I’m OK. We’re not OK.

Shockingly dim sunrise in Wollongong obscured by bush fire smoke.

Having spent a year in the beautiful South Coast of Australia, I have come to love the people, their spirit, and the stunning environment here. That affection has turned to despair as I have watched the bush fires decimate many favorite places and panic so many people here. The scale of this devastation boggles the mind, and there aren’t even maps big or fast enough to capture all the danger.

I’m ok – Wollongong is currently spared from the current crisis, but we’re not ok as it’s hard to imagine a single Australian who is not affected by the ongoing disaster.

During our current holiday trip to Melbourne we have been spared the worst of the fires. It’s not currently in danger of burning. However the air was thick with smoke yesterday. Residents who have been here more than a decade don’t recall seeing anything like it. We’re not having the family reunion we planned. Local family have been unable to come as they need to stay to protect their property in an historically safe area of New South Wales. Meanwhile family members from America are going to have to improvise their travel plans.

Australia has a tremendously old and wise soul. There are established practices by indigenous people to sustainably manage the environment and prevent large bush fires. However Australia has many aspects of being a younger nation as well. The western colonization of this remote continent gave it time and space to see other countries develop density more rapidly. As a result, it has been able to leapfrog many of the pitfalls encountered by other post-colonial siblings like the USA. The social safety net is stronger in Australia, and the higher level respect for the working trades is powerful for me to see here. However in many cases it is making similar mistakes. Environmental management is chief among them. Australia is a big place with a lot of resources, but the current direction is just not sustainable for this country.

William McDonough insightfully points to the distinction between doing less bad and doing good. Reducing carbon emissions is like driving your car towards a brick wall less quickly. And based on Trump’s and Morrison’s policies we seem to be stepping on the gas instead. If we really want to save ourselves from the growing struggles with climate change we’re going to have to ditch that car and head somewhere new. Yes that future is indistinct, but that excitement of banding together to face the unknown is what has made the American and Australian spirit shine best. And that is when we say “I’m not OK if we’re not OK.”

by Aly Khalifa

5-Jan-2019 Bicheno, Tasmania

My TEDx Talk

This was an awesome opportunity to present my thesis on the “Pursuit of Good Work,” which is largely inspired by my Eisenhower Fellowship Experience. While at first this felt like closing the loop on my fellowship, it has begun to feel like it was just the first lap…

Closing the Loop with Dr. Kespechara

As an Eisenhower Fellow in 2012, I met a tremendous visionary in Thailand.  Dr Kongkiat Kespechara MD has taken it upon himself to reform Thailand’s healthcare system by starting a software company to create Open Source Hospital OS. It has had a compelling impact on Thailand’s health and is spreading to other countries. My original blog post is here

The Eisenhower network has been able to  to sponsor his visit from Thailand to share his fascinating story. Dr. Kespechara will be here next week and I hope to have him networking with Triangle Executives who can tackle rural NC hospital needs by tackling one of their biggest expenses with Open Source. Imagine the impact we could have here at home. Please spread the news across your networks about this compelling vision. The event is free!
October 3, 2013
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Research Triangle Park Headquarters
12 Davis Dr
Durham, NC 27703


Father Gonzalo Gabriel Aemilius Berezan is an inspiring figure. I met him through the Eisenhower Fellowships Multination Program last year. Gonzalo is Principal of Liceo Jubilar, an innovative educational center that serves 340 adolescent and adult students and impacts more than 1500 people in the community, one of the poorest in Montevideo and Uruguay as a whole.


As an Eisenhower Fellow for 2012, I got to spend time with him in Philadelphia and the Grand Canyon. While there on a Sunday, Father Gonzalo made a clearing in the woods and invited us to a sermon. MNP Fellow Dearbhail McDonald is both an Editor and also a classical violinist from Ireland. She played a beautiful piece for all of us. Then BBC Journalist Dr. William Crawley gave a reading. Father Gonzalo then discussed what we had seen in the Grand Canyon, the lightness and shadows and applied it to the spiritual world. It was quite a touching moment to watch fellows from China to Jordan to Brazil actively participate together in the simplest yet most vivid sermon I have seen.


His work has inspired many of us. In fact, one of the happiest moments for me this year was seeing Gonzalo’s work recognized in Rome.


