A rather different kind of post this time, as I return from an extraordinary week at the global TED Women meeting in Monterey, California… an amazing experience that I’m still digesting and processing several days on. The theme was ‘Momentum’ and it drew hundreds of women from 200 countries together to listen to talks and ideas from those who are kickstarting transformational change in the world, whether big or small.
Have you ever been to a TED meeting? I’d been an avid follower of TED talks which I use a lot in my work, but never attended an event. The energy in the conference centre was palpable as participants registered and began to gather for the opening sessions… this was the auditorium; like a small, intimate theatre which masked the size of the audience..
The meeting was structured into 6 themed sessions over 3 days, beginning with Spark; how ideas come to live and ignite into a groundswell of action – through to Sustain; the impact of transformational change over decades. There were some big-name draws on the speaker list; former US President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Billy-Jean King and Jane Fonda to name but a few – but some of the most compelling and powerful talks for me came from the lesser-known speakers; like Linda Cliatt-Wayman, an unstoppable inner-city high school principal who has transformed her school from a rating of ‘persistently dangerous’ to a safe, nurturing, inspiring environment.
Linda spoke – no, issued a rally-cry – for 9 minutes and you could barely hear an audience member breathe. Formidable and awe-inspiring in equal measure, she captivated with her passion and energy and earned a stamping, standing ovation at the end. Her simple mantra in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity; “So what? What now? What are we going to do about it?” – summed up her resilience and determination that there is always a way, no matter how stacked the odds are. You can read her amazing story here (the videos of the talks themselves are not yet uploaded; I’ll link to them when they are).
Equally compelling and moving was Nancy Lublin, pioneer of the youth volunteering movement dosomething.org, who spoke of the day her team received an incoming text from a teenager who was being abused by her father, eventually asking simply ‘…R U there?’. Feeling powerless to do anything more than text back details of a national rape support line, Nancy and her team determined to set up a resource to support teenagers in crisis in the way that they needed, and two years later Crisis Text Line was launched. Anyone can text the support team and begin a conversation, on their terms, and get the help they need. Over 6.5m texts have been received to date, and one of the most valuable outcomes is that the data can be used – anonymously – to highlight the most vulnerable populations and areas across the US to help better target local resources. You can read more about the remarkable evolution and impact in this New Yorker story.
Nancy Lublin (below), who closed her talk by saying; ‘Why am I here today? In the hope that one day, the young girl who reached out to us, who made us take action, might just hear this and know that although we couldn’t help her, we’re doing all that we can to help all the others who came after her…’.
I could go on – and on and on – about the talks which covered everything from the front-line fight against ebola to robotics; from global climate change to basket-weaving in Nigeria. If you have the time and a cup of tea in hand, lose yourself in the TED site which covers the highlights of the programme and the conversations which took place… even though I was there, I keep going back to it.
We also got schooled in how TED prepares its speakers for their talks, and the tips for powerful, memorable presentations (tell a story; make it human, be authentic – not rocket science but so easy to forget..). A large neon clock is set on the back wall of the auditorium counting down so that speakers know how they’re doing against the fiercely moderated nine minutes of airtime. If you ever have the chance to go, or to attend a local TEDX event, I cannot recommend it enough.
A couple of final highlights to share; three short videos which were chosen to bridge between the talks, and which bear watching again even if you’ve come across these before;
A powerful short film about reclaiming what it really means to run like a girl
A ballet dancer who refused to listen to the critics and proved them wrong
And a beautiful poem written by a Marshall Islander to her baby daughter
all photos courtesy of TED.com
Regular followers will have noticed the tapering off of posts in recent weeks as attempts to juggle work, work-travel and family life become temporarily all-consuming, albeit for the best of reasons. Harry is now five, and our sessions of cutting and pasting, daubing and scribbling are now more often surpassed by strenuous wrestling, ninja-warrior swordplay and the endless retrieval of mishit tennis balls from flower pots, guttering, car exhaust pipes and – memorably – the stagnant pond at the far end of the garden. Growing up is an important business and I must bear witness; this time is far too precious to spend on lesser things (and if nothing else, I must keep my wits about me given all the ninja/ball-hitting/new wrestling moves; a girl’s got to be quick with her reflexes to foil such an agile opponent…)
The crafting and home improvements continue (of course!), but in fits and bursts when time allows. I’m going to take a short break from writing and return in July when the days are longer and school is out and there’s suddenly more time to share what we’re upto, and to finish the myriad of partially-complete fleeting obsessions and artistic experiments which spill across my studio table.
If you’re looking for inspiration or project reminders in the meantime, you could have a look at my main Pinterest board where some of the best of the last 3 years is captured, with links.
Have a great – and sunshiny – June, and see you in July!