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TEDx: Spreading ideas across 66 countries via livestream video – can that really work?

April 12, 2012

Carra Cote-Ackah, Senior Staff

Yes, it can—based on our recent experiences.

Last Thursday April 5, our executive director, Kat Rosqueta and Liz Ellers, founder of globalislocal co-hosted a screening of TEDxChange 2012, The Big Picture, which was convened by Melinda Gates. We were one of 200+ other sites across 66 countries to watch live-streamed video presentations by a number of eminent speakers who addressed issues of environment, global health, and development.

TEDx programs are designed to generate dialogue and take “ideas worth spreading” to communities, organizations, and individuals across the globe. Our group was composed of a mix off private wealth managers, philanthropic advisors, local donors and nonprofit leaders (many people wore more than one hat), about half of whom had never seen a TED talk before. The event generated rich conversation among participants. Some observations from the group included:

The importance of making, admitting to, and learning from mistakes. 

Jeff Chapin, Speaking at TEDxChange

Several participants were struck by Jeff Chapin’s talk, which discussed how he made mistakes designing an inexpensive latrine and handwashing station, and the process he and his team went through to field-test and correct the original design. The example highlighted an important lesson: donors should look for programs that course-correct to better align with field evidence. The most important part of making mistakes is being able to quickly recover from them and reassess how they can be solved through honest, open discussion and planning.

Effective change requires the perspectives of diverse stakeholders. 

Source: awdf.org

This point was eloquently made by Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund. She cited the example of a recent conference on HIV/AIDS that did not have a single African woman speakers, despite the fact that African women are the group most affected by the disease. She observed that as soon as we label people as victims, we too often ignore their voice and role in providing solutions. Sowa also described the work of several African women who are pioneering some of the most innovation solutions for strengthening their communities.

Issues frequently associated with the developing world are often present in our home communities.

The interconnected nature of these global problems can mean solutions abound in places that might not immediately come to mind. For example, the scarcity of resources due to rising energy costs is a major problem not only in African countries, but one that the U.S. is struggling with as well. Increasingly, not only is global is local, but local is global as well.

How you talk about problems and solutions makes a difference.

Several participants pointed out that the very language used to describe an effort can either spark or shut down conversations, even for people who ultimately care about similar things. For example, for some people from the business world, language about corporate responsibility and return on investment may resonate, while for some in the nonprofit world, the language of social justice is the norm.

Another powerful example came from Melinda Gates’s presentation on family planning. Starting conversations about population size or religion can mean strong disagreement. Instead, Melinda focused on the need to give families everywhere the opportunity to make their own decisions about their and their children’s futures. Inability or unwillingness to speak the other language shouldn’t get in the way of making a desired impact.

Turning Ideas Into Action

Finally, folks in the room answered the question “What would you need to turn the ideas discussed today into action?” Here are a sample of responses:

  • “A list of trustworthy nonprofits in a particular area”
  • “Approaches that have worked in other places that I can use with the organizations I work with”
  • “The facts and figures we heard today for when I’m talking to other people who weren’t here”

Their responses particularly resonated with our team and our mission. Here at the Center, we strive to highlight the most effective models for social impact in a wide range of sectors, from global health to education. We publish investment guidance specifically targeted for the people who were in the room during the event—individual donors and their advisors—so that they can determine better ways to maximize the “bang” of their philanthropic “buck.” In order to do so, we showcase approaches that have evidence of working on the ground and give concrete examples of organizations using these approaches to make positive changes in people’s lives today.

At the end of the day, we believe that evidence-based, high impact philanthropy is an idea worth spreading.

Continuing the Conversation

There are many ways to continue the conversation and learn more about the topics addressed. See below for a list of resources:

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