TED

Conversations on what’s next in tech, government and activism: Week 8 of TED2020

The final week of TED2020 featured conversations with experts on work, tech, government, activism and more, who shared thoughts on how we can build back better after the pandemic. Below, a recap of insights shared throughout the week.

“We are living through the tech-enabled unraveling of full-time employment itself,” says anthropologist Mary L. Gray. She speaks with TED business curator Corey Hajim at TED2020: Uncharted on July 6, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Mary L. Gray, anthropologist

Big idea: AI-driven, service-on-demand companies like TaskRabbit, Amara and Amazon have built a new, invisible workforce.

How? The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply accelerated the world’s online services economy, and it’s amplifying a transition to a distributed workforce. If the thousands of jobs with no benefits, health care or safety net are any indication, society has yet to figure out how to treat the isolated human service provider, says Mary L. Gray. Over the next five years, we’ll need to fill millions of new tech jobs, most of which are built around solving the problems artificial intelligence can’t handle. How will we safeguard the new, abundant and diverse workforce that will fill these jobs, while ensuring that our changing economy is both equitable and sustainable? We often don’t value the people behind the scenes, but Gray believes it’s in society’s best interest to help workers thrive in a chaotic career landscape by providing the social services that companies don’t. “The marketplace alone can’t make the future of AI-enabled service work equitable or sustainable,” Gray says. “That’s up to us.”


Zoom CEO Eric Yuan discusses the company’s explosive growth in conversation with TED technology curator Simone Ross at TED2020: Uncharted on July 6, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Eric Yuan, CEO, Zoom

Big idea: Although we might be physically separated by distance, we can still create connection.

How? When coronavirus hit, Zoom’s business exploded overnight. Originally built for business meetings and remote work, the software is now used by people all over the world to teach school classes, do yoga with friends and even get married. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan discusses how the company met this new demand and their plans to grow quickly, explaining how Zoom created the most popular video chat software by listening to its users and creating a product to suit their needs. He envisions a Zoom of the future that will be even more user-centric, by providing an experience that rivals face-to-face gatherings with things like digital handshakes and real-time language translations. After the pandemic, Yuan doesn’t think all business and events should be conducted over Zoom. Instead, he predicts a hybrid model where people work from home more often but still go into the office for social interaction and connection. Addressing recent security concerns, he explains that the company will design a simplified security package for first-time users to protect their privacy online. “We are going to keep working as hard as we can to make the world a better place,” he says.


“UV is like hitting the RNA of the virus with a sledgehammer,” says radiation scientist David Brenner, discussing how far-UVC light could be used to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2. He speaks with TED science curator David Biello at TED2020: Uncharted on July 7, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

David Brenner, radiation scientist

Big idea: We can use far-UVC light to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

How? Far-UVC light is a wavelength of ultraviolet light that kills bacteria and, crucially, is safe to use around humans. Over the past five years, Brenner and colleagues have conducted studies showing that far-UVC light doesn’t penetrate human skin or eyes but does have powerful germicidal capacities, killing coronaviruses at a highly effective rate. (He first laid out that idea for us in his talk from TED2017.) His team is now testing far-UVC light against SARS-CoV-2, paving the way for a potentially game-changing tool in the fight against COVID-19 and future coronavirus pandemics. Here’s how it would work: we’d install far-UVC lights in ceilings (just like normal lights) and keep them on continuously throughout the day — in hospital waiting rooms, subways and other indoor spaces — to maintain a sterilization effect. This doesn’t mean we would stop wearing masks or social distancing, Brenner notes, but we would have a powerful new weapon against the novel coronavirus. The primary challenge now lies in ramping up production of far-UVC products, Brenner says, though he’s hopeful a plethora of them will be available by the end of the year — providing a ray of hope in these pandemic times. “UV is like hitting the RNA of the virus with a sledgehammer,” he says.


“if you change your city, you’re changing the world,” says Eric Garcetti, chair of C40 Cities and mayor of City of Los Angeles. He speaks with TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers at TED2020: Uncharted on July 7, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Eric Garcetti, chair of C40 Cities and mayor of City of Los Angeles

Big idea: We need to rebuild our cities to be inclusive, green and sustainable.

