11/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Power Of The GuluWalk

How was your week?

Mine started off with a client meeting, talking with a CEO about what he wanted to see in a speech I'm writing for him. We had a long and thoughtful conversation about what it means to be a leader in these uncertain - and often cynical - times. I found myself looking at his kind face and thinking, "Here's one of the good guys, and he's being tarred with the same brush as the greedy, corrupt ones." So I steered the conversation toward authenticity. Or, to use the vernacular, how we could show him to be "walking his talk."

Imagine my delight, then, when the subject for this week's column arrived in my inbox - two people who are walking their talk. Literally.

In 2004, Adrian Bradbury and his partner, Kieran Hayward, first heard the story of the "night commuters" - children as young as five years old who walk for miles every night from rural areas to town centers in Northern Uganda to avoid being abducted by a rebel paramilitary group and forced to become child soldiers. And they immediately started GuluWalk to help draw attention to this issue and raise funds to help these children.

Their first GuluWalk (named after the region) was in 2005. Each day for an entire month, a group of people walked seven miles into downtown Toronto, slept in front of city hall, woke up at 5:00am, walked home, and carried on with their day. "The idea was to go through what these children are enduring, including the walk to and from, and sleeping rough," Adrian told me. "But we also wanted to make sure that we carried on with our daily lives, and went to work. Because that's what these children are doing each day, going to school and so on."

Media from around the world picked up the story - and people responded enthusiastically. This year, GuluWalks will take place on October 25 in 100 cities around the world, including Jerusalem, New York, Beijing, London, and Vancouver. "Through their actions, thousands of walkers will tell the story of what's going on in Northern Uganda, and send a message of peace to leaders everywhere."

The money raised each year is used to support programs in Northern Uganda. That's an important part of their strategy. When Adrian and Kieran created the GuluWalk they did tons of research first. "We kept hearing over and over that the continent needs more money for the programs that are there now," Adrian said.

These Next New Radicals have other innovative ideas up their sleeves. Athletes for Africa (A4A), the parent charity for the walk, actually came first. Adrian says that he had been involved in sport all his life, and worked in media for many years. And he kept meeting athletes who wanted to be engaged, to make a difference, but didn't know how. Plus, he noticed that they didn't necessarily want to do something sport-related. "Lots of athletes are well educated and worldly and want to do things that are more than just related to their game. We wanted to give them a way to support sustainable development projects in Africa." A4A was founded to partner with, and fundraise for, organizations that works in communities across the continent.

Two new ideas are underway. First, material for children, who are naturally interested in - and deeply affected by - the GuluWalk. A4A is developing a curriculum on children in conflict zones that will soon be available to teachers and school boards around the world. And they have just published a children's book on the topic, When Elephants Fight.

Second, they are about to launch a major campaign to build a Youth Centre for Culture and Sport in Gulu - a home for cultural activities, sport, peer counseling, training, and support. Funding for the project will be directed by A4A and the Steve Nash Foundation (Steve, for those who don't know him, plays for the Phoenix Suns).

The other thing that happened to me this week was that I heard from a young woman who is struggling with her career path, and concerned that becoming a New Radical (for more on the New Radicals, please see archived articles), would mean a lifetime of penury. I asked Adrian for his take on this. "Everything in the world that's been accomplished that has any value, any measure of authenticity, any permanence, has always involved an element of risk." Does he ever think of giving it all up and getting a job? "Of course, we wish we had more resources. Sometimes, we talk about whether we should both just go and get a job and make a ton of money and come back to this work. But, at the end of the day, the Bill Gates of this world still need somebody who's helping create front-line, on-the-ground change. They need someone like us to engage with."

So, how was your week?

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