TED

Meaning Seekers: Notes from Session 5 of TEDWomen 2019

Dissatisfaction is the starting point to change, says Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Session 5 of TEDWomen 2019 is all about seeking meaning: in our political lives, creative lives, healthcare systems, criminal justice and beyond.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 5: Meaning Seekers, hosted by Helen Walters and Anna Verghese

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 5pm PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Priti Krishtel, Robin Steinberg, Manoush Zomorodi, Denise Ho, Denise Zmekhol, Smruti Jukur, Debbie Millman

The talks in brief:

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone

Big idea: We can catalyze positive change by channeling feelings of dissatisfaction into collaboration and action.

How? After learning of the devastating rebel invasion of Sierra Leone in 1999, and the details of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr was struck by profound feelings of anger and discontent. But instead of becoming frozen and overwhelmed by those feelings, she decided to act. This movement from dissatisfaction to action is the key to creating dramatic change, Aki-Sawyerr says. In 1999, she cofounded the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children, supporting and advocating for refugees of Sierra Leone’s rebel invasion. During the Ebola epidemic, Aki-Sawyerr designed the Western Area Surge Plan, which prioritized collaborating with community members to stop the spread of the virus. Now, as mayor of Freetown, she’s bringing together the city to translate their frustrations into actionable solutions.

Quote of the talk: “The steps to address that deep sense of anger and frustration I felt didn’t unfold magically or clearly. That’s not how the power of dissatisfaction works. It works when you know that things can be better, and it works when you decide to take the risks to bring about that change.”


Priti Krishtel, pharmaceutical reformer

Big idea: High drug prices are fueling a rise in homelessness, patient mortality and crushing debt. These prices, in turn, are made possible by an outdated patent system that’s easily exploited by the pharmaceutical industry to perpetuate drug monopolies that extend for years beyond their original patents.

How? Between 2006 and 2016, drug patents doubled. But consider this: the vast majority of medicines associated with new drug patents are not new, with nearly eight out of ten patents being created for existing medicines like insulin or aspirin. Priti Krishtel believes that US patent reforms would dramatically reduce medical costs. We can start by banning new patents for trivially modified drugs, removing financial incentives for the Patent Office (which currently gets paid for each patent granted), increasing the transparency of the patent process, empowering the public to challenge patents in court and introducing robust patent oversight mechanisms.

Quote of the talk“The higher a patent wall a company builds, the longer they hold on to their monopoly. And with no one to compete with, they can set prices at whim — and because these are medicines and not designer watches, we have no choice but to pay.”


 

Robin Steinberg discusses her work to end cash bail, in conversation with Manoush Zomorodi (the new host of the TED Radio Hour). They speak at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Robin Steinberg, public defender, activist, CEO of The Bail Project

Big idea: We need to end the injustice of cash bail in the United States criminal justice system.

Why? In conversation with journalist Manoush Zomorodi (the new host of the TED Radio Hour), Robin Steinberg gives an update on her 2018 TED Talk about the work of her nonprofit The Bail Project. Here’s the problem: on any given night, more than 450,000 people in the US are locked up in jail simply because they don’t have enough money to pay bail. The sums in question are often around $500: easy for some to pay, impossible for others. This has real human consequences: people lose jobs, homes and lives, and it drives racial disparities in the legal system. Now, with support from the The Audacious Project, Steinberg’s nonprofit is scaling up their efforts — growing their revolving bail fund, expanding the on-the-ground presence of their bail disruptors and rolling out a community-based model that gives local support to people before they are convicted of a crime.

Quote of the talk: “Each and every one of us is implicated in what our criminal legal system looks like. There is no escaping that.”


“Creativity is what the tyrants cannot control, nor repress,” says Denise Ho. She speaks and performs at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED)

Denise Ho, singer and democracy activist

Big idea: In a stirring talk and performance, banned Cantopop superstar Denise Ho gives the TED audience a taste of a dissident’s life in 2019 Hong Kong — and a glimpse into a protest movement that persists in the face of constant oppression by the Hong Kong government and their allies on the mainland.

How? As an activist in the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, Denise Ho joined her fellow citizens on the streets of Hong Kong for 79 days. Although she was ultimately arrested, censored and banned, she moved her career underground. She remains a crucial voice for democracy and a dedicated fighter in a leaderless movement battling to preserve autonomy for Hong Kong through spontaneous actions that the authorities are unable to predict or control.