How? In this moment of rebuilding, Garcetti shares the tangible ways Los Angeles and other cities around the world are working towards economic and social justice and climate action while battling COVID-19. By focusing on greening infrastructure, transportation and energy production, cities are turning this moment into an opportunity. “If we don’t have a just economy, the social fabric will tear apart … whether that’s based on racial prejudice and racism that’s historic, whether it’s based on economic discrimination caste systems, whether it’s looking at the way that the economy is putting more and more wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people,” Garcetti says. “We really see an opportunity to bring these together because the big mega industries of tomorrow are green industries.” By setting the responsibility of racial and gender equality on the shoulders of leadership, measuring progress and holding them accountable, he thinks we can create a more inclusive and prosperous future.


“There’s never that moment where you feel: ‘OK this the right moment to challenge the system.’ Because you might end up waiting your whole life,” says education activist Malala Yousafzai. She speaks with TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers at TED2020: Uncharted on July 8, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Malala Yousafzai, education activist

Big idea: In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, things won’t be the same. But it’s an important opportunity for change — with Gen Z leading the way.

How? Let’s start with Yousafzai herself: a recent graduate of Oxford University and the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, whose biggest dream and current activism encompasses gender equality. Her activism is grounded in education for girls, with the hope that it transforms the world into a place where women are empowered to positively impact every corner of society. Before COVID-19 and between classes, she traveled on behalf of her organization, the Malala Fund, to help create a platform for girls to speak out and urge leaders to eradicate unfair treatment based on gender. Now she’s concerned about the many girls who will lose their access to education because of the pandemic, and she maintains that we must continue to fight for them as the world changes. She has fears just like everyone else but holds on to hope through examples of Gen Z activists and change-makers taking the lead across the world to fight for a better future for all. A few ways to help now? Support activists and organizations working in your community, organize social media campaigns and start writing letters to your political leaders demanding progress, so that you too can join in fixing what’s broken.

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A smarter future: Notes from Session 7 of TED2020

For the penultimate session of TED2020, an exploration of amazing forces shaping the future — from cancer-fighting venom to spacecraft powered by lazers and much more. Below, a recap of the night’s talks and performances.

Amanda Gorman shares a powerful spoken-word poem about ending the devastation of climate change. She speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Amanda Gorman, poet

Big idea: We all have the power to end the devastation of climate change. Let’s get to work.

How? In a stunning spoken word poem, Gorman calls on us all to recognize the urgency of climate action. She weaves vivid imagery and metaphors to underscore searing insights on the state of global environmental damage, and hope for a sustainable future. Gorman encourages us to use our unique abilities and expertise to reverse the harm of climate change, and says that we all have a place in the movement. “We see the face of a planet anew, we relish the view … which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly, what can we do,” she says.


“Someday, snail venom might just save your life,” says molecular chemist Mandë Holford. She speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Mandë Holford, molecular chemist

Big Idea: Venom can kill … or it can cure. We’re now learning how it can be used as a force for good. 

How: Chemist Mandë Holford is investigating the power of venom to treat diseases and disorders, like certain cancers. Beyond common venomous snakes and spiders, Holford introduces us to the underbelly of the animal kingdom: killer snails, deadly platypuses and assassin Gila monsters. But she sees these creatures as both the supervillain and superhero, and she’s harnessing their venom to transform lives. She explains that venom’s power lies in its complex mixture of deadly peptides — a “cluster bomb” that attacks specific physiological targets like the blood, brains or membranes of the victim. Holford’s research focuses on discovering and utilizing these peptides to create therapeutics that disrupt cancer cells communications, particularly liver cancer. Venomics, or the study of venom, is an especially attractive area of research because poison has been honed and tested by nature over millennia, making for particularly potent, successful concoctions. “Someday, snail venom might just save your life,” Holford says.


Physicist Philip Lubin investigates how to use concentrated light as a propellant for spacecraft. He speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Phillip Lubin, physicist

Big idea: By using massive quantities of concentrated light as a propellant, we can fuel spacecraft to journey to explore solar systems beyond our own.

