Thursday, September 23, 2010

Four Things We Learned from TEDxChange

On September 20, hundreds of people gathered in New York City, and around the world people tuned in to watch a TEDxChange event called "The Future We Make." The event, set up by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brought four speakers from across the world to inventively assess MDG progress. Hans Rosling from Sweden reexamined the statistics about child mortality. Melinda Gates from the U.S. shared what Coca-Cola can teach us about health development. Mechai Viravaidya told the tale of decreasing child mortality and population growth in Thailand. Finally, Graca Machel shared her experience from Southern Africa and the important role that women play in development. Here are the four big things we learned from the conference:

1. Innovation is key to achieving the MDGs. Viravaidya explained how Thailand undertook a huge marketing campaign for condom use. From condom balloon blowing competitions to cops distributing condoms in traffic for the "cops and rubbers" campaign, Thailand was able to use innovation to bring down population growth dramatically and then undertake efforts to decrease child mortality. Using innovative ideas from other sectors, like Coca-Cola, can bring new life to development.

2. Local focus is a necessity. Whether it was Rosling dissociating Africa data to show large progress in Kenya and stagnancy in DR Congo in lowering infant mortality or Gates explaining how to use local, entrepreneurial talent to spread health information, without involving the local people money will be wasted and efforts will be fruitless.

3. Focus should be long-term. Viravaidya's story of Thailand spanned 30 years. Rosling explained the progress seen when looking at data long term. That is to say, we should not be discouraged if this year (or the past five) have not been as productive as we wanted in development. The yield of investments will come in a few years and be dramatic.

4. Women are central to development. Machel said that without putting women and children at the center, MDGs will never be achieved. Women and children are the locus of change in societies and can mobilize community groups, social change, and education.

-Erica Stetz