BRAVE was the theme at the TEDxUNPlaza’s September 16 event at the United Nations. Up first was a moving session on Women Empowerment (check out my piece on three fabulous women who inspired me and the TEDx audience) and was followed by a session entitled Change Everything, which included accomplished leaders in business and government. Renowned investor and entrepreneur Tim Draper kicked off the session.
Tim started his talk comparing government and private sector business models. He asks, “monopolies are bad and competition is good, so why are governments all monopolies? What about competitive governments?” His suggestion is that countries should compete for us – they should have to compete for us.
Tim’s life’s mission is to spread entrepreneurship and venture capital around the world, passing along ideas and stories on his journey. He shared a statement a Russian told him on the road, “markets are like parachutes, they’re only good when they’re open.”
He also gave an example of a chocolate company he advised in China. He reflects on what he shared: make that company really successful in China and friends, others will follow to invest in China.
In the United States, he had to talk to many commissions when he started his school and the bureaucracy in this process he says slows things down. The country is made up by impersonal democracy.
Take Away: Make countries compete for you; force your country to compete for you. When that happens, the entire earth will be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Next up was Silicon Valley based Naveen Jain who asks the audience: what makes a true entrepreneur? Are social philanthropic entrepreneurs “true” entrepreneurs?
A business which is not profitable is not a sustainable business and becoming a $10 billion dollar entrepreneur is about solving $10 billion problems. On what he calls true entrepreneurship, he says,
“when an entrepreneur dreams, he dreams big. An entrepreneur is so audacious, they come up and say to you, ‘sir, I’m thinking of mining the moon so I can change humanity.’ The mindset of an entrepreneur is that he truly looks at problems differently. The moment you define what a problem is, you restrict the solution you can come up with.”
It’s true. In so many ways, that audacious thinking and behavior gets drummed out of us on our path to adulthood. From a child, you’re told the sky is the limit. When you go from here to the moon, you never pass the sky.
Take Away: When someone tells you that the sky is the limit, then you’re restricted to your own imagination only. As entrepreneurs, we need to think from a place of abundance in our work and our lives, not from a place of scarcity.
Neil Jain is only 16 years old and yet has already founded Team Gen Z, a student-run group competing for the $10 MM Qualcomm Tricorder X-PRIZE competition. He is a strong believer in “youth leadership” and cites the fact that global connectivity and exponential growth in technology is making it possible for the youth of today to be the leaders of today, not tomorrow.
Team Gen Z is developing a smartphone sized device that can diagnose more than 15 common diseases using non-intrusive sensors better than a team of board certified doctors. All of the members on the team are under the age 18 and their goal is to provide easy and affordable access to healthcare diagnostics to millions around the world.
Take Away: Don’t underestimate the youth. His commitment to his initiative Innovation Generation is all about spreading stories of innovative students who are truly changing the world in order to help teenagers across the country realize their true potential. And, since the youth is our future, it is up to us to not just believe in their true potential, but accelerate it.
Kay Kelley Arnold is a passionate expert in among other things, Energy Poverty and believes in changing what needs changing. Kay is an advocate for change and loves a good fight when important issues are at stake, especially social justice and environmental issues which are at the top of her list.
She manages foundation and grants programs as well as the employee volunteer programs (over 85,000 hours donated last year valued at $1.8 million) and leads a team of employees who are charged with finding solutions to the problems low income citizens face.
Kay is a fan of the Conscious Capitalism movement and subscribes to its Credo that “business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free market capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to something even greater…”
The poorest families in America pay over 12% of their annual income for their energy which is higher than any other group (more than triple). Half of the people who are food subsidies have to make a decision whether to buy food or pay for energy and avoidable illnesses happen when people can’t heat their homes.
Take Away: Access to food and energy is not a luxury, but a human right. Given that the fastest growing group who are at risk families are veterans and senior citizens on fixed income, we owe them more and this has got to change. If you’re going to help change something, help change something that truly matters like basic human rights which are not being met.
Dr. Vijay Vad is a physician for the professional men’s tennis circuit and specializes in minimally invasive treatments of sports injuries, spine, and arthritis.
He throws out some alarming stats that shocked many. While we all know that obesity is soaring and a significant health issue in the states, how many of us realized that obesity rates in France have doubled over the last 15 years. Obesity is a worldwide issue and particularly critical since obesity is linked to so many chronic diseases. Chronic inflammation is a serious global issue and much of that is related to stress and our diet.
He asks, “how many people truly have access to truly healthy food that isn’t processed? In India, China and the United States alone, the percentage of people eating processed food full of fat and sugar is alarming.