How? We’re making huge strides in the field of laser technology that will enable us to transform how we launch and fuel spacecraft. Much like wind in a sailboat, light can be concentrated as energy to push spacecraft towards new and farther destinations. This would work by synchronizing enormous numbers of lasers into “phased arrays”, which may be as large as a city, to build up the power necessary for inter-solar system flight. Though spacecraft may initially only be as big as a human hand, the discoveries this technology could reveal are awe-inspiring. Traveling to another solar system could alter our fundamental understanding of life itself — and breakthroughs in this technology could revolutionize how we live on Earth as well. “Everything is profound in life. The same is true of the lowly photon which we use to see every day,” says Lubin, “But when we look outside and imagine something vastly greater, we can imagine things which are extraordinary. The ability to go to another star is one of those extraordinary capabilities.”


Antonio Muñoz Fernández plays “Taranta” and “Calblanque” at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Guitarist and composer Antonio Muñoz Fernández keeps the session moving and lively with performances of plays “Taranta” and “Calblanque.”


“What would America look like if everyone had a seat at the table?” asks Shari Davis, executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. She speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Shari Davis, executive director, Participatory Budgeting Project

Big idea: We have to throw out the top-down processes that have hobbled democracy, and throw the doors of government open so wide that all kinds of people will be inspired to claim the reins.

How? For most of US history, government has overwhelmingly consisted of rich white men, who installed systems rewarding people like themselves, says Davis. “What would America look like if everyone had a seat at the table?” she asks. Participatory budgeting is a grassroots democratic initiative that empowers marginalized voices from young queer communities, communities of color and the economically disenfranchised, by giving them chunks of city budgets to solve problems close to their hearts. In Boston, this came about via Youth Lead the Change, an initiative to increase education, expand technology access to students and give graffiti artists a space to legally practice their art. By nurturing new political leaders drawn from those historically denied governmental access, participatory budgeting has become a global phenomenon with the potential to transform democracy. “Participatory budgeting is actually about collective radical imagination,” Davis says. Everyone has a role to play in PB, and it works because it allows community members to craft real solutions to real problems. It provides the infrastructure for the promise of government.”


“If machines can learn, or process memories, can they also dream, hallucinate, involuntarily remember or make connections between multiple people’s dreams?” asks media artist Refik Anadol. He speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Refik Anadol, media artist

Big idea: What does it mean to be an AI in the 21st century?

How? The year is simultaneously 1991 and 2019, media artist Refik Anadol having just seen Blade Runner and its sci-fi future for the first time — an experience which sets in motion his inspired career of using architectural spaces as canvases to make buildings dream and hallucinate via AI. Anadol brings us on a journey from that formative childhood moment to his studio’s collaborations with architects, data scientists, neuroscientists, musicians and storytellers in experimenting with ways of augmenting our perceptions to collide the virtual and physical worlds. Each project showcases the poetic, ethereal and dynamic power of data — such as “Archive Dreaming,” conceptualizing vast knowledge in the age of AI; “Machine Hallucination,” an exploration of time and space; and “Melting Memories,” which visualizes the moment of remembering — evoking a meditative experience beyond human imagination while simultaneously enveloping you into the mind of the machine. “If machines can learn, or process memories, can they also dream, hallucinate, involuntarily remember or make connections between multiple people’s dreams?” Anadol asks.


“Most people think technology and they think that’s going to lead to unethical behavior. I think it’s exactly the opposite: I think new technologies lead to more ethical behaviors,” says futurist Juan Enriquez. He speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on July 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Juan Enriquez, futurist

Big idea: Tech doesn’t always lead to unethical behavior. 

How? By making problematic systems obsolete, technology is actually a powerful force for ethical change. If we embrace these changes, we’ll put ourselves on the right side of history for issues like civil rights, climate change and economic justice. As ethics continue to evolve over time, technology’s explosive growth will lead to an exponential transformation of culture. Some examples: our tolerance of wasteful meat production will soon change with lab-created, cruelty-free beef, and as tech revolutionizes renewable energy, we will naturally leave behind coal and oil. “Technology is moving at exponential rates,” Enriquez says. “Technology is changing ethics, and therefore one might expect ethics could change exponentially, and that means your notion of right and wrong changes exponentially.”

