Factfulness

I am glad I read How to Understand the World by Hans Rosling, and then picked up Factfulness. I could more fully appreciate the journey and the person who became the man and found his purpose beyond being a doctor (in itself a marvelous profession). His young aspirations based on the world view in a developed country shifted and enhanced his life in so many ways. He knew when he was interacting with young doctors in Bangalore, India in the 1970’s that the society he had in mind was very different from the world. The world was changing, and yet our worldview had not

He was to see this trend in varying degrees across different countries, professions and even in erudite halls where world leaders came together, and should’ve known better such as the UN or the World Bank. 

It is still this way in varying degrees, although the internet and entertainment options have accelerated the understanding of different cultures in different ways. But Hans Rosling’s work along with his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Roddmund has helped the world understand the areas in which we are doing well as a species, and as a planet. This factfulness enables us to concentrate our powers of doing to the right causes and people.

 

Instead of Developed Vs Developing Countries, he instead splits societies into 4 levels on the development graph. (Source: Gapminder.org)

  • Level 1
  • Level 2
  • Level 3
  • Level 4

Perhaps the most telling graphs in gap minder are those showing how countries shifted from Level 1 towards Level 4 over 2-3 generations, and how this is what we can hope and work towards for those countries stuck in Level 1 and Level 2 today.  Please watch his bubble chart from the Late 1800’s to 2018 to see the world view progress and change.

Bubble Chart for Level 1- Level 4 countries over time

He writes, for instance, of a Sweden during his grandparents time – a view that closely resonates with Level 1 or early Level 2 countries of today.

  • Large families, patriarchal mindsets limiting progress, faulty drainage, lack of access to good hospitals and medicines etc.
  • Then, in his mother’s lifetime, she was able to get treated for tuberculosis in a hospital for free, have fewer children than her mother did, gain access to some automation such as a washing machine – thus freeing her up to take her children to the library, and spend more quality time with them.
  • In his own generation, he was able to get free healthcare, a state sponsored medical education, ability to raise his children in good schools, and so much more. 

The book talks about the most common ways in which our worldview are shaped, and how to work against each of these biases while understanding the world around us. But really, these tenets are useful for decision-making in general, not just for the world-view.

  • Negativity Instinct – we assume things are far worse than they really are, and this clouds our decision making process
  • Straight Line Instinct  – not all trends are linear even if they start out that way. Population growth for instance. It is estimated that by 2100, we would have leveled out around 11 billion – not a linear projection as predicted by doomsayers a few years ago. Largely due to education, family planning etc.
  • Fear Instinct – decisions made irrationally based on fear.
  • Size Instinct
  • Generalization Instinct
  • Destiny Instinct – Fighting against a predetermined fate helps us shape the decisions we’d like.
  • Single Perspective Instinct
  • Blame Instinct
  • Urgency Instinct – Anyone who has bought a car would know this one: Today, and today only deals – that we all know is

The book finishes with an excellent essay on Factfulness in practice. Progress is happening and it is heartening – 🌏

References:

  • How I Learned to Understand the World – Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund
  • Factfulness – Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund
  • Gapminder.org – Designed by Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund

To See The World

I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

The Moment of Lift – By Melinda Gates

About a decade ago, a couple of colleagues and I were having a lunch time conversation that veered towards those you will like to emulate and meet in your lifetime. As expected the list was full of celebrities, billionaires, eminent scientists and some folks, I had not heard of before. Some of them wanted to meet someone already dead if possible, and others chose people whose fields I found interesting.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Melinda Gates!” without hesitation as if the answer had been there all along just waiting to be asked. I was somewhat taken aback at how sure I was of the answer. After all, I had not given much thought to the question before, and I admired many people from different walks of life. The work of Bill & Melinda Gates through their foundation – understanding societal issues with an empathy and energy that shot them to the top of their fields in Business, is a real-life fairy tale that we are blessed to see unfold in our lifetimes. But there was more: I was inspired by her. It must not be easy being the wife of a world renowned personality and still hold her own, working to invest their considerable time and energy to making the world a better place. This, along with raising 3 children of their own.

Over the following years, my admiration for the couple has only increased. Like many others, I look forward to their annual newsletter, I watch amazed as other billionaires follow their path of philanthropy, and I certainly look forward to their book suggestions.

When I saw Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, therefore, it was a no-brainer to read the book. I was prepared to be inspired, but the book did more than that. I was humbled, inspired, encouraged, heart-broken, and hopeful – all within the 300 odd pages of her book.

The introductory chapter had me with the simple line, “Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” – Melinda Gates

moment_of_lift

The book is peppered with the story of brave women across the world; heart-breaking tales of poverty and misogyny; and inspirational NGO’s that have helped make their lot better.

Whether it was the story of Malala that we have all heard of, or the stories of people like Ruchi, Sister Sudha Varghese, Kakenya, Mama Rosa or Hans Rosling, every one’s journey that has been included, I am sure, speaks for hundreds of others with similar backgrounds.

The empathetic and analytical nature of the Author shines through in the words, and I must say, I could not help feeling a Moment of Lift as I saw hope pierce through the pages, as she makes the effort to include marginalized people.

Albert Einstein wrote, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Melinda Gates’ book increases our level of awareness on several fronts. How her journey morphed from decreasing infant mortality rates to one of women empowerment; enabling family planning, access to health care and education is a powerful one, and I am very glad she decided to pen her growth and journey as a Philanthropist.

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