This week marked another groundbreaking moment for women, as 70 speakers and performers from across the globe gathered to share perspectives on women’s issues, their empowerment, and their potential as leaders as part of TEDWomen, TED’s first-ever conference focused solely on women.
Co-hosted by the president and CEO of The Paley Center for Media, Pat Mitchell, who was the first female president of PBS, the event brought together men and women in Washington, DC, including Karama’s Founder and CEO Hibaaq Osman, and hundreds online, through its webcast on TED.com. A growing trend in the global network of industry and philanthropy has been investment in women and girls, in recognition of the critical link between the health, security, and prosperity of women and girls and global economic growth, public health, and political stability. This linkage is one Karama has explored through its initiatives and that it will continue to address in developing comprehensive, multi-sector and multi-level strategies to eliminate violence and discrimination against women. Karama’s staff and network have been pleased to see girls and women’s issues increasingly prioritized at many major global conferences, including TED.
What has set TEDWomen apart for other conferences on women is the diversity of its speakers and intimacy earned through the sharing of personal experiences. Featured at the conference were men and women from multiple disciplines, generations, and nations to engage audiences in critical analysis of women’s roles in education, politics and leadership, innovation and technology, economics, peacemaking, media and culture, science and health, and other key industries. Ms. Osman referred to the two-day conference, which was arranged into six thematic sections, as “a breath of fresh air.”
Replacing an overreliance on the cache of big names in one or two fields, TEDWomen delivered scientists, soldiers, anthropologists, artists, farmers, and activists who are leading the world in change. TEDWomen was more a conference about learning, listening, and meeting people than measuring pledges, counting high-level executives, or bestowing awards. Speakers presented incredible ideas, successful theories, and personal accounts of how they view women’s roles as agents of change. Included in this list is Halla Tomasdottir, who was instrumental in rebuilding Iceland’s economy after its 2008 collapse and urged that “the female trend is not about women being better than men, but about women being different than men.” Counting herself among those who are ready for change, she added, “I see too much of doing the same things over and over again. I want to see more revolutionary thinking.”
Ms. Tomasdottir’s talk, delivered during TED’s opening session, quickly became the theme for the conference, where even powerful men such as Ted Turner, who rose to success in a generation where women and their contributions were largely ignored, agreed that women are going to invest money differently than men. Instead of perpetuating war, he believes that women’s financial and political contributions will be made toward the development of peace. This sentiment was echoed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who is the only elected female head of state in Africa, when she shared, “Certainly a woman is not going to spend her money buying guns.” COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg added, “A world where half of our countries are run by women…would be a better world.”
Despite the great list of notable speakers TEDWomen offered, such as Hillary Clinton, Donna Karan, and Nancy Pelosi, who shared that men have been in charge for a long time and that we must make room for new ideas, it was the unknowns who were the heart of this conference, sharing first-person accounts of adversity and hope. A Palestinian poet spoke about peace and security in place of “girls spoiled before ripening,” and a young Iranian filmmaker used her talent to showcase the strength, vibrancy, and impact of modern-day women instead of their victimization. From such speakers, audiences gained inspiration and confirmed that there are indeed hundreds of ideas that are worth sharing, including movements to deliver sustainable food sources, rebuild war-torn communities, and continue advances in global health with new screening equipment. All of these attempt to change the status quo, which is representative of years of relying on the same old ideas to fix problems that are cyclical and worsening.
The ultimate message of TEDWomen was the spirit of revolution. World peace, sustainability, compassion, and joy are not mutually exclusive from success, productivity, and profit. Women across the globe are innovating old ideas to find new solutions that will add something different to the mix: practical and principled frameworks which will produce changes in the structures, visions, and protocols with which we’ve long been unhappy.