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Conversations on building back better: Week 7 of TED2020

Week 7 of TED2020 featured conversations on where the coronavirus pandemic is heading, the case for reparations, how we can better connect with each other and how capitalism must change to build a more equitable society. Below, a recap of insights shared throughout the week.

Bill Gates discusses where the coronavirus pandemic is heading, in conversation with head of TED Chris Anderson at TED2020: Uncharted on June 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Bill Gates, technologist, philanthropist

Big idea: The coronavirus pandemic isn’t close to being over, but we’re making scientific progress to mitigate its impact.

How? Bill Gates talks best (and worst) case scenarios for the coronavirus pandemic in the months ahead. This fall could be quite bad in the United States, he admits, as there is speculation among researchers that COVID-19 may be seasonal and its force of infection will increase as the weather cools. But there’s also good progress on the innovation track, he says: the steroid dexamethasone was found to have benefits for critically ill patients, and monoclonal antibodies seem promising, as well. In short: we’ll have some additional support for the fall if things do indeed get worse. Gates also explains the challenges of reducing virus transmission (namely, the difficulty of identifying “superspreaders”); provides an update on promising vaccine candidates; offers his thoughts on reopening; takes a moment to address conspiracy theories circulating about himself; and issues a critical call to fellow philanthropists to ramp up their action, ambition and awareness to create a better world for all.


Chloé Valdary shares the thinking behind the “theory of enchantment,” a framework that uses pop culture as an educational tool. She speaks with TED business curator Corey Hajim at TED2020: Uncharted on June 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Chloé Valdary, writer, entrepreneur

Big Idea: Pop culture can show us how to love ourselves and one another, the first step in creating systemic change.

How? Chloé Valdary developed the “theory of enchantment,” a social-emotional learning program that applies pop culture to teach people how to meet the hardships of life by developing tools for resilience, including learning to love oneself. This love for oneself, she believes, is foundational to loving others. Built on the idea of “enchantment” — the process by which you delight someone with a concept, idea, personality or thing — the program uses beloved characters like Disney’s Moana, lyrics from Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé and even trusted brands like Nike to teach three principles: treat people like human beings, not political abstractions; never criticize a person to tear them down, only to uplift and empower them; and root everything you do in love and compassion. The program aims to engender love and ultimately advance social change. “If you don’t understand the importance of loving yourself and loving others, you’re more prone to descend into rage and to map into madness and become that bad actor and to treat people unfairly, unkindly,” she says. “As a result that will, of course, contribute to a lot of the systemic injustice that we’re seeing today.”


Economist and author William “Sandy” Darity makes the case for reparations — and explains why they must be structured to eliminate the racial wealth gap in the United States. He speaks with TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers at TED2020: Uncharted on June 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

William “Sandy” Darity, economist, author

Big Idea: The time has come to seriously talk about reparations: direct financial payments to the descendants of slaves for hundreds of years of injustice.

How? A growing consciousness of America’s systemic white supremacy (built on mass incarceration, police violence, discrimination in markets and the immense wealth gap between black and white communities) has brought contemporary politics to a boil. How does the country dismantle the intertwined legacies of slavery and the unequal, trans-generational wealth distribution that has overwhelmingly benefited white people? Reparations are not only a practical means to address the harm visited upon Black Americans by centuries of economic exclusion, but also a chance for white America to acknowledge the damage that has been done — a crucial step to reconciliation and true equality. To truly redress the harm done to descendants of slavery, reparations must seek to eliminate the racial wealth gap. Darity believes that, for the first time since Reconstruction promised ex-slaves “40 acres and a mule,” reparations are entering the mainstream political discussion, and a once wildly speculative idea seems to lie within the realm of possibility. “It’s always an urgent time to adopt reparations,” Darity says. “It has been an urgent time for the 155 years since the end of American slavery, where no restitution has been provided. It’s time for the nation to pay the debt; it’s time for racial justice.”