Quote of the talk: “Creativity is what the tyrants cannot control, nor repress. WIth their very powerful but slow machine, it takes time for them to react to new ideas. Whether it is the protest on the streets that is taking a new fluidity, or the way that people reinvent themselves, the system needs time to counter it to find solutions. … When they do, we would have already moved on to the next idea.”


Denise Zmekhol, filmmaker

Big idea: The memory of Pele de Vidro, the iconic São Paulo tower, continues to be a poignant reflection of Brazil’s past, present and future.

Why? The Pele de Vidro (which translates to “Skin of Glass”) has been a symbol of modernity in Latin America since the early-1960s, when Denise Zmekhol’s father designed the São Paulo landmark. Yet, it wasn’t until many years after his death that she learned what went on behind its closed doors. As she reconnected with her late father’s memory and filmed a documentary in 2017, she discovered that “the glass walls of this building became a mirror reflecting the glory and turmoil of our beloved Brazil.” But before she could set foot inside, the unimaginable happened: a massive fire swallowed the iconic building. Zmekhol grieved for the city and her father. But today, she is hopeful. Architects are planning to build a cultural lab at the site of the Pele de Vidro to pay tribute to her father and the landmark that meant so much for so many.

Quote of the talk: “Ironically, only after the building was gone could I understand the role it played in so many lives.”


Smruti Jukur, urban planner

Big idea: What if those in poverty were a part of the city planning process?

Why? Within many cities there exists another city — informal communities, hundreds of thousands of people strong. 881 million people across the world who live in these settlements and slums — some as large as townships (Kibera, Nairobi; Dharavi, Mumbai; and Khayelitsha, South Africa, to name a few) — are under threat of being displaced at any time in the name of real estate development. Smruti Jukur urges governments and those in power to work in tandem with these settlements, instead of choosing what they think is right for their citizens. Jukur offers a real-world example, happening right now in Mukuru, Nairobi, where respect, empowerment and collaboration is helping leaders and their residents build a more inclusive city for tomorrow.

Quote of the talk: “Poverty only changes affordability. It does not change aspirations.”


“Branding is not just a tool of capitalism. Branding is the profound manifestation of the human spirit,” says Debbie Millman. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Debbie Millman, designer

Big idea: The ability to create meaning through symbols and logos doesn’t just belong to big corporations. It belongs to all of us. 

Why? Since the early days of human society, we have created community through shared symbols. In fact, some of the first religious symbols were not created by any church or leader, but by communities themselves, explains Debbie Millman. Unique marks and logos have come to indicate ownership or belonging in a variety of ways, from branding cattle to the first trademarked brand in the United States: a beer. But for the last few hundred years, this ability has largely belonged to companies with the means to trademark and advertise something as recognizable as the Nike swoosh. Now, online culture is changing things, Millman says. Social media can amplify messages, and branding has reverted to something created by and for people. The creation of the pussy hat for the 2017 Women’s March is just one example of how the internet grants us the democratic capacity to make shared meaning.

Quote of the talk: “Branding is not just a tool of capitalism. Branding is the profound manifestation of the human spirit.” 

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Wayfinders: Notes from Session 6 of TEDWomen 2019

Singer, songwriter and beatboxer Butterscotch lights up the stage at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 6, 2019, in Palm Springs, (California. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED)

The final session of TEDWomen 2019 is here! We can’t believe it; we won’t believe. But, if we must close out these three incredible days, it’s good we did it by hearing from a diverse range of “wayfinders” — incredible women who are using their wisdom and insight to light the way forward, tackle global problems and find the right balance of fear and courage to do so.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 6: Wayfinders, hosted by Pat Mitchell, Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel

When and where: Friday, December 6, 2019, 9am PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Valorie Kondos Field, Noeline Kirabo, Martha Minow, Agnes Binagwaho, Mary Ellen Hannibal, Jasmine Crowe, Cara E. Yar Khan, Pat Mitchell

Music: Singer-songwriter Butterscotch performs a virtuosic set, mixing beatboxing with her powerful voice to sing about love, life and everything in between.

