Why I Chose the Gun, Peter van Uhm

“When I look around, I see people who want to make a contribution, I see people who want to make a better world, by doing ground-breaking scientific work, by creating impressive works of art, by writing critical articles or inspiring books, by starting up sustainable businesses. All of you have chosen your own instruments to fulfil this mission of creating a better world….I chose this instrument. I chose the gun.” – Peter van Uhm

The idea of guns being used as a tool for peace is counter-intuitive. In his talk, Uhm explains how weapons can be used not as a source of violence, but as a protective measure against injustice. It is a talk that is full of controversial ideas, and worth listening to and thinking about. In a world where it is overly idealistic to imagine that it is possible to develop a blanket ability to avoid all conflict, Uhm’s outlook is one that does not immediately sit well with our gut, but it all the more important to listen to because of it.


Fighting with Non-Violence, Scilla Elworthy

“The training of troops has to change. And I think there are signs that it is beginning to change. The British military have always been much better at this. But there is one magnificent example for them to take their cue from, and that’s a brilliant U.S. lieutenant colonel called Chris Hughes. And he was leading his men down the streets of Najaf — in Iraq actually — and suddenly people were pouring out of the houses on either side of the road,screaming, yelling, furiously angry, and surrounded these very young troops who were completely terrified, didn’t know what was going on, couldn’t speak Arabic. And Chris Hughes strode into the middle of the throng with his weapon above his head, pointing at the ground, and he said, “Kneel.” And these huge soldiers with their backpacks and their body armor, wobbled to the ground. And complete silence fell. And after about two minutes,everybody moved aside and went home.” – Scilla Elworthy

Elworthy’s talk stands in stark contrast to Uhm’s. Speaking through her personal experience, and the histories of famous non-violent leaders like Mandela and Suu Kyi, Elworthy explores the alternative to military power. Elworthy has no illusions about the difficulty of non-violent reactions; it goes against our instincts and she speaks about the necessity of developing our ability to understand before we react. A relatively short but powerful talk, Elworthy manages to show us how hard and how important it is to rethink how we fight our battles.


Ending Hunger Now, Josette Sheeran

“I believe we’re living at a time in human historywhere it’s just simply unacceptable that children wake up and don’t know where to find a cup of food. Not only that, transforming hunger is an opportunity, but I think we have to change our mindsets. I am so honored to be here with some of the world’s top innovators and thinkers. And I would like you to join with all of humanity to draw a line in the sand and say, “No more. No more are we going to accept this.” And we want to tell our grandchildrenthat there was a terrible time in history where up to a third of the children had brains and bodies that were stunted, but that exists no more.” – Josette Sheeran

Often, people think of the world’s greatest crises as enormous, separate challenges. World peace as separate from world hunger, poverty and women’s rights and education all distinct entities with unique challenges. The truth is they are all connected, feeding into each other. The presence of one almost inevitably creates breeding grounds for the others. Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Programme, walks us through the practicalities of ending hunger, and the potential ramifications of doing so. Though it sounds like a huge project, Sheeran uses real-life examples to show how innovative thinking and concerted effort can lead to real, large-scale change. Sheeran’s passion and pragmatism make ending hunger seem infinitely achievable.


Why To Believe in Others, Viktor Frankl

“If you don’t recognise a young man’s will to meaning, man’s search for meaning you make him worse. You make him dull, you make him frustrated, you still add and contribute to his frustration. While, if you presuppose in this man, in this so called criminal or juvenile delinquent or drug abuser, or so forth, there must be a – what do you call it – a spark, a spark of search for meaning. Let’s recognize this…let’s presuppose it and then you will elicit it from him and you will make him become what he in principle is capable of becoming.” – Viktor Frankl

Better spoken than summarized, holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl explains, in four humorous and poignant minutes, why to believe in others.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Iqbal Quadir is an advocate of business as a humanitarian tool. With GrameenPhone, he brought the first commercial telecom services to poor areas of Bangladesh. Partnering with microcredit pioneer GrameenBank in 1997, Quadir established GrameenPhone, a wireless operator that provides phone services to 80 million rural Bangladeshi. The company has become the standard for a bottom-up, tech-empowered approach to development.

In his TED Talk, he first questioned the way that rich counties sent aid to poor countries to fight poverty. And also, even though he did not find much evidence to support the idea that connectivity can really increase productivity, he presented research done by the International Telecommunication Union showing the positive effects it has. The impact of one new telephone to richer countries’ GDP is very little, however, one new telephone has a huge impact on the GDP of poorer countries.

“Mobiles have a triple impact,” Quadir says. “They provide business opportunities; connect the village to the world; and generate over time a culture of entrepreneurship, which is crucial for any economic development.”

– Caiqing Jin(Kelly)

Source: TED Talk

Elizabeth Pisani is an assumption-busting independent researcher and analyst, who has worked in the field of HIV for 15 years in four countries. She believes that the world is failing to understand and manage the realities of HIV. She also shows how politics and “morality” have hogtied funding, and advocates for putting dollars where they can actually make a difference.

