About Suffering in the World (homepage) / Toward Systematic Mutual Assistance

(by Robert Daoust)

The Echoing Green's Fellowship is a program that provides seed funding and technical support to emerging social innovators, i. e. to "individuals with innovative ideas for creating new models for tackling seemingly unsolvable social challenges". I applied and answered the following questions on November 29 2004 with the idea of creating a non profit organization called SOS-Network, which is inspired from the SOS-Network idea presented elsewhere on this website.

What is your new idea to create lasting social change? When and how did you come up with it?:

My organization is proposed as one that will usher in a new revolutionary field of action : the social management of suffering. The idea is to provide a carefully designed systematic framework in which ordinary people will be asked, each at his or her turn, to intervene directly for rescuing specific individuals who are grappling with a suffering that is severe, that can be stopped at a reasonable cost, and, most importantly, that will be stopped only if the ordinary people who are asked to intervene accept to do it. The purpose of SOS-Network is to provide one of the basic management structures that are required if suffering in our societies is to be cared for as much as it can be. I had in 1975 the vision of an omnidimensional approach to suffering. In 1998, the practical dimension of that approach became implementable in my eyes when I imagined the core structure of SOS-Network. Since 1998, five experimental attempts were made to launch that project under various forms.

As specifically as possible, demonstrate the need for your organization. Use statistics and references.:

Stats and refs? As I see it, there is a huge number of severe and RESOLVABLE cases of suffering that are being created in our societies, and there is a huge number of those cases that are effectively being resolved, and the difference between these two numbers is relatively small. That "small" difference represents all the needs which would be met appropriately if only a rational management of suffering was implemented. As Camus wrote in "The Rebel" : "In his greatest effort, man can only purpose to reduce arithmetically the pain of the world." Most people, like you or me for instance, can save others, and they want it too, but usually they feel powerless or overwhelmed, they cannot see what to do, or how to do it. In other words, they need an organization which shows them clearly that their interventions will help directly individual A, and then individual B, and then C, and so forth, so that at one point indeed nobody will have to endure severe pains that can be avoided.

Why have you chosen your specific approach to addressing the need defined above? What is you theory or premise about how to create real and lasting social change that underlies the vision for your organization.:

Because of our feeling of powerlessness in front of the global problem of suffering which seems to go on unabated no matter what we do, I wanted an approach that would address suffering as a whole, and would lend itself to measurement. I found that such an approach could be based on the concept of "case" : we have the power to change the number of individual cases of suffering in the world. So, in order to bring about an adequate social management of suffering, SOS-Network systematically invites each person to make the difference by performing one intervention within a series of interventions that will identify and resolve, one by one, all cases of stoppable, severe, unrelieved suffering. In addition, people who are involved in interventions will normally be more aware, from then on, of what is involved in the production, control and prevention of suffering. Thus, their action should become progressively more instrumental in eradicating causes and bringing about basic changes.

Innovation is important to Echoing Green. Explain how your idea is truly innovative or unique. If appropriate, identify other organizations that are addressing this specific area of need and how your approach is different and why it is potentially more effective.:

My idea belongs to a new paradigm. Suffering is a frequent word in the discourse of countless social organizations. However, none addresses the phenomenon of suffering per se, and none is specifically concerned with "cases" of suffering. For instance, the Red Cross, the FAO, Amnesty, World Vision, Buddhist monks, PETA, or, more locally, organizations dealing with chronic pain, homelessness or institutional abuse, all these people, and all those in governments too, may speak about suffering or work for rescuing individuals, but none are intending deliberately and systematically to implement a social management of suffering. Such a management might be more effective than other ideas already at work because it deals at once with a larger set of problems and with a smaller common denominator for these problems : aims that are intractably diverse and numerous would be grouped under one simpler aim, and new global but focused strategies would be deployed on a bigger, more profitable scale.

Identify your long term desired outcomes. Describe the activities and/or services that your organization will engage in to deliver these outcomes.:

In the long term, it will become a social custom to spend a few minutes each week for ensuring our best possible common security with regard to suffering. This will start with a first intervention of SOS-Network. By going door-to-door if need be, I will look for some persons in Montreal who want to help. By asking helping organizations, I will look also for specific individuals, anywhere, who can be helped but will not be, in all probability. When an appropriate connection can be made, I will provide management and operational mediation for carrying out a short intervention. It could consist in giving food or shelter, in giving access to medical care, in providing respite to an overworked caregiver, in preventing abuse of people or animals... Within one or two years, 30 or 60 interventions should be done, hopefully enough to show everybody that it depends only on everybody to make the difference for somebody, and, by way of consequence, in the long run, for everybody.