The talks in brief:

Valorie Kondos Field, gymnastics coach

Big idea: Victory does not always equal success. Leaders need to consider the cost of winning to those under our care and redefine success in empathetic and positive terms.

How? Across the world, a pervasive “win at all costs” culture is creating emotional and physical crises. When Valorie Kondos Field first started working with the UCLA women’s gymnastics team, she mimicked other “winning” coaches by being relentless, unsympathetic and outright mean. One day, her team sat her down and made a firm case against her top-down, bullying approach. The years that followed — and her deeply personal, trust-based work with champion athletes like Katelyn Ohashi and Kyla Ross — were a lesson in the importance of an empathetic approach. True champions, she says, derive joy from their pursuits — win or lose.

Quote of the talk: “Instead of focusing maniacally on winning, we need to have the courage to develop champions through empathy, positivity, and accountability.”


How do you find your passion? Noeline Kirabo provides some answers at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December , 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED)

Noeline Kirabo, social entrepreneur

Big idea: Almost everyone dreams of turning their passion into a successful career — but to do so, you must first identify what your passion is.

How? Passion isn’t only for the rich or the retired, says Noeline Kirabo. When she dropped out of school because she couldn’t afford the tuition, she didn’t settle for a job she didn’t love — instead, she decided to follow her passion. She founded Kyusa, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing youth unemployment in Uganda by helping young people turn their interests into careers and profitable businesses. Her organization provides the necessary support for them to build the future of their dreams, including soft skills and entrepreneurial training. But how do you discover your passion? She poses two questions to help you find the answer: If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you spend your time doing; and what truly makes you happy or gives you a deep sense of fulfillment? To find these answers, she says, we must look inward — not outward. 

Quote of the talk: “We need to look inward to identify the things that give us a deep sense of fulfillment, the things that give us the deepest joy, and then weave them into the patterns of our daily routines. In so doing, we cease to work, and we start to live.”


Martha Minow, law professor

Big idea: Our laws and legal system are focused on punishment, but they should make more room for forgiveness.

Why?: In her 40 years of teaching law, Martha Minow has found that law students are not taught much about forgiveness. While the law itself does contain tools like pardons, commutations and bankruptcy for debt, they are not adequately used. Or, when they are used, they reinforce existing social inequities along the lines of race and class. Yet the benefits of mercy have been widely shown, not just for our own individual health, but also for the health of communities affected by criminal activity. Restorative justice, which emphasizes accountability and service rather than punishment, can disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that has become a prominent issue in parts of the US, Minow says. Although placing more of an emphasis on forgiveness comes with the risk of bias, it also comes with the promise of creating a fairer future.

Quote of the talk: “To ask how law may forgive is not to deny the fact of wrongdoing. Rather, it’s to widen the lens to enable glimpses of the larger patterns.”


Agnes Binagwaho, pediatrician, former Minister of Health of Rwanda

Big idea: Educating women creates female leaders and establishes gender equity — which improves society in countless ways.

How? In 1994, Agnes Binagwaho returned to her home country of Rwanda to practice medicine in the aftermath of the country’s horrific genocide. The devastation was so pervasive she considered leaving, but resilient Rwandan women motivated her to stay and help rebuild. And she is glad she did. Today, Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in parliament — nearly 62 percent — and the most successful HPV vaccination campaign for children. Binagwaho has been essential in opening the first medical school in Rwanda, University of Global Health Equity, which boasts gender parity and is free of charge, as long as students commit to working with vulnerable communities around the world.

Quote of the talk: “I have learned that if we focus on women’s education, we improve their lives positively, as well as the wellbeing of their community.”


Mary Ellen Hannibal, science writer

Big idea: Around the world, insect species (including the monarch butterfly) are dying at an alarming rate. The looming demise of important pollinators (like bees and butterflies) will have dire consequences for human civilization. Citizen scientists could help save these insects — and the planet.

How? Citizen scientists — people without PhDs who leverage technology to collect data and organize initiatives to protect the natural world — are a crucial force for understanding complex natural phenomena. The same citizen scientists who documented plummeting monarch butterfly populations now work to save them (and other endangered species) through food-source cultivation, habitat preservation and efforts like the City Nature Challenge — a scalable data-gathering initiative supporting threatened species that cohabit our cities.

