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TED 2024: The Brave and the Brilliant for a Better World (Part 1)

TED 2024: The Brave and the Brilliant group picture
TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant. April 15-19, 2024, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

TED 2024 was another fantastic conference with 78 speakers, time for workshops and activities (I did glass blowing and blacksmithing and had an incredible singing experience), and in-depth conversations with past and new friends. In this first article, I am focusing on the talks that inspired and impacted me. This does not include AI/Technology, which I will address in part two of my newsletter since it was a big part of the conference and discussions. Here are some highlights.

There are better ways than wars

"We use anger to ask ourselves: how can we improve things? Hope is action," said Aziz Abu Sarah, an Israeli Palestinian, who shared the stage and his collaborative work with an Israeli Jew, Maoz Inon, in the first talk of the conference. Seeing both men willing to work with each other as the only way to "have our stories in the future," even when both have lost close family members in the recent conflicts, was beyond powerful. This talk started a thread that permeated through the conference of how we should go beyond polarization and binary views and find our commonality and humanity.

Gabrielle Rifkind, a conflict resolution expert, believes that "war is not inevitable" and that war is "the greatest human rights abuse" and "does not make the world safer." She compares wars to cancer when advocating for prevention and early resolution, because of what happens "when they progress enough, nobody knows how to stop it." 

Her suggested steps are

  1. Prevention through back-channel discussions between enemies that need to "address security concerns from both sides" but only works if we are willing to "come off our moral pedestal of deciding what is good and evil" because in wars "everybody has blood on their hands." It means that wars in Ukraine or the Middle East may require all parties (including Russia or Hamas) in the negotiation.

  2. Early mediation is important once a conflict starts, as it is a time when both parties may be more open to compromise, realizing it will not be an easy win.

  3. Embedding mediation teams permanently

Notable activists and scientists are driving the fight to preserve nature.

"Sentiment without action is the ruining of the soul…, (we need to be ) rewilding the earth by allowing nature the space and freedom to regenerate itself". In her fantastic presentation, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, explained how she and her late husband bought lands in Argentina to support ecosystem regeneration and donated the lands to create national parks. Fifteen new parks, representing 15 million hectares, have been created. She also supports connecting all of South America from northeast to southeast, building ecosystems and wildlife bridges by supporting biodiversity through rivers and forests. She concluded her talk by saying, "We refuse to accept a future without wilderness, abundance, and dignified communities."

The journalist Anjan Sundaram shared his heartbreaking work of investigating those who fight against climate change, particularly the environmental defenders in Mexico. In their fight to avoid deforestation, they confront the cartels and the companies who want to create roads and mines regardless of the impact. More than 100 have been killed, and yet, these villagers are continuing their fight for the preservation of their lands.

Katsuhiko Hayashi, a biologist, shared his work finding ways to create life from non-sexual cells, which may ultimately bring back species from the brink of extinction (for example, Northern White Rhinos where there are no living males anymore.)

New ideas are needed to support important societal changes

Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate, explained how the most straightforward idea of keeping the top four candidates on a ballot, regardless of their party, could be a political game change as it "aligns incentives toward the center, not the extremes," which is the opposite for what happens in regular primaries. This would change the current system, where only 10% of the congressional districts are competitive, giving the few districts the power to decide elections. He believes that this approach, currently considered by several states and in place in a few (including Alaska), may address "the biggest problem of this era, the need for a functional government" that has the incentive to solve problems (while the current system rewards not doing anything).

Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU, has posed a thought-provoking question that challenges our current wealth distribution. He asks, 'Do we love our children?' This question, steeped in urgency, highlights the need for a shift in wealth distribution, particularly to provide younger generations with more opportunities to accumulate wealth.

Several speakers suggested that treating people well and empowering them, may  address poverty and lack of resources in a scalable and effective way. 

Zeynep Ton, an MIT professor, suggested that "good job systems should be the norm, not the exception" and that paying employees more improves productivity, reduces turnover, generates better sales, and creates a more robust culture. Learn more here.

"What if everyone had stock ownership?" asked Pete Stavros, as he explained that giving all employees stock ownership through an ESOP is a way to increase employee engagement, enhance company success, and create new wealth that benefits not only the employees but also their community.

Rory Stewart, a professor and former member of the OK parliament, recommended a new approach to extreme poverty.  Instead of teaching communities "how to fish" (with the assumption that the government or the ONG are the best equipped to do that), each family is given directly a one-time lump sum of $500-900, letting them decide how they want to spend it. By trusting people and communities to make the best decisions for themselves, whether sending the kids to school or starting a business (be it a fishing business or a bakery), this approach has the most significant results, with a multiplier effect of 2.5. He believes that "we spend twice as much in aid as it would to take the world out of extreme poverty" and hopes the experiment can be scaled up to overcome the resistance of big agencies and governments. Check this work and results. 

The economist Karthik Muralidharan believes there are "free lunches" if we manage the money already available in schools differently to get better educational income. Based on his work in India, he recommended using AI-driven software to customize education for children with the support of teachers. Hence, teachers can manage a classroom with a vast grade-level gap. His experiments showed a tenfold return with no additional funding, and he hopes he can convince the governments to consider this approach.

Gibran Huzaifah, an aquaculture tech entrepreneur, shared how his invention of an automatic fish feeder combined with a platform that allows catfish and shrimp fishermen in Indonesia to manage more ponds and remove the middleman when selling their fish is effectively contributing to more wealth in these fisherman communities.

Which of these ideas do you find novel and intriguing? 

In part 2 of this newsletter, I will share my reflections, fears, and hopes from the talks at TED 2024 on AI, Tech, and Innovation. Stay tuned!


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