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Reflections on TEDxChange

2010.09.20

The TEDxCalgary event team is very thankful to everyone who came out to join us for the TEDxChange event today, and to the TEDxChange organizers and speakers who made the event happen. Deepest thanks also to our event venue and co-presenter, the Calgary Public Library, and all their staff who helped make our event possible.

While smaller and perhaps more impromptu than some of the other TEDx partner events occurring across the globe, the TEDxCalgary event for TEDxChange highlighted an ongoing commitment in this community to supporting the sharing of ideas and building communities of action. We are one of many diverse actors across Calgary sharing this goal, but have the unique opportunity to help showcase the entire intellect of the TED/TEDx community in building perspectives that help to move us forward. These genuinely are “Ideas worth spreading.”

Each of the TEDxChange speakers highlighted that progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is one of the great hidden stories of international cooperation and focused effort. Indeed, hard work by a number of governments, agencies, and tireless individuals has saved tens of millions of lives in the last ten years. That said, there is still much work to be done to see the vision of the MDGs met by the target date of 2015. TEDxChange has, we think, helped to bring some much needed attention to the efforts and initiatives on the ground, as well as to stimulate us to re-conceptualize how we think about development.

For many of us in the room at TEDxCalgary’s event, there was a renewed sense of optimism that the challenges can be met. With so much talent being brought to bear on the issues, it’s clearly not a matter of missing brain-power. As several speakers pointed out, the gaps in the effort have more to do with how we gain attention for the issues, persuade people to take effective action, and roll out key initiatives on the ground.

Whether it’s Mechai Viravaidya’s unique marketing campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS infection through the widespread distribution of condoms in Thailand (the “weapons of mass protection” T-shirt campaign is priceless), or Graça Machel’s efforts to bring empowered women to the forefront of making change, there are success stories to be told and victories to be celebrated. And, as Hans Rosling pointed out in his presentation around the numbers, we have to re-frame how we’re even thinking about the concept of “development”, and how we’re tracking the numbers from a progress point of view. Too many of our conceptualizations are, in fact, out-dated stereotypes that badly need to be challenged.

Ultimately, as Melinda French Gates pointed out in her remarks, getting the numbers right is a key initial step. We loved her remark that running complex development programs without a way to track real-time progress is, as one development worker put it, “like bowling in the dark”. The numbers can be tracked, and they help to “turn on the lights” to make the path forward even clearer.

Combined with mobilizing the innate creativity and entrepreneurship of those in the developing world, there is ample opportunity to make even greater progress on these issues. Her final point was around marketing — less in the traditional advertising sense, than it was about persuading people to pay attention to the plight of the world’s poor and devote resources to meeting the challenges at hand. On the verge of being able to eradicate polio globally, we face issues of “polio fatigue” among many donors in the developed world.

Being able to maintain positive attention around the great work being done, track real-time progress, and fine-tune programs is possible — if Coke can build a distributor and sales network that reaches into even the smallest and most remote villages of the world, there’s no reason it can’t be done around these issues by others.

Again, our warmest congratulations to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the TEDxChange team for all their efforts, and to our fellow TEDx partner programs who also tuned into the event: some 82 event sites in 40 countries across  6 continents. That’s the power of collective wisdom when people come together to “talk TED”!

Stay tuned for more news coming soon about our plans for hosting the live web stream from TEDx for TEDWomen in early December, and about the main TEDxCalgary event coming back in 2011!

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