“Hope is the oxygen of democracy and we, through inequality and the economic injustice, we see far too much of an America literally asphyxiating hope,” says Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. He speaks with head of TED Chris Anderson at TED2020: Uncharted on July 1, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation

Big idea: We need to consider a new kind of philanthropy and capitalism rooted in accountability and equity.

Why? Darren Walker says wealthy philanthropists shouldn’t ask themselves, “What do I do to give back?” — but rather, “What am I willing to give up?” Discussing how comfort and privilege intermix to contribute to injustice, Walker shows why for true progress to be made, tax policies must be changed for wealthier citizens and entitlement cast aside. In a country full of exhaustion, grief and anger, Walker calls for nuance in handling complex ideas like defunding the police. In order for change to be long-lasting, we must eliminate tokenism and hold corporations accountable long after they fade from the day’s headlines. Quoting Langston Hughes, Walker says: “I believe that we no longer can wait for that ‘someday’ — that this generation should not have to say ‘someday in the future, America will be America.’ The time for America to be America is today.”

Quote of the talk: “Hope is the oxygen of democracy and we, through inequality and the economic injustice, we see far too much of an America literally asphyxiating hope. Just as we saw the murder of George Floyd, the breath was taken out of his body by a man who was there to protect and promote. It’s a metaphor for what is happening in our society, where people who are Black and Brown, queer, marginalized are literally being asphyxiated by a system that does not recognize their humanity. If we are to build back better, that must change.”

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Beauty everywhere: The talks of Session 6 of TED2020

We’re six weeks into TED2020! For session 6: a celebration of beauty on every level, from planet-trekking feats of engineering to art that deeply examines our past, present, future — and much more.

Planetary scientist Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle shows off the work behind Dragonfly: a rotorcraft being developed to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, by air. She speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle, planetary scientist 

Big idea: The Dragonfly Mission, set to launch in 2026, will study Titan, the largest moon orbiting Saturn. Through this mission, scientists may discover the secrets of the solar system’s origin, the history of life on Earth — and even the potential for life beyond our planet.

How? Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens Mission provided scientists with incredible information about Titan, a water-based moon with remarkable similarities to Earth. We learned that Titan’s geography includes sand dunes, craters and mountains, and that vast oceans of water — perhaps 10 times as large as Earth’s total supply — lie deep underneath Titan’s surface. In many ways, Titan is the closest parallel to pre-life, early Earth, Elizabeth Turtle explains. The Cassini-Huygens Mission ended in 2004, and now hundreds of scientists across the world are working on the Dragonfly Mission, which will dramatically expand our knowledge of Titan. Unlike the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, Dragonfly will live within Titan’s atmosphere, flying across the moon to gather samples and study its chemical makeup, weather and geography. The data Dragonfly sends back may bring us closer to thrilling discoveries on the makeup of the solar system, the habitability of other planets and the beginnings of life itself. “Dragonfly is a search for greater understanding — not just of Titan and the mysteries of our solar system, but of our own origins,” Turtle says.


“Do you think human creativity matters?” asks actor, writer and director Ethan Hawke. He gives us his compelling answer at TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Ethan Hawke, actor, writer, director

Big idea: Creativity isn’t a luxury; it’s vital to the human experience.

How? We often struggle to give ourselves permission to be creative because we’re all a little suspect of our own talent, says Ethan Hawke. Recounting his own journey of creative discovery over a 30-year career in acting — along with the beauty he sees in everyday moments with his family — Hawke encourages us to reframe this counterproductive definition of human creativity. Creative expression has nothing to do with talent, he says, but rather is a process of learning who you are and how you connect to other people. Instead of giving in to the pull of old habits and avoiding new experiences — maybe you’re hesitant to enroll in that poetry course or cook that complicated 20-step recipe — Hawke urges us to engage in a rich variety of creative outlets and, most importantly, embrace feeling foolish along the way. “I think most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, something that the world will consider good or important — and that’s really the enemy,” Hawke says. “Because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good. And if history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic. So, you have to ask yourself, do you think human creativity matters?”