Quote of the talk: “Insect life is at the very foundation of our life-support systems. We can’t lose these insects.”


Jasmine Crowe, social entrepreneur, hunger hero

Big idea: We’re doing hunger wrong in America. We can eliminate hunger, reduce food waste and give families their dignity back through innovative technology, instead of charity. 

How? While Food banks are beloved community institutions, they aren’t solving hunger, says Jasmine Crowe. They keep families dependent on their services and rarely offer a full meal. Scarcity isn’t the problem, Crowe reminds us: globally, one in nine people go hungry each day, yet food waste has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s. Crowe — who has spent her life giving back to the Atlanta community — is reengineering how cities handle hunger through Goodr, a tech-enabled sustainable food waste company. Their app gathers unused food from local businesses and distributes it to food deserts through nonprofits and popup grocery stores. Each of us has the power to join the movement to bring real food and dignity back to families.

Quote of the talk: “We wanted to change the way we think and approached the hunger fight, get people to believe that we could solve hunger — not as a charity, not as a food bank, but as a social enterprise with a goal of ending hunger and food waste.”


Cara E. Yar Khan, humanitarian, disability activist

Big Idea: Courage is never instantaneous or easy. It’s a careful balance of bravery and fear. 

How? After being diagnosed with Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy, a genetic condition that deteriorates muscle, Cara E. Yar Khan heard repeatedly that she had to limit her career ambitions and quiet her dreams. Instead, she actively pursued and accomplished her goals, working as a humanitarian in Angola with the UN and as a disability advocate in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. She decided to descend to the base of the Grand Canyon, embarking on a harrowing 12-day trip: four days descending the canyon via horseback, and eight days of white water rafting through the Colorado River. Though terrifying, the trip showed her how powerful her courage could be, she says. Courage isn’t just a burst of bravery that appears when needed — it arises when we’re willing to take risks, acknowledge and prepare for our fears and become devoted to bringing our dreams to life. 

Quote of the talk: “Without fear, you’ll do foolish things. Without courage, you’ll never step into the unknown. The balance of the two is where the magic lies, and it’s a balance we all deal with everyday.”


Pat Mitchell, TEDWomen curator, self-proclaimed “dangerous woman”

Big idea: It’s time to embrace risk, speak out and live dangerously.

Why? We live in dangerous times, with nothing left to prove and much more to lose, says Pat Mitchell. The rise in sexism, racism and violence against women and girls, alongside the dire state of our planet, demands that we live dangerously. “I don’t mean being feared,” says Mitchell. “But I do mean being more fearless.” Mitchell knows this best from her own life blazing a path across media and television. On the TEDWomen stage, she shares how her own experiences informed her leadership decisions and vision of a future where women wield the power they already hold. (Read a full recap here.)

Quote of the talk: “At this point in my life’s journey, I am holding my splendid torch higher than ever, boldly and brilliantly — inviting you to join me in its dangerous light.”

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A dangerous woman: Pat Mitchell speaks at TEDWomen 2019

Pat Mitchell speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, December 4-6, 2019, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Pat Mitchell has nothing left to prove and much less to lose. Now more than ever, she cares less about what others say, speaks her mind freely — and she’s angry, too. She’s become a dangerous woman, through and through.

Not dangerous, as in feared, but fearless; a force to be reckoned with.

On the TEDWoman stage, she invites all women, men and allies to join her in embracing the risks necessary to create a world where safety, respect and truth burn brighter than the darkness of our current times.

“This is all possible because we’re ready for this. We’re better prepared than any generation ever before us,” she says. “Better resourced, better connected, and in many parts of the world we’re living longer than ever.”

On the cusp of 77 years old, Mitchell would know what it takes to make possibilities reality from her own career blazing an award-winning trail across media and television. She’s produced and hosted breakthrough television for women, and presided over CNN Productions, PBS and the Paley Center for Media, taking risks all along the way.

“I became a risk-taker early in my life’s journey. I had to, or have my life defined by the limitations for girls growing up in the rural South, especially … with no money, influence or connections,” she says. “But what wasn’t limited was my curiosity about the world beyond my small town.”

She acknowledges her trajectory was colored with gendered advice — become blonde (she did), drop your voice (she tried), lower your necklines (she didn’t) — that sometimes made it difficult to strike a balance between her leadership and womanhood. But now, declaring her pride as a woman leader, activist, advocate and feminist, she couldn’t care less what others say.