How will you measure the impact of your work in the communities that you serve?:

Each individual who will rescue or will be rescued thanks to this organization will be a striking example of its impact. Besides, SOS-Network will further a quantifiable management of suffering, and especially what could be called a "Register for the Control and Prevention of Severe Suffering Cases". In contrast with less serious cases, cases of severe suffering CAN, materially, and SHOULD, as a priority, be recorded. The process of an intervention would include collecting and tracking "epidemiological" data on the incidence and prevalence of severe suffering, on its forms and causes, and on human or other resources that exist for its prevention and control. For establishing a baseline, statistics and documented data will be found by means of the "Encyclopedia of World Problems" (www.uia.org/encyclopedia), which presents some 30,000 world problems. Those data at the global level will become a lot more detailed with the multiplication of SOS-Network interventions and new "chapters".

Why you? Why now? How are you uniquely qualified to take on this challenge? What personal or environmental factors are driving you to make this commitment at this time?

I feel responsible for an important new idea which I alone have and which I must transmit. I am driven by a need to work, a revolt against pain, and a faith in love. Pain in work or elsewhere becomes acceptable to me when it can serve the first command of love, which I believe is that every being ought to be fiercely safeguarded from TOO MUCH pain. I am driven also by an aspiration to contribute significantly to human progress. I started the Algosphere enterprise in the spring of 2004. Four projects are presently going on or being prepared. One of them is one form of SOS-Network, and it is planned to begin in the fall of 2005, after two other preliminary projects which will be finished by then. I am eager to get into SOS-Network because I see its practical action as the real key for transmitting my discovery : at last, a concrete demonstration will give people the chance to see the meaning and significance of what I propose.

Describe your experience with the proposed constituency or community. Describe your experience in providing the proposed services and/or working within the program area.

I am a lifelong self-taught specialist on suffering. I am a member of the International Society for Panetics. I did some writing jobs for social causes. I was a member of Amnesty International in 1979-81, and I still write occasional emails for it since 2001. Between 1982 an 1984, I took under my roof four refugees from the South, and four homeless or mentally ill persons from the streets of Montreal. I was a "foster parent" for a child in Haiti, in 1988-97. I was in 1994-95 a trustee and a volunteer in charge of all the secretarial work for an association about chronic pain. I was a speaker in 1995 for an audience of more than 100 caregivers, on community resources for chronic pain. I was a member of St-Luc Hospital committee for "An hospital without pain". I worked part-time on the phone in 1994-95, answering a help line for people with various problems, and in 1996-97, asking money for the blind. Since 2000, I do part-time housework for handicapped or old people.

Identify your current financial resources.:

Around 1969, I chose to finance what would be my lifelong occupation as an independent researcher-innovator by working part-time and having unemployment or welfare benefits. I have had much time but few money. Presently I get each month 668 $ (567 US) from welfare and less than 200 $ (170 US) from a housework job. I live in a housing cooperative, of which incidentally I am a trustee, for only 166 $ (140 US) a month. At the beginning of this year, I decided to be a social entrepreneur and I created Algosphere, a for-profit individual enterprise in the social sector. No financial resources are involved yet in this business. I began to apply for the Rolex Awards on October 29 2004.

Describe the major challenges and obstacles that you anticipate for this organization and how you will overcome them.:

What I propose is generally received with sympathy but also with incomprehension and disbelief. One challenge, I've realized lately, is that my ideas will not be taken seriously until they are backed up with money : therefore I must become able to present myself as a real social entrepreneur rather than as a welfare recipient! Another challenge has to do with people's ingrained habit : I'll have to produce alluring results before people accept the new ways of thinking and acting proposed by the social management of suffering. In fact, the hardest challenge remains to obtain the very first effective support. My determination to get it, after so many years, is now foolproof, especially as I never had so much support in my life, from my spouse, my sister, my best friend, email correspondents who share my interest, and also, soon I'm sure, from a new "elders" university organization whose mission is to help community initiatives like mine. Thanks for these very smart questions!

Robert Daoust, Montreal 2004

Last update : 2006/10/30