The fact that in a country as wealthy as America, so many parents and children don’t realize how much they’re poisoning their bodies by processed food is heart wrenching, an issue which I personally feel needs heightened awareness worldwide and can be accelerated at a grassroots level through educated communities.
This issue is beyond changing something that matters; it’s about the simple fact that if we don’t change people’s attitude towards food now, we’ll continue to see soaring stats on heart disease, cancers, chronic mental illnesses, autism and other life shortening diseases. Read my blog post on TEDxBerkeley speakers, which includes a plea by New York based Erica Wides to “Let’s Get Real” about food.
We’re feeding our children processed food and sugar drinks which is going to have a huge impact on health over time and it’s got to stop. In addition to eating “real food” that hasn’t been chemically injected, inflammation can be lowered by doing exercise every day.
Take Away: While the human body is an amazing machine, it can’t be fully optimal when we pump it with processed chemicals or when we spend more time sitting in a car or at our computers and not being active. Eat less, prioritize your diet on organic fresh food, stay away from buying products with processed ingredients and exercise daily for at least thirty minutes.
Education is not enough to prepare young people for a sustainable future asserts Mona Mourshed, who has led engagements in Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States, supporting school systems and vocational and higher-education institutions to improve students’ skills, their chances of finding jobs, and their day-to-day lives.
She says, “after education, what students are left with is a degree that is a piece of paper and not skills. They’re left with debt and promise. They’re not finding jobs and they want to be financially independent and make a positive contribution to society but are finding it hard to do in today’s climate.”
A few stats worth noting: one in two students don’t feel that their education has prepared them for what they need to succeed in the real world. The world has created a system of unrelated events, where education happens and then employment happens but there’s very little that happens between the two. Young people are falling through the cracks every day and it’s much more acute for this generation than it has been in the past because things are accelerating so fast, especially in technology. She asks: “what if we could make those misconnections happen?”
In 2012, Mona led the a study to learn from more than 100 education-to-employment solutions across 25 countries from 8,000 employers, education providers, and youth in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and India. She has designed strategies to increase private-sector participation in developing vocational training programs in the Middle East and North Africa and to raise the employment numbers for vocational graduates in South America.
Take Away: Making young people more employable cannot happen without improvements in the education system itself. We have to support individuals and educational institutions that are trying to raise both teaching, academic leadership and research quality.
Polar explorer and environment leader Robert Swan blew me away. As the first person ever to have walked to the North and South poles, he now wants to do it again, but using renewable energy all the way. Swan’s unique insights and lessons learned about the environment and how to live purposely in this world have enabled him to educate and stimulate young people and business leaders from around the world. What a gift to see him on the United Nations stage last week.
He shared his journey and for those who think that walking through Arctic terrain is “macho man” stuff, he argues that it is completely the opposite: it’s all about humility and compassion remembering that when you’re out there in the wild, you’re human and can just as easily be eaten by a polar bear as you can die from an avalanche.
As someone who was pals with the infamous Jacques Cousteau, he shared some of his advice. “Focus on one thing,” Cousteau had said to him on more than one occasion. “The greatest threat to our planet is to believe that someone else will save it.” Hear hear!
“All we are, are custodians of this place,” adds Robert. “We owe it to ourselves to do something to make a difference and change everything.”
On his first journey, he and his team arrived at the bottom of the world after 70 days on foot. To save Antarctica he realized that he needed to be more than a garbage collector and a penguin polisher.
Swan’s witty British style drew the audience in…his humor endeared us to him. We laughed with him as much as we reflected on the seriousness of needing to care for the environment around us. His polished appearance on stage and passionate and inspiring ability to transform a large group of people is a stark contrast to his face when he takes on the world’s toughest icy mountains and roads. He is nothing short of resilience and bravery at its best!
His passion today is about the need to wake the world up about aggressively using more renewable clean energy in the real world. He has become a renewable energy advocate with a plan to build a mobile e-base on all seven continents. They built the first station in Antarctica built only on renewable energy but wants to do this “everywhere.”
Robert and his team journeyed around the world several times showing young people how renewable energy works and he makes it clear that his work is far from being done. With emphasis, he added, “stay relevant. It’s very easy in our world to think we’re being relevant when the dynamic may have changed and we no longer are.”
Take Away: The greatest threat to our planet is to believe that someone else will save it. Electricity should be a human right and there are still places in the world without. Sit in the dark for an hour and see how it feels. We can be more efficient with electricity when we think smart and are proactive. Renewable energy matters: go solar whenever you can and make green choices whenever and wherever you can.
The hole in the ozone is fixing itself because we are starting to get the policy right. We have shown that we CAN make a difference so do what you can to contribute to the environment in small ways every day.
Photo credits: Renee Blodgett except for photo of Swan in Arctic (from Leaders for Business).