Even further, Mitchell states that women shouldn’t wait to be empowered — they must wield the power they already hold. What’s needed are more opportunities to claim, use and share it; for those who’ve forged their paths to reach back and help change the nature of power by dismantling some of the barriers that remain for those who follow.

Iconic playwright George Bernard Shaw, she shares, once wrote: “Life is not a brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Pat Mitchell believes we’re more than equipped to move our communities forward, together. We have the funds, the technology and the media platforms to elevate each other’s stories and ideas for a better livelihood, a better planet.

And for Mitchell there’s no question that she walks in the same footsteps as Shaw’s, looking forward to a near future where we are willing to take more risks, to be more fearless, to speak up, speak out and show up for one another.

“At this point in my life’s journey, I am not passing my torch,” she says. “I am holding my splendid torch higher than ever, boldly and brilliantly — inviting you to join me in its dangerous light.”

Pat Mitchell speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, December 4-6, 2019, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

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Truth Tellers: Notes from Session 1 of TEDWomen 2019

Author and playwright Eve Ensler discusses the power of apologies — and the four crucial components of a sincere one. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

The stage is set for TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant! In the opening session, we heard from an extraordinary lineup of truth tellers. Six speakers and two performers shined a light on issues ranging from immigration to leadership and inclusion — and how we can shatter the glass ceiling once and for all — sharing new ways to look at old problems.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 1: Truth Tellers, hosted by Pat Mitchell, Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel

When and where: Wednesday, December 4, 2019, 5pm PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sister Norma Pimentel, Yifat Susskind, Gina Brillon, Heather C. McGhee, Eve Ensler

Opening: Reid D. Milanovich, Vice Chair of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, welcomes TEDWomen attendees to the Cahuilla Valley, which has been his tribe’s ancestral homeland for thousands of years.

The talks in brief:

“I was the first woman president of an African nation, and I do believe more countries ought to try that,” says H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel laureate, former President of Liberia

Big idea: A nation needs women leaders to prosper. We must work together to remove the barriers that have kept them from achieving full equality and political representation.

How? When H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf began her 12-year presidency of Liberia in 2006, she inherited the challenges of a country harmed by years of conflict: economic collapse, infrastructure destruction and institutional dysfunction. Most challenging of all was the damage women and children endured during the civil war, she says. Though Sirleaf helped steward financial growth and the reconstruction of the nation’s infrastructure, there’s still work to be done. On the TEDWomen stage, she announced the recent launch of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, which aims to elevate women into strategic government positions and break through the structural barriers that allow inequality thrive. Only by working towards full gender equity can we ensure peace and prosperity for all, she says.

Quote of the talk: “I was the first woman president of an African nation, and I do believe more countries ought to try that.”


Sister Norma Pimentel, religious leader, sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, licensed professional counselor

Big idea: We must see that immigrants are a part of the same human family as the rest of us. If not, we stand to lose our own humanity.

Why? In her work at detention facilities at the US-Mexico border, Sister Norma Pimentel has learned that the people there simply want what all of us desire: safer, better lives for themselves and their families. While the humanitarian response has been impressive and supported by many dedicated volunteers, the policies and procedures in place cause great suffering — particularly for separated children and parents. We need to put aside our prejudices and fears and treat migrants in a respectful and compassionate manner.

Quote of the talk: “It’s important to be able to see [migrants] as people, to be able to have a personal encounter when we can feel what they feel, when we can understand what they’re hurting. … It is then that we are present to them and we can make their humanity a part of our own humanity.”


Yifat Susskind, human rights activist

Big idea: In a time of global strife and uncertainty, we can secure a brighter future by “thinking like a mother” — with optimism and empathy.

Why? When you think like a mother, you imagine better worlds and act to make them possible, says Yifat Susskind.  Because mothers are versed in a vital language: the language of love. When love drives our actions, we feel empowered to repair the world and protect those in need. Empathy and optimism are powerful tools, she says, both in our own lives and across public policy. By thinking like mothers and acting with care, we can prioritize the most vulnerable and forge a luminous, resilient path forward.

