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Last week, representing Women’s Voices for Change, I attended the TEDWomen 2013 conference in San Francisco, along with Kathy Rogers, my friend and fellow WVFC board member. It was a thrilling event.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. However, after its acquisition by the Sapling Foundation in 2001 the nonprofit organization’s focus broadened to include the spread of great ideas, “providing a platform for the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries, and most inspiring teachers, so that millions of people can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world and a desire to help create a better future. Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.”

The “Invented Here” TEDWomen 2013 Conference was held from December 4 to 6 at the new San Francisco Jazz Center.  The talks I attended were organized into three sections; today’s post is a review of “To Be Is To Do.”

TED speakers are expected to give inspirational talks to listeners who have the potential to take their ideas, their dreams, their inventions or news of their organization to a really wide audience . . . not just to people who are physically present when the talks are given.  TED speakers who want their talks posted online are keenly aware that they need to deliver.  That BIG audience is available at TEDTalks, where the best talks and presentations from the TED conferences (1,500 so far) can be found. The number of viewers who have watched TEDTalks has exceeded 1 billion.

Pat Mitchell, the President and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, hosted the talks, along with June Cohen, the Executive Producer for TEDMedia and Kelly Stoetzel, Director of TED content and TEDActive. 

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Women’s Voices for Change Board Members Kathy Rogers and Dr. Patricia Allen at the TEDWomen 2013 Conference in San Francisco.

“To Be Is to Do” featured speakers ranging from astonishingly innovative entrepreneurs to the dauntless Diana Nyad. Their ideas are consequential, and many of them are tailored to alleviate the needs of the underprivileged. Speakers included—

Jessica Matthews, CEO and Founder of unchartedplay.com. This young woman is a social-change entrepreneur who has learned to harness the power of play with two inventions, the jump rope and a soccer ball called the SOccket. Jessica began her talk by jumping a special rope in high heels. That rope used the energy of her movement to generate electricity. She plugged the special handles into a light bulb and demonstrated its effect . . . with appropriate audience response. The SOccket stores kinetic energy that can then be used by plugging any compatible plug into the DC outlet built into the ball. The idea holds potential as a means of reducing the reliance on dangerous kerosene lamps, and can power an LED light for three hours on just 30 minutes of play time. It is water-resistant and never deflates. Children also learn from playing with the SOccket that they can make a difference in their lives.

Krista Donaldson, who has a Ph.D. from Stanford in mechanical engineering design, is the CEO of D-Rev, a nonprofit product development company that improves the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 a day. The prosthetics used in developed countries may cost $20,000. Amputees in the developing world had no options but single-axis knee joints—similar to a door hinge. While walking, particularly on rough terrain, these are unstable and can buckle, leading to a sudden and dangerous loss of balance. D-Rev has created the ReMotion, a low-cost, polycentric knee replacement for above-the-knee amputees. This is a world-class, affordable prosthetic knee for the thousands of people who are new amputees every year,

The cost is $80. The prosthetic device retention use is very high with ReMotion, due to extensive training of the people who will fit and teach the use of the device for each person. Krista told the audience that she had learned to “Listen before you build.”

Jane Chen, the co-founder and CEO of Embrace, a social enterprise that aims to help the millions of vulnerable babies born every year in developing countries through the refinement of a baby warmer that she and her team created for hospitals in 2005. These refinements allow mothers who cannot read and cannot get their babies at risk for hypothermia to a hospital to use a portable, safe baby warmer that requires no electricity and has no moving parts. The Embrace costs around $100;  a conventional  incubator costs $20,000.

• We were introduced to the story of Dame Stephanie Shirley by Megan Smith, VP of Google, who had only a one-hour notice to prepare for her TED talk since Dame Shirley  lost her voice on the day of her talk.  In 1962 Dame Shirley founded the FI group, a software firm that did outsourcing IT work for companies. The FI group was unusual for its time: Most of its employees were women, and the company had flexible hours so that it was possible to have a life, rewarding tasks, and a real investment in the company by the women who worked with Dame Shirley. The company’s going public in 1996 made many of the women who worked there millionaires and made Dame Shirley one of the richest women in England.

•The youngest speaker of the day, Maya Penn, was 13 years old; she had been an entrepreneur since the age of 8!  She is tech-savvy and an accomplished animator.  She built and maintains a site where she sells the knitted scarves and hats that she designs.  She is passionate about the environment and about encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs at a young age.  She had great stage presence and was charming in the way that a precocious young adolescent girl can be. The audience loved her.

Dava Newman was billed as a spacewear designer. Dr. Newman received her Ph.D. in Aerospace Biomedical Engineering from MIT. Her expertise is in multidisciplinary research that combines aerospace biomedical engineering, human-in-the-loop modeling, biomechanics, human interface technology, life sciences, systems analysis, design, and policy. Dr. Newman’s research studies are carried out through space-flight experiments, ground-based simulations, and mathematical modeling. Current research efforts include: advanced space suit design, dynamics and control of astronaut motion, mission analysis, and engineering systems design and policy analysis. She also has ongoing efforts in assistive technologies to augment human locomotion here on Earth. My oh my! And she designed a slim-fitting skin compression suit to protect bodies in zero gravity. When we travel to Mars we will lose a great deal of muscle mass and develop osteoporosis unless we have new equipment that will prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss. Dr. Newman was a skilled speaker and her suit design was elegant. Her videos of old-fashioned space suits in which the astronauts were seen falling down and tumbling due to poorly designed suits was a nice foil for her creations.

•My personal favorite for this session was the marvelous Diana Nyad. We write a lot about Diana here because she is 64 and can apparently do anything she decides to do. As the world knows, she swam from Cuba to Key West on September 2 this year  after four previous failed attempts. The journey was 110 miles long and took 53 hours, but she made it   She was the most ON FIRE speaker of the session.  She owned the stage.  She told the audience, When I turned 60, it wasn’t about the athletic accomplishment or the ego of ‘I want to be the first,’ it was deeper. It was how much life is left.” Finally, she underscored the fact that ocean swimming may look like a solitary endeavor, it’s really a team effort. “The team is expert and the team is courageous and brimming with innovation and scientific discovery,” she said. Then, for everyone in the audience at the San Francisco Jazz Center she said, “If you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way,” 

TO BE IS TO DO, indeed.