Movies that Matter, Jeff Skoll

Highlight Quote: “One is the gap in opportunity – this gap that President Clinton last night called uneven, unfair and unsustainable – and, out of that, comes poverty and illiteracy and disease and all these evils that we see around us. But perhaps the other, bigger gap is what we call the hope gap. And someone, at some point, came up with this very bad idea that an ordinary individual couldn’t make a difference in the world. And I think that’s just a horrible thing. And so chapter one really begins today, with all of us, because within each of us is the power to equal those opportunity gaps and to close the hope gaps.”

Many TED talks focus on the real, the practical and the pragmatic – on harnessing the abstract powers of good and common sense of humanity in a real life way. Yet many of these talks can leave us, as ordinary citizens feeling somewhat inadequate and unable to make an impact. Jeff Skoll, producer of films including An Inconvenient Truth, Murderball, North Country, Good Night and Good Luck, and Syriana, gives us a talk about how he, as an ordinary citizen, worked his way slowly to Hollywood. Once there, he was able to make a difference by inspiring and spreading awareness through films.

Mosquitos, Malaria and Education, Bill Gates

Highlight Quote: “But I – I’m optimistic. I think people are beginning to recognize how important this is, and it really can make a difference for millions of lives, if we get it right. I only had time to frame those two problems. There’s a lot more problems like that — AIDS, pneumonia – I can just see you’re getting excited, just at the very name of these things. And the skill sets required to tackle these things are very broad. You know, the system doesn’t naturally make it happen. Governments don’t naturally pick these things in the right way. The private sector doesn’t naturally put its resources into these things.”

Perhaps the world’s most recognizable philanthropist, Bill Gates is characteristically shrewd, practical, clear, forward thinking and unexpectedly funny. By asking us to consider how to solve two big problems: malaria and education – Gates shows us how businesslike thinking and determination can solve widespread social problems. In only 18 minutes, Gates gives us a TED talk that is small in stature but big in ideas.

Aid versus Trade, Ngozi Okongo-Iweala

Highlight Quote: “But we are talking about “Africa: the Next Chapter” because we are looking at the old and the present chapter – that we’re looking at, and saying it’s not such a good thing. The picture I showed you before, and this picture, of drought, death and disease is what we usually see. What we want to look at is “Africa: the Next Chapter,” and that’s this: a healthy, smiling, beautiful African. And I think it’s worth remembering what we’ve heard through the conference right from the first day, where I heard that all the important statistics have been given – about where we are now, about how the continent is doing much better. And the importance of that is that we have a platform to build on.”

In 2007, Okongo-Iweala, the former finance minister of Nigeria and director at the World Bank, had the unenviable task of summarizing four days of TED talks. In 22 minutes, she draws from personal experience, global leaders, real-life examples and observations to illustrate the lessons from the conference regarding effective aid, morality, and the pitfalls in the current methods of development assistance.

Cheetahs vs. Hippos, George Ayitteh

Highlight Quote: “Africa is more than a tragedy, in more ways than one. There’s another enduring tragedy, and that tragedy is that there are so many people, so many governments, so many organizations who want to help the people in Africa. They don’t understand. Now, we’re not saying don’t help Africa. Helping Africa is noble. But helping Africa has been turned into a theater of the absurd. It’s like the blind leading the clueless.”

Many ask the question, why is Africa still in the state it is, with so much money being poured into it and so much work being done by so many different organizations? In this talk, Ayitteh addresses some of the problems in development; some coming from Africa itself and others with foreign sources – and more importantly, how to address them. Ayitteh’s talk can be applied to a number of other scenarios and teach us that aid is a practice that needs close monitoring and attention in order to be effective.

– Farahnaz Mohammed