Quote of the talk: “Love isn’t just an emotion, it’s a capacity. A verb. An endlessly renewable resource.”


A comedic interlude: Comedian Gina Brillon commanded the stage with an uproarious stand-up performance, poking fun at everyday annoyances and interactions. “Have you ever had somebody say something wrong with such confidence that it made you question how you’ve been saying it your whole life?” she joked.


Writer and advocate Heather C. McGhee explores how racism leads to bad policymaking — and hurts the economic potential of everybody. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Heather C. McGhee, writer, advocate

Big idea: Racism is bad for everyone — even the people set up to benefit from privilege.

Why? Heather C. McGhee is a self-proclaimed “public policy wonk.” She investigates problems in the American economy: rising household debt, declining wages and shortfalls in infrastructure investment. Through her research and travels across the US, she’s come to a chilling conclusion: racism is making our economy worse — and not just in ways that disadvantage people of color. “It turns out it’s not a zero sum,” she says. “Racism is bad for white people, too.” Take, for example, the subprime mortgages that precipitated the 2008 recession. African Americans and Latinos were three times as likely as white people to be sold these toxic loans, even if their credit was as good. Stereotypes blinded many policymakers to this reality, keeping them from stopping the crisis even when there was still time. McGhee says the way forward is to hold accountable the people selling racist ideas for profit — and start recognizing that we’re all on the same team.

Quote of the talk: “It’s time to reject that old paradigm and realize that our fates are linked. An injury to one is an injury to all.”


Disability is the spark for artistry, aesthetic and innovation, says choreographer Alice Sheppard. She performs with her collaborator Laurel Lawson at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED)

A special performance: Artistic director Alice Sheppard speaks about the work of her dance company Kinetic Light, which creates movement that challenges conventional understandings of disabled and dancing bodies. As she puts it: disability is the spark for artistry, aesthetic and innovation. She’s joined onstage by her choreographic collaborator Laurel Lawson, in a stunning performance.


Eve Ensler, author, playwright

Big idea: After calling abusers out, we now have to call them in. We need to invite them to take responsibility for their actions, to apologize and change. 

How? Eve Ensler waited most of her life for an apology. As a child, she was sexually and physically abused by her father. Nearly 31 years after his death, she sat down to write the apology that he never gave her — expressing, from his perspective, the words she needed to hear. Now, in the wake of the Me Too and Times Up movements, she shares how the incredible power of apologies could offer us a way forward. It boils down to abusers taking four crucial steps: admit your wrongdoing in detail; ask yourself why you did it; sit with the suffering and hurt you’ve caused; and take responsibility and make amends. An apology, she says, is the only way for both the victim and the abuser to be free. Let’s create a better process that invites abusers to repent and become someone different along the way.

Quote of the talk: “We don’t want men to be destroyed, we don’t want them to only be punished. We want them to see us, the victims that they have harmed, and we want them to repent and change.”

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Pattern Makers: Notes from Session 2 of TEDWomen 2019

“You don’t predict the future; you imagine the future,” says author Charlie Jane Anders. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

In Session 2 of TEDWomen 2019, we met some extraordinary pattern makers: people helping us predict the future, improve our relationship to technology, and unearth powerful discoveries.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 2: Pattern Makers, hosted by Pat Mitchell and Cloe Shasha

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 8:30AM PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Lucy King, Jennifer Zhu Scott, Angie Murimirwa, Jiabao Li, Eva Galperin, Charlie Jane Anders

The talks in brief:

Lucy King, elephant advocate

Big idea: As their foraging territories shrink, African elephants encroach on agricultural lands, upsetting a delicate balance between them and their human neighbors. Amid an increase in wrecked crops and houses, Lucy King developed a method to bar elephants from cultivated fields without needing to erect huge (and often ineffective) electric fences.

How? Through research inspired by local folklore, King discovered that elephants avoid beehives because they don’t want to get stung. As a result, she developed “beehive fences” that release insects when elephants attempt to breach them — and that send pachyderms packing. In tandem with these fences, King’s “Human-Elephant Co-Existence” program encourages farmers to plant crops that pollinators love and elephants hate, which could help farmers establish new livelihoods.

Quote of the talk: “Can you imagine the terror of an elephant literally ripping the roof off your mud hut in the middle of the night, and having to hold your children away as the trunk reaches in looking for food in the pitch dark?”


