Wednesday
September 22
2010

Bryan Farris

TEDxChange: “Change is Possible”

At the conclusion of TEDxChange, Melinda Gates said, “If there is one message you take away from today, I hope it is that change is possible; we are making progress. When I’m on the ground, I can see the difference we’re making – the positive side – yes, I see sadness and poverty, but I see what’s changing and that gives me hope.”

Melinda’s comments were a fitting conclusion to an afternoon of optimistic and inspirational TED Talks. The theme of the day was the Millennium Development Goals, which are typically portrayed by the media as failing. In contrast, the talks served as a refreshing reminder that progress has been made, that there is hope and that we can create the future we envision.

With thousands of people participating in the event from Auckland, New Zealand to Kibera, Kenya, Chris Anderson lead us through an afternoon replete with four riveting speakers, wonderful music and engaging discussion. The inclusion of a global audience fit with a theme echoed by each speaker: that we need united participation across the world if we really want to achieve our goals.

To kick the afternoon off, an energetic and hilarious Hans Rossling spoke about child mortality rates. At first you might expect such a topic to be grim, but with his tweed jacket and iconic professor attitude, Hans made statistics about childhood deaths interesting and exciting. He showed that progress is being made-both in particular
countries and in a more macro scale over time. In particular, he made the point that “the time has come to stop thinking of sub saharan Africa as one place.” Gracela Machel, who spoke later, echoed Hans saying, “the continent [of Africa] cannot be seen as a failure; there are countries that can achieve the MDGs and we need to support
them.”

As Hans pointed out, however, despite the need to consider the difference in progress between countries, a look at the macro scale shows that childhood mortality has been declining globally for at least the last 50 years. Reduced mortality has been highly correlated with a reduction in children per mother. Alluding to broader goals,
Hans finished his talk by saying “We will not be able to tackle global issues such as climate change if we don’t first stabilize population growth. We can, so LETS DO IT!”

Following Hans, Melinda Gates reminded us that “more progress has been made in the last 10 years towards alleviating poverty than in any other period; 1.3B people have lifted themselves out of poverty”. Melinda went on to discuss three lessons we can learn from Coca Cola:

  • The importance of Real time data: Tracking data real time throughout
    projects allows for course correction and adjustment along the way
  • The power of local entrepreneurial talent: Leveraging local
    entrepreneurs knowledge of the local situation and customers can make
    the seemingly impossible (like transporting coke to remote corners of
    the world) doable.
  • Marketing, marketing, marketing: Coke’s marketing strategy is
    aspirational; they associate drinking coke with the kind of life one
    wants to live. Meanwhile in social enterprise, particularly the
    health sector, much of the marketing is avoidance based and struggles
    to work – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Recent toilet
    advertising campaigns have coupled sanitation with ones ability to
    attract a wife; “No loo, No I do.”

Melinda wrapped up her talk with a reminder of the aspiration we all share, saying “My vision of happiness is a mother holding a healthy baby in her arms; if we use these lessons and tackle child health, then perhaps that kind of happiness can be as ubiquitous as CocaCola.”

Following Melinda were Mechai Viravaidya (known as the Condom king)
and Graca Machel, who both reiterated the importance of dedication to
the cause. Mechai has worked diligently for decades in Thailand to
raise public awareness about the importance of condom usage, a slow
but fun process. Graca reminded us that “targets and goals are very
important, but not enough. More importantly, we need commitment and
engagement of every citizen in society.”

Graca concluded with a challenge, which I will leave you with now.
She said, “I challenge the youth of today to build a world where in
the south and in the north we have a future of prosperity, equality
and inclusiveness built upon gender equality and women
empowerment…everyone has a contribution to creating a future where
development and well being can be achieved for every single one of
us.”

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