In Pisani’s TED Talk, she firstly points out an idea that people get HIV not just because they do stupid things. For most of them, when they are doing stupid things, they have perfectly rational reasons. We both know there are two major ways to spread HIV; sex and drugs. Pisani leads us to see problems behind the sex and drugs. Most of the people in Africa know sex and blood can transfer HIV. They also knowwhere to buy clean needles, but because of gender inequality and poverty, sometimes people choose to “rationalize” things even though they know there is a great chance that they may get HIV. At the end of her speech, she tells us a story about a transgender hooker on the street of Jakarta named lnes. She quotes Ines saying “why is prevalence still rising? It’s all politics. When you get to politics, nothing makes sense”. She believes that everyone has a duty to demand our politicians to make policy based on scientific evidence and on common sense.

-Caiqing Jin(Kelly)
Source: TED Talk

How Bono Got Interested in Global Poverty

Nowadays, Bono’s face is synonymous with activism. The lead singer of U2 is known as much for his humanitarian work as for his music, if not more. Known for his charisma and tirelessness, Bono has been championing causes such as poverty reduction and AIDS relief for decades. He is the celebrity face of activism and has had incredible impact in garnering momentum for the movement of international aid.

Bono got his start in activism after he performed at Bob Geldorf’s groundbreaking fundraiser, Live Aid, in the late eighties. The performance spurred a month-long trip to Ethiopia with his wife, Ali Hewson, where they worked on a famine relief project. The two said they were stunned by the conditions, and Bono walked away determined to change what he’d seen. He repeatedly tells the story of the end of his visit, when a man asked the singer to take his son with him. As Bono explains, “He knew in Ireland that his son would live and in Ethiopia, his son would die…At that moment, I became the worst thing of all; I became a rock star with a cause.”

After that, his humanitarian work began in earnest and has only increased in intensity and scale. The early 90s saw tours around Central America and campaigns with major organizations to rally support for development work. As U2’s fame grew, so did Bono’s influence. He is a key player in a number of powerful advocacy organizations including DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade, Africa), the ONE campaign and the Make Poverty History movement, as well as launching an ethical fashion campaign and promoting the RED campaign. He’s famous for using his celebrity star power to draw attention to emergency causes throughout the world and has become a regular at political events. He’s been credited with the implementation of the US’s massive and incredible AIDS program in Africa and been awarded an honorary knighthood for his efforts.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Sources: TED – Bono’s Call to Action for Africa
Photo: Andpop

Medical doctor and PhD candidate at University College London, Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, is dedicated to the study of HIV drug resistant viruses and seeks to better understand the mechanisms of drug resistance. When she did the research in Africa, she found that there are so much we need to do to protect participants who are in HIV research.

In Titanji’s TED Talk, she mentions a story about a HIV research participant and how this gave her ideas to think about what we need to protect participants’ rights and how it is important that we should talk about ethical riddles in HIV research. Titanji also brought up four areas that need to be improved in the clinical trial in developing countries to protect participants and to be more ethically acceptable.

The first point is informed consent which means participants must be given relevant information. The second area is the standard of care provided by any clinical trials. After the research ends, they should take responsibility for their participants. What happens to participants once the clinical trial is completed needs to be decided before the clinical trial. Thirdly, local governments should pay more attention to the ethical review of research even before the trial has started. And the final point is that all clinical trials should have clear plans about what happens to all the participants when research is completed.

-Caiqing Jin(Kelly)
Source: TED Talks

A study from NASA and the University of California – Irvine shows that the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. From 2003 to 2009, around 144 cubic kilometers of water have been lost from the Middle East. The study utilized observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to evaluate trends of freshwater storage in the Middle East. The “lost water” comes from water resources below the Earth’s surface that are drilled for and relied on in times of drought. This recent news reminds us that water, like oil, is a finite resource. However, Qatar seems to have found a way to manage through this water crisis.

In a TED talk earlier this year in Doha, Qatar, Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Programme, delivered a talk on his job, maintaining food security in a country that has no water and imports 90% of its food. Qatar is a country that is rich in oil, boasts strong economic growth, and has a rapidly expanding population. And with a rapidly expanding population comes rising levels of water consumption. The population of Qatar has grown to 1.7 million in less than 60 years. Water consumption levels are at 430 liters a day, the highest in the world. Qatar has gone from having no water to consuming water to the highest degree. Regardless, the country has maintained consistent growth of 15% every year for the past five years without water. This, Al-Attiya says, is “historic.”