Jennifer Zhu Scott, entrepreneur and technologist

Big idea: Our personal data is a valuable asset — but we’re not getting paid for it. Giving individuals pricing power over their own data could reduce inequality by empowering people, instead of businesses.

Why? The most successful companies in the world profit from the data produced by the everyday people who use their services. So, why aren’t we getting a paycheck? Data ownership is a personal and economic issue, says Jennifer Zhu Scott, yet too often our conversations fixate on data privacy and regulation rather than the potential prosperity that data ownership could bring. For some, it might even be a path out of poverty. Take China — a society that saw its poverty rate plunge from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent by 2015 as businesses went from being state-owned to privately owned. It wasn’t a perfect transition by any means, she says, but it’s a case study for how personal ownership can improve people’s lives. We can create an economic model for individuals to control and barter their own information, instead of letting Facebook or Tencent do it, and startups are already creating tools to make this a reality.

Quote of the talk: “Whoever owns the data owns the future.”


Angie Murimirwa, education activist, executive director of the Campaign for Female Education for Africa

Big idea: “Social interest,” or paying back interest on a loan through service rather than currency, can promote economic prosperity in communities across Africa — helping girls stay in school, get job training and obtain and pay off loans.

How? Young women in sub-Saharan Africa often can’t afford school and have difficulty finding consistent wages and loans, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality. Angie Murimirwa believes that one solution lies in empowering young people through “social interest” — a kind of loan that can be paid off by service, such as mentorship and teaching, and not by currency. Not only has social interest facilitated Murimirwa’s own success, but she has also watched it benefit thousands of others. In fact, nearly 6,300 young women have borrowed close to three million dollars — with a repayment rate above 95 percent. 

Quote of the talk: “We are building a powerful force gaining ever greater momentum, as we open the door for more and more girls to go to school, succeed, lead and, in turn, support thousands more.”


Jiabao Li, artist and engineer

Big idea: Technology affects the way we perceive reality, creating a hyper-fragmented humanity vulnerable to seemingly “mental” allergies. But as with many cures, the problem gives is also the solution.

How? To emphasize this human-made phenomenon, Jiabao Li created a series of perceptual machines to help question the ways we experience the world in the age of digital media. Her conceptual designs include a bulbous helmet that mimics the amplification effect of social media, and two web browser plug-ins — one that helps us notice things we’d usually ignore and another that dilutes algorithmic influence. Technology is designed to change what we see and what we think, and in many ways it’s separated us from each other. But we could use it to make the world connected again.

Quote of the talk: “By exploring how we interface with these technologies, I hope we could step out of our habitual, almost machine-like behaviors, and finally find common ground between each other.”


Eva Galperin, cybersecurity expert and technical advisor

Big idea: Stalkerware is on the rise. We need to educate the public on how to protect themselves and convince antivirus companies to begin detecting it.

How? Eva Galperin was shocked to discover that an alarming number of people are being hacked by their current or former partners. A common and particularly insidious form of this abuse is “stalkerware,” software designed to track or spy on someone without their knowledge. Stalkers buy a program, install it on their victim’s devices and gain remote access, allowing them see their victim’s every movement, text message or email. When Galperin discovered that most antivirus softwares do not detect these programs, she launched the Coalition Against Stalkerware to raise awareness and advocate for antivirus companies to detect it. She hopes that by next year, antivirus software will be able to offer stalkerware detection to discourage abusers and protect victims. 

Quote of the talk: “Full access to a person’s phone is the next best thing to full access to a person’s mind.”


Charlie Jane Anders, author and futurist

Big Idea: Dreaming about our collective future is the first step toward creating a better one.

How: The world is changing so fast that no one — not even futurists like Charlie Jane Anders — can predict what it will look like in a few years. Now, instead of trying to predict it, she vaccinates herself against the acute onset of future shock by imagining it in all its wild possibilities. In a process that’s part fever dream and part research-based extrapolation, she constructs future worlds by living them through the characters in her work and speculating about the delights and challenges that could arise. It’s by engaging in such directed flights of fancy, Anders suggests, that we can begin constructing a better world of tomorrow. 

Quote of the talk: “You don’t predict the future; you imagine the future.”

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