing chemistry are endless.

Chemistry is a full-time concern, rightfully so.  Contrary to popular belief it does not occur automatically; sometimes it is easier to find, however it will always require work and focus.

When you love something or someone, don’t ignore the effort chemistry requires of you.  Don’t ever allow yourself to be complacent with that love; saying isn’t enough, you need to show that love.  Wanting chemistry is not enough, you need to actively work on maintaining it.

So yet again I look to my team, my constant source of inspiration and love to remind and teach me how best to attain happiness in my life.


We are all guilty of allowing chemistry to wane, and that’s ok… however I won’t allow myself to take the easy route and allow chemistry with my loved ones to fall because of my own laziness, my own reluctance to put in the work required.

Are you putting in the work required?  Are you being mindful of how important your team's chemistry is to your success?

You're not alone in the world, even Wolves run in packs at times.

P

RIP Agnes

Rodrigue and I had finished our first day together training the Kammengo kids, and we were exhausted.  The Sun had turned the tilted concrete court into a baking pan, and our feet and our heads had melted just a little throughout the course of the day.  I'm sure the black Big Bangs shirts added somewhat to the heat.  We hadn't thought far enough to even consider what we would be eating that night, which is not altogether surprising for us, as we seem to get caught up in the rush of every camp, no matter where we are.

As we sat on the plastic chairs in the courtyard, a tall, black, short-haired woman walks in through a side door, strides over to where we're sitting, and announces that dinner is ready... some women seem so perfect for motherhood, and dear Agnes was a mother to all she encountered.

Fresh avocado, pineapple, even sweet bananas, all were laid out for us.  Like the doting mother she was, Agnes made sure we both had our full share, and continued to do so for the entire week we were there.

In our brief time among the kids of Kammengo, we heard, saw and felt the love Agnes had for all of us, kids, volunteers, helpers, even random strangers who would stop by the center.  Rod and I became quite attached to Agnes; the way to a man's heart is through is stomach, after all.

Our family today mourns a loss so great, so painful.

Rest In Peace, dear Agnes.

Speech at launch of Australian Volunteers for International Development

26 May 2011, Parliament House


Walking into a room full of Australian volunteers preparing for deployment is a great lesson in tempering preconceptions and avoiding stereotypes.  It’s easy to imagine all volunteers being of the same ilk; ultra-progressive, left wing, vegetarian…  I am joking of course, but I do note that several of you nodded in agreement as I said that.  I admit that I had that image firmly planted in my head as I walked in to my first briefing session, wondering frantically if I would fit in with the group that was already there.

Here’s the extraordinary, powerful side of Australian culture that too often goes unnoticed by even our own people.  Lending a hand to one’s neighbor isn’t a chore, a monumental gathering of effort.  For Australians, it’s just a part of who we are.  In that room and in so many rooms I have been in since that moment, I was privileged to be swept away by the diversity of people representing their country, representing my country, who were prepared and willing to give their time, their efforts, their particular expertise for the benefit of our international neighbours.

In my intake alone there were bankers, archeologists, public servants, professionals, lawyers, uni students, tradesmen, surfers, cricketers, nurses, therapists, the list goes on and on…

It is a testament to the strength of our collective character that not only do Australians from all walks of life, all backgrounds and cultures, political, social and religious leanings, constantly and continuously raise their hands to give of themselves to the people and places that need them the most, but that also successive governments, themselves of varying political and social leanings, continue to value and support and fund volunteer programs so that we can help where help is most needed.

The benefits extend back home as well.

Sending motivated, driven, talented Australians overseas to places and situations which may be lacking resources, expertise, corporate knowledge or certain skills is a three pronged fork; firstly, it directly benefits the host organization, providing them with the skills they require to both build the capacity of existing staff as well as make use of the new talents brought by the volunteer. 

Secondly, as in many cases the volunteer is the first contact with an Australian many people have, it is a wonderful form of ambassadorship for our own country.  Preconceptions and even misconceptions go both ways, and too often it is too easy for the outside world to prejudge us and our country based on stereotypes, some positive and some unfortunately negative.  In my experience, the sight of Australian Volunteers, so clearly diverse in both background and skill, is an incredibly positive reflection of our multicultural, multi-talented community. 

Finally, thankfully, it is also a great motivator for those who volunteer, with Australia directly reaping the benefits.  Former volunteers have used their experiences and lessons learnt while on assignment to return to Australia and form local and international charities, increase their community involvement, give back by joining, running and even leading community and social organizations whose sole purpose is the betterment and success of our own society.

I am a proud returned volunteer.  Proud of my experience but more so proud that my country places such importance on the worth of such programs, that we take the chance to send Australians far and wide to help and to learn from other people and cultures.  Proud to bring my experiences, successes and failures back home and use that combined knowledge to continue my involvement with both international development and local community development.

For most of us, we leave the country doe-eyed and eternally optimistic, assured, regardless of any warnings given to us prior to departure that we will inevitably change the world with one fell swoop.  The reality is of course far less poetic and glamorous than that, however we come back with far more than dreams, and far beyond skepticism.  We come back with experience, tangible, real world experience of what it takes to live and work in a developing country, hands on experience of the difficulties and issues around international development, in most cases a renewed optimism of the possibilities and power of cooperative work.  While we may have left home believing the world needs saving, it quickly becomes apparent that even those of us whose focus has long been beyond our own borders, misconceptions and preconceptions inevitably form over the course of a lifetime.  By living and working amongst people of other cultures, those social barriers quickly fall, and our own perceptions of the world are changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes in great strokes.  At the very least, the experience reinforces just how right they were to call this the Lucky Country
.
On the other end of the scale, they serve to inspire a lifelong commitment to our home.

I spent a lifetime wanting to do more, be more, help more.  In 2007 I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh.   From creating a marketing and fundraising platform to Program Evaluation to the development of Habitat Bangladesh’s first disaster rehabilitation program, I immersed himself in Bangladeshi language and culture, and helped revamp the Resource Development Department of the organisation.  In the process, although I couldn’t foresee how far it would go at the time, I helped start my organization, the Big Bang Ballers, which uses the game of basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage around the world.

Being a volunteer not only allowed me to help those in developing countries, it gave me the experiences to realize how much could be done right here in Australia, how much need, more than ever, there is for helping hands right here.

See the criticisms we sometimes hear about spending money and time to send aid and people overseas aren’t unreasonable.  As lucky as we are, as blessed as we are, there are plenty of things we can improve, plenty of situations in which our experiences in the developing world serve to contribute to the betterment of our own country.  We learn so much about not only how to deal with and solve problems overseas, but also to bring those skills back to Australia and apply them here.

Returned volunteers are now working with Generation One, the Red Cross, local and federal government departments, committed, motivated, inspired to help solve the problems here at home just as much as they are to eliminating poverty overseas.

I have a confession to make.  I lied before about losing that doe-eyed optimism.  It never leaves you, it just becomes more focused.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give, said Sir Winston Churchill. 

Our volunteer programs teach us how and remind us why we continue to give, both at home and abroad.

They give us perspective, give us context, teach us how best to help others, and in the process help ourselves.

They send the message to the outside world that we care enough to send our young people, our experts, our passionate game-changers to some of the most demanding places on earth, knowing that our best and brightest demand that the values and principles of equality and justice and human rights, which come so naturally to Australians, are rightfully inherited by all around us.

What could make us prouder to be Australians.

Thank you.