Pope Francis, in one of his first sermons, not only specifically called out Father Gonzalo’s work, but actually brought him to the altar to celebrate his dedication to working with the poor. See the video below at 1:35. For me, it communicated a new direction for the Church. Now Father Gonzalo is headed to Rome, and I am thrilled to watch the truly inspirational work of Father Gonzalo continue to unfold.

Day of Sorrow

I learned today that Eisenhower Fellow Greg King has passed away at his home in New Zealand. He was a warm, considerate man with incredible talents and the conviction to make the world more just. This picture we took at the Grand Canyon made me think about the immense obstacles a high profile criminal defense lawyer like Greg faces every day. And this has reminded me how life can be so powerful and at the same time so fragile.  It’s a real shock to all of us and our thoughts are with his family who must be wrenched by this tragedy.

Welcome to the Philippines

Had a wonderful reception in the Philippines by many local Eisenhower Fellows. What a distinguished group!

(L-R, seated): Gen. Billy Villareal (ret.) SNP 86, EFAP chair; Ben Sanchez MNP 62; Lilia Bautista MNP 83

Standing (L-R): Dan Songco MNP 99, EFAP vice-chair and executive director; Ping de Jesus MNP 77, EFAP trustee; Omar Cruz SNP 86, EFAP Trustee; Ramy Hermano MNP 58, EFAP trustee; Dondi Silang MNP 2000; Gov. Migs Dominguez MNP 2009.

Unfortunately we only thought to take this photo after the very gracious Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala had left.

Lunch was fantastic and the conversation was freewheeling and stimulating. Mr. Zobel led the discussion on what makes Filipino society distinct in the world, and the whole group joined in on a variety of perspectives. My big take away was that many Westerners think that Filipinos are western in spirit because of their longstanding relationship with Spain, USA and their widespread use of the English language. However, the Philippines has a rich history of many tribal and ethnic groups that still inform their mentality and choices far more than a Western ideology. This insight was invaluable as I started my journey in this diverse country.

But this same group of distinguished leaders had a fun and hip spirit as well, and so our conversation had a lot of laughter and covered a lot of ground – including music, the effect of expatriates, and the amount of YouTube views of Gangnam Style.

From Patients to Software to Rice

Tracing the career path of Dr. Kongkiat Kespechara is like reading a treasure map: there are twists and turns and surprises all along the way, but promises an unfolding bounty at the end. Here are some of his current activities: Dr. Kespechara is a still-practicing MD, a software entrepreneur, an open source pioneer, a force in economic development, a big data processor, a nutritionist, an agriculturist and a retailer. Let me explain.

As a practicing physician in Phuket, he became aware of some of the struggles facing hospitals. At one point the Thai government wanted to modernize all the hospitals and demanded that Information Technology be adopted right away. Then he saw the budget. No significant increase were given to help hospitals meet this expensive demand. After some ruminating he realized most of the costs would be tied up in creating the information infrastructure to capture patient records. He thought it would be a huge help to all the hospitals if an open source solution was developed that they could all share and called it Hospital OS.

Since there was not much going on with software development in the tourist-driven island of Phuket, he ended up developing a Phuket Software Park to stimulate a software scene. Then he worked with the local university to support this program.

Hospital OS was not funded externally, but all he asked was to pay for the time of a developer to come on site to customize and install the system and then train key staff on how to use it. This solution was so readily adopted, that his programmers would be on constant tour around the country doing installations.

Dr. Kespechara was realistic too. He knew that most hospitals would not back up their data regularly, so he configured his system to back up each hospital in the middle of the night. But this led to a new insight: he now had data that reflected what was happening in the rural communities of Thailand. In fact, after a few years he was able to not only help hospitals staff up for outbreaks, but was actually able to predict what was coming.

Processing big data became quite a tool that extended beyond emergency needs. Over time he was able to start targeting the growing health risks for Thailand. As in other parts of the world, a key health challenge is the rising incidence of diabetes. This led D. Kespechara to a look at the Thai diet, and a key culprit jumped out: white rice.

By plotting blood sugar values, he learned that it quickly spiked after eating white rice. In searching through older forms of rice he discovered some heirloom varieties that was not only much healthier in vitamins, but it kept blood sugar levels low enough that even diabetics would not suffer.

