TED Stalking.

As some of you may have noticed, I have a little thing for TED talks.

Maybe not just a little thing. Maybe more of a raging love affair. So when I found out that the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health were hosting a TEDxChange event, I was pretty excited, considering that this might be the closet I would ever come to actually attending a TED talk.

The live webcast, co-hosted with TED by Bill and Melinda Gates, took place on September 20, the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals. And other than Kennedy School students in front of me whispering about homework problems, it was pretty perfect.

The talk opened with Hans Rosling saying “come with me to the wonderful world of statistics,” to laughs from the audience. But in true TED style, Rosling makes statistics wonderful, narrating moving bubble graphs of child mortality like an announcer at the race track. He used the graphs to show that it’s unfair to talk about Africa as a whole when there are such huge discrepancies between Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also added the shallow line of Sweden’s child mortality rate over the years to show that development is a long term investment.

After such an exciting statistics presentation, Melinda French Gates was a bit of a let down. Her ideas were bang on— follow Coca Cola’s distribution methods and marketing campaign when trying to deliver goods and influence behaviour in rural areas— but her presentation was a little stiff. It’s like she missed the memo that TED talks are for enthusiasm and optimism, not for comments like “I’m startled by all the things they don’t have,” they being impoverished countries.

Graca Machel also seemed to miss an important TED talk memo— visuals are a must! No matter how famous an international rights advocate you are, relying solely on your skills of rhetoric is no longer allowed.

Luckily, there was Mechai Viravaidya to talk about his family-planning revolution in Thailand. He actually took Melinda Gates’ advice (30 years before she gave it) and used the same people in Thailand who sold Coke to sell contraceptives. Family planning isn’t technically one of the eight millennium goals, but it goes hand in hand with reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. And since Viravaidya’s revolution started in the mid-70s, the country was able to head off the AIDS epidemic to come.

In true TED-form Viravaidya had lots of pictures of his creative family-planning tactics. He involved religion by having monks bless contraceptives, and schools with a teacher condom-blowing competition, positive family practices snakes and ladders, and a campaign to make condoms a girls best friends.

He also brought the TEDxChange lecture full-circle. I’m left believing that the Millennium Development Goals must be working if a so-called “developing nation” is more enlightened about contraceptive education than the United States.

Click here to watch the full webcast.


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