The Parable of the Rescuer

Once there was a family who went to picnic by a river. While settling in, one of the mothers saw a body floating down the river. She quickly jumped up, pulled the body out of the water, gave CPR and the man survived. Startled by the incident, the family sat reflecting on what happened. This lasted for all of ten minutes until another body came floating down the river.

Quick to respond, the mother jumped up, pulled the body out of the water, gave CPR and the man survived. As they were about to talk of the seeming coincidence, the same thing happened again. And again. And again, and again, and again. It seemed like every ten to fifteen minutes there would another body that would come floating unconscious down the river.

Of course the mother was wise to the world. She knew that simple saving people all day would exhaust her, so she enlisted the help of her family and other people nearby. Soon she had taught dozens of people how to conduct CPR. Over the course of the day, they managed to save dozens of lives and teach people how to rescue others. She was feeling pretty pleased with herself.

This was until a child pointed out the along with the bodies, there were also broken canoes and kayaks floating down the river. In all the drama, everyone had seemingly not paid attention to this phenomenon. In the drama of what was happening, all the mother could do was respond by saying, ‘don’t worry about the kayaks, those don’t matter. We really need to focus on saving these lives’. Read more

The ethics of rescuing food

I want to explore the idea of rescue as an approach to changemaking, and why some aspects of the ‘rescue industry’ have hidden ethical challenges. This is a follow on from my post on how to rescue a racehorse, which explored a new rescue-based idea to tackle problems in the horse-racing industry.

Rescuing others is not a new concept in the changemaking world. We are familiar with animal rescue organisations that play a role in protecting the rights of animals, and providing support and shelter when at their most vulnerable. Although often not referred to in this way, rescue work also happens with people who are in vulnerable positions (like children). I am not here to lay any judgement on these organisations; I do want to explore the nature of rescue and other ways of creating change.

A more recent field in which this meme has entered is that of ‘food rescue’. Food rescue is the process whereby wasted food is ‘rescued’ from restaurants to be given a ‘second life’ by distributing to those who could use it. In both the US and Australia (and beyond), food rescue organisations have attracted an enormous amount of support and public acclaim. The social entrepreneurs behind these ventures in both countries have been heralded as visionary leaders doing important work.

Rescuing food seems somewhat different to rescuing animals or vulnerable people. In one sense, the food itself does not experience vulnerability in the same way. Environmentally of course, the wastage of food in the hospitality industry is a massive problem. Read more

How to rescue a racehorse

About a month ago a guy pitched me his idea in an elevator (yes, it actually happens). His idea was to ‘rescue a racehorse’. Actually, he wanted to not just rescue one racehorse, he wanted to rescue thousands of them. He explained to me what he saw as a problem of racehorses being slaughtered for the use of dog food. This problem by his accounts is not insignificant – one site quotes 18,000 Australia horses slaughtered each year.

The guy who pitched me the idea was a successful entrepreneur in his own right. Not having worked in the ‘social entrepreneurship’ space he wanted some quick advice as to what legal structure he should adopt. I replied along the lines of “these problems are often more complex than simple legal advice would warrant”. Despite his confidence in the solution, I managed to convince him that we should meet to discuss.

When we sat down the following week to explore the problem of racehorse slaughter, the complexity of the problem became more apparent. His original idea was to set up an organisation that allowed people to adopt racehorses or foals that were being sent to slaughter. He had a neat little funding model for it, and sales campaign idea that at first glance seemed like it would be attractive to people out in the market.

I asked him what other new problems this ‘rescuing’ might create. We came up with a list including: Read more