Next thing you know Dr Kespechara is working with farmers to grow these heirloom rices. He was disturbed by the amount of steroids used in growing rice. Apparently adding steroids cuts the growing season from 90 days to 75 days, so really helps alleviate cash flow pressures for rural farmers. So he worked with farmers to rediscover old techniques in growing rice organically but then had to charge a premium price to make it worth the cash flow pressure.

The Pensook varieties of rice is loved by foodies, but it is different enough that it requires revised recipes to fit into the Thai palate. Dr Kespechara felt the only way to create demand for this new rice was to create a retail environment where chefs could demonstrate it and get people’s mouths watering.

Of course being in the retail world he now has to start thinking about costs. Apparently one of the challenges in the process is the expense of the husking machines… and so the journey continues.

As much as this seems to be a tortuous path of discovery, each of these landmarks have realized significant success. Hospital OS is a massive program with international recognition. Major health concerns are now flagged by big data. Farmers are now earning more and the Thai diet is welcoming a tastier and healthier rice.

At first it makes you wonder what’s the next project, but when you sit with Dr. Kespechara and feel his calm and warm smile, you realize that the path of discovery is the project.

The Birds and the Bees and the Condoms and the Cabbages

Mechai Viravaidya is a compellingly progressive figure. Our introduction to his style came in form of an invitation to his restaurant, a hotspot called Cabbages and Condoms.

Mechai has been a significant force in reducing AIDS in Thailand, and he has done it with flair. By using creativity and humor, he allowed condoms to be commonly discussed and adopted into modern life. His work is quite well documented and internationally recognized with a multitude of awards, so will only reference his own links here.

What was even more curious was the serious conviction and detailed planning coming from a man surrounded by colorful artwork made from condoms. He boiled his approach down to a pretty simple but powerful insight: every NGO (nonprofit) has to get money from somewhere, and it usually requires lots of time and effort to secure sponsors to get the required funding. He thought it simpler to approach every NGO as a sister effort to a for-profit venture. So the proceeds that comes from the wildly successful Cabbages and Condoms goes straight to the NGO aimed at preventing HIV/AIDS. It may be simpler but it could be twice the headache – now he has to run a successful restaurant and run and a successful NGO. However time that would be spent fundraising and networking can be focused on the restaurant. Better yet, the more the two efforts are understood as a team, the more it resonates with the community and thus reinforce each other. Going to Cabbages and Condoms is not just fun, it’s perceived as doing some good, too.

Mechai has replicated this approach in several different ways, including his latest effort to re-imagine education in Thailand. His Mechai Pattana “Bamboo School” has garnered significant attention. Mechai once again employs a two-pronged approach to the schools. The students have to perform useful community service which vitally connects the school to the region. The school term centers around rice planting and harvesting so students can participate and learn about farming. Furthermore students have to operate businesses that will have positive social impact with the community. Finally, in their last year they are sent to Pattaya to be immersed in a much different atmosphere, with their campus being located at Mechai’s Bird & Bees Resort.

It seems there is no end to Mechai’s ability to innovate across economic sectors and across Thailand, creating connections all along the way. I think there is a lot for the rest of us to learn here – especially on how to be brave with humor.

Innovative Leather

As an accessories designer, I do frequently come across leather, but have always seen it as a commodity rather than the true form of art it can be. As a guy who tends to stay away from meat, I’m also conflicted when I realize that leather can also be viewed as a way to minimize the waste of our animal consumption. But when in Bangkok I met with Nauvarat Songsawaddichai, President of the Thailand Leather Association. She asked me about fish leather…fish leather?


Then I was asked if I had seen chicken shin leather…really? It’s also known as poulard.


But my imagination really took off when I was shown stingray leather. In fact I had to buy a wallet made out of it. The white eye shape is where the bony tail emerges from the top of the animal. It’s so tough you could sand wood with it.

Now I am determined to find out more about all of these resources and wrestle with the concepts of sustainability in harvesting and tanning the skins of these animals. Perhaps there really is a place for innovative and sustainable leather in our coming product line of shoes. Needless to say, the more I learn the less I know!