Singer-songwriter and multiinstrumentalist Bob Schneider performs for TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Keeping the beauty of the session flowing, singer-songwriter Bob Schneider performs “Joey’s Song,” “The Other Side” and “Lorena.”


“We have thousands of years of ancient knowledge that we just need to listen to and allow it to expand our thinking about designing symbiotically with nature,” says architect Julia Watson. “By listening, we’ll only become wiser and ready for those 21st-century challenges that we know will endanger our people and our planet.” She speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Julia Watson, architect, landscape designer, author

Big idea: Ancient Indigenous technology can teach us how to design with nature, instead of against it, when facing challenges. We just need to look and listen. 

How? In her global search for ancient design systems and solutions, Julia Watson has encountered wondrous innovations to counter climate challenges that we all can learn from. “High-tech solutions are definitely going to help us solve some of these problems, but in our rush towards the future, we tend to forget about the past in other parts of the world,” she says. Watson takes us to the villages of Khasi, India, where people have built living bridges woven from ancient roots that strengthen over time to enable travel when monsoon season hits. She introduces us to a water-based civilization in the Mesopotamian Marshlands, where for 6,000 years, the Maʻdān people have lived on manmade islands built from harvested reeds. And she shows us a floating African city in Benin, where buildings are stilted above flooded land. “I’m an architect, and I’ve been trained to seek solutions in permanence, concrete, steel, glass. These are all used to build a fortress against nature,” Watson says. “But my search for ancient systems and Indigenous technologies has been different. It’s been inspired by an idea that we can seed creativity in crisis.”


TED Fellow and theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones lights up the stage at TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

TED Fellow and theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones lights up the (virtual) stage by channeling Jomama Jones, a mystical alter ego who shares some much-needed wisdom. “What if I told you, ‘You will surprise yourself’?” Jomama asks. “What if I told you, ‘You will be brave enough’?”


“It takes creativity to be able to imagine a future that is so different from the one before you,” says artist Titus Kaphar. He speaks at TED2020: Uncharted on June 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Titus Kaphar, artist

Big idea: Beauty can open our hearts to difficult conversations.

How? A painting’s color, form or composition pulls you in, functioning as a kind of Trojan horse out of which difficult conversations can emerge, says artist Titus Kaphar. (See for yourself in his unforgettable live workshop from TED2017.) Two weeks after George Floyd’s death and the Movement for Black Lives protests that followed, Kaphar reflects on his evolution as an artist and takes us on a tour of his work — from The Jerome Project, which examines the US criminal justice system through the lens of 18th- and 19th-century American portraiture, to his newest series, From a Tropical Space, a haunting body of work about Black mothers whose children have disappeared. In addition to painting, Kaphar shares the work and idea behind NXTHVN, an arts incubator and creative community for young people in his hometown of Dixwell, Connecticut. “It takes creativity to be able to imagine a future that is so different from the one before you,” he says.

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The Audacious Project expands its support of pandemic relief and recovery work

The Audacious Project, a funding initiative housed at TED, is continuing its support of solutions tailored to COVID-19 rapid response and long-term recovery. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, The Audacious Project is committed to targeting key systems in crisis and supporting them as they rebuild better and with greater resilience. In this phase, more than 55 million dollars have been catalyzed towards Fast Grants, an initiative to accelerate COVID-19 related scientific research; GiveDirectly, which distributes unconditional cash transfers to those most in need; and Harlem Children’s Zone, one of the pioneers in neighborhood-specific “cradle-to-career” programs in support of low-income children and communities in the United States.

Accelerating our scientific understanding of COVID-19 and providing immediate relief to communities hardest hit by the virus are just two of the myriad challenges we must address in the face of this pandemic,” said Anna Verghese, Executive Director of The Audacious Project. “With our COVID-19 rapid response cohort, we are supporting organizations with real-world solutions that are actionable now. But that aid should extend beyond recovery, which is why we look forward to the work these organizations will continue to do to ensure better systems for the future.” 