The answer to the question of how this was possible is desalination. The process of desalination consists of removing salt from seawater, allowing for Qatar to compensate for depleting water levels in the aquifers. This is a revolutionary change, leaving Qatar in a state of “structurally-induced water abundance.” Utilizing reverse osmosis and solar desalination technologies, desalination presents a very sustainable solution to a country that receives less than 74 millimeters of rain a year. Through desalination, Qatar is able to produce 3.5 million cubic meters of water. This water will go to farmers that will be able to supply the country with food. Al-Attiya calls it “the best technology that this region could ever have.” For the next year, this will be Al-Attiya’s work. His goal is for Qatar to become a millennium city.

March 22 marks World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation. Around the world, many will participate in World Walks for Water and Sanitation, a global event aimed at addressing the world’s water crisis. More than 780 million lack access to clean water. More than 3 million die every year due to the scarcity of this resource. Qatar, along with the UAW and Saudi Arabia, are working on large-scale desalination projects. In India, farmers are looking into System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to reap record breaking harvests of rice. Through investing in projects and innovations like desalination and SRI, we can more efficiently and more effectively manage the world’s most important resource.

– Rafael Panlilio


Beyoncé is Helping Girls Run the WorldWho runs the world? According to a very popular song of Beyoncé’s, girls do.

And now to show just how much she believes that Beyoncé has partnered with the clothing brand Gucci, as well as famous superstars such as Salma Hayek, Adrianna Huffington, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jada Pinket-Smith to start a campaign called Chime for Change. The Chime for Change Campaign is, as written by’s Sarah Karmali, an initiative that aims to raise funds for and awareness about supporting the projects of girls and women worldwide “through sharing ‘powerful stories’ about inspiring females.”

By sharing different women’s stories, the Chime for Change Campaign wants to strengthen and unite all the voices speaking out for women and girls across the globe with hopes of, as stated on TED (a nonprofit that brings together thinkers, philanthropists, and doers), “raising an alarm and drawing attention where there is work to be done – with a focus on Education, Health and Justice.”

The campaign – thought up by Salma Hayek and Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini – will feature a series of ten films that highlight the power of technology and tell inspiring stories of women across the world. Each film will be narrated by Hayek and will feature new music by Beyoncé. The first film has already been released and in it, Salma Hayek praises the advent of technology for helping connect women and girls in ways that were previously unimaginable. The video goes on to show how change that creates equality for women, gives girls everywhere the opportunity to go to school and provides women access to the care they need is occurring and necessary for improving not only communities but the whole world.

The optimistic message of the video, as well as celebrity appearances (both Salma Hayek and Beyoncé appear in the first video), is encouraging, not only to the future success of the campaign but also to the importance of what technology can do. It shows how technology can connect people everywhere and bring attention to empowering stories across the globe.

Click here to watch the first video.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: Huffington Post, TED
Photo: Chime for Change

Great Social-Marketing Lessons at TED ConferenceThere were some great social-marketing lessons at the TED conference in 2013. Specifically, this was related to an energy conservation experiment but is widely applicable to anyone trying to create social change or tap into social behavior.

Alex Laskey is the president and founder of Opower, a company that partners with utility companies and the government, now even reaching into international markets, in pursuit of cutting energy, saving money and reducing carbon emissions. On February 27, at the TED conference, he spoke of the need to change people’s mindset in order to create change in behavior. He wants people to check their energy use just like they check their finances or emails.

In an experiment that Opower conducted, they tried to determine what would be the strongest motivational factor for getting people to reduce their energy use. They placed three different messages on the doors of various customers about why they should save energy:

– You can save $54 this month,
– You can save the planet, or
– You can be a good citizen

Which had the best results? None. No one message showed any significant difference in behavior. So Opower tried a fourth message:

– Your neighbors are doing better than you

This is the one that made a difference. People who read the message that 77 percent of their neighbors turned down their air conditioning, then also proceeded to turn down their AC. The power of peer-pressure should not be  understated. “We can be doing so much better,” says Laskey, “starting by tapping into the power of social behavior.”

– Mary Purcell



Wood Architecture is Better than Steel
At the TED Conference 2013, architect Michael Green argues that wood architecture is better than steel and concrete when it comes to protecting the environment. Tall buildings are made of steel and concrete and the greenhouse gas emission of these materials is huge (three percent of the world’s energy goes into making steel, and 5 percent goes into making concrete). Green notes that most people think transportation is the main cause of CO2 emissions, but actually it is building — accounting for 47 percent of CO2 emissions.

Current building codes only allow wood buildings to be four stories high, and Green wants to change this. He proposes we use wood architecture and build skyscrapers out of wood. Trees store carbon dioxide, and by building with it, says Green, we could sequester the carbon. Building with one cubic meter of wood, he claims, stores one ton of CO2.

He is not proposing to build huge towers with small two-by-four pieces of wood. In his speech, he explains the technology that has been created to form rapid growth trees into massive lumber panels and the flexible system technology that assists in building with these huge pieces of wood.

An obvious question that people ask about his system is deforestation. To this, he insists there are sustainable forestry practices, and says that enough wood is grown in North America every 13 minutes for a 20-story building.

– Mary Purcell