Funding directed toward these three new initiatives is in addition to the more than 30 million dollars that was dedicated to Partners In Health, Project ECHO and World Central Kitchen for their COVID-19 rapid response work earlier this year.


Announcing three new projects in the Audacious COVID-19 response cohort

Fast Grants aims to accelerate funding for the development of treatments and vaccines and to further scientific understanding of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Fast Grants)

Fast Grants

The big idea: Though significant inroads have been made to advance our understanding of how the novel coronavirus spreads, and encouraging progress is underway in the development of vaccines and treatments, there are still many unknowns. We need to speed up the pace of scientific discovery in this area now more than ever, but the current systems for funding research do not meet this urgent need. Fast Grants is looking to solve that problem. They have created and are deploying a highly credible model to accelerate funding for the development of treatments and vaccines and to further scientific understanding of COVID-19. By targeting projects that demand greater speed and flexibility than traditional funding methods can offer, they will accelerate scientific discovery that can have an immediate impact and provide follow-on funding for promising early-stage discoveries.

How they’ll do it: Since March, Fast Grants has distributed 22 million dollars to fund 127 projects, leveraging a diverse panel of 20 experts to vet and review projects across a broad range of scientific disciplines. With Audacious funding, they will catalyze 80 to 115 research projects, accelerate timelines by as much as six to nine months and, in many cases, support projects that would otherwise go unfunded. This will accelerate research in testing, treatments, vaccines and many other areas critically needed to save lives and safely reopen economies. They will also build a community to share results and track progress while also connecting scientists to other funding platforms and research teams that can further advance the work. 


GiveDirectly helps families living in extreme poverty by making unconditional cash transfers to them via mobile phones. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

GiveDirectly

The big idea: The COVID-19 pandemic could push more than 140 million people globally into extreme poverty. As the pandemic hampers humanitarian systems that typically address crises, the ability to deliver aid in person has never been more complicated. Enter GiveDirectly. For nearly a decade, they have provided no-strings-attached cash transfers to the world’s poorest people. Now they are leveraging the growth in the adoption of mobile technologies across Sub-Saharan Africa to design and deploy a breakthrough, fully remote model of humanitarian relief to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

How they’ll do it: Over the next 12 months, GiveDirectly will scale their current model to provide unconditional cash transfers to more than 300,000 people who need it most. GiveDirectly will enroll and identify recipients without in-person contact, first using the knowledge of community-based organizations to identify and target beneficiaries within their existing networks, and second by leveraging data from national telephone companies to target those most in need. GiveDirectly will also systematize the underlying processes and algorithms so that they can be deployed for future disasters, thereby demonstrating a new model for rapid humanitarian relief.


Harlem Children’s Zone, one of the leading evidence-based, Black-led organizations in the US, is supercharging efforts to address Black communities’ most urgent needs and support recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo courtesy of Harlem Children’s Zone)

Harlem Children’s Zone

The big idea: In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black communities. Not only are Black people being infected by the virus and dying at greater rates, the effects of the economic crisis are also hitting hardest vulnerable communities that were already facing a shrinking social safety net. At the onset of the pandemic, Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), one of the leading evidence-based, Black-led organizations in the US, pioneered a comprehensive approach to emergency response and recovery. The model is focused on five urgent areas: bridging the digital divide, preventing learning loss, mitigating the mental health crisis and providing economic relief and recovery.

How they’ll do it: Based in Harlem, New York, HCZ is leveraging deeply rooted community trust and best-in-class partners to deploy vital emergency relief and wrap-around support, including: health care information and protective gear to keep communities safe from the virus; quality, developmentally appropriate distance-learning resources, while developing plans for safe school reentry; and the provision of cash relief. They are also equipping backbone organizations across the US with the capacity to execute on a community-driven vision of their model nationally. They will be working side-by-side with leading, anchor institutions in six cities — Minneapolis, Oakland, Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta — to supercharge efforts to address Black communities’ most urgent needs and support recovery.


To learn more about The Audacious Project, visit https://audaciousproject.org.

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