Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Korbel students join TEDxChange session

Barry Hughes

Professor Barry Hughes wraps up the TEDxChange session discussing the importance of global situational forecasting.

In a conference room packed to overflowing, scores of University of Denver students repeated a scene that was taking place all over the world Sept. 20, linking up with more than 80 similar audiences for a TEDx presentation that builds on the United Nations’ review of its Millennium Development Goals.

Students gathered at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies’ SIÉ CHÉOU-KANG Center for a 90-minute session co-hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and marking the 10th anniversary of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals. The goals, set in 2000, lay out how world leaders can work together to eradicate hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equity; reduce childhood mortality rates; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS; ensure sustainability; and develop a global partnership.

U.N. leaders are in New York this week to review the progress.

The TEDx program (an independently produced Technology Entertainment and Design forum) brought together experts from around the globe for “TEDxChange.” Speakers included Melinda Gates; Graça Machel, an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights;  Hans Rosling a professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation; and Mechai Viravaidya, founder and chairman of the Population and Community Development Association.

DU’s live hook-up was one of 82 around the world, from New Zealand (where it was 3 a.m.) to Nairobi.

“There’s never been an event like this anywhere in the world,” said host Chris Anderson from New York. “This is what TEDxChange is all about. It’s about ‘change,’ but it’s about ‘exchange’ as well.”

While diplomats reviewed the progress made toward the goals, TEDxChange focused on the ideas behind the goals, hoping to encourage progress and tweak the process.

Rosling, who specializes in reviewing numerical data, said focusing on big statistical pictures such as average rates of mortality or population risks letting some countries fail as others succeed. Agencies should also focus on individual countries. Achieving success in some countries that brings up a global statistical average into an overall goal range does no good if any one country is left behind, he said.

Gates — leading one of the largest private charitable foundations in the world with her husband, computing pioneer Bill Gates — delivered an entertaining presentation that challenged governments and agencies to learn from the marketing successes of Coca-Cola.

Coke, she said, succeeds by in a large part due to excellence in three areas. The company learned how to tap into entrepreneurship and partnerships; follows its corporate progress through the use of real-time data; and is an expert marketer. The company taps into human desires to position its product as an aspirational goal instead of just a soft drink.

Those fundamentals, she said, need to be part of educational campaigns pushing for everything from vaccinations to sanitary toilet facilities in developing nations.

“We make a mistake when we make an assumption that if people need something we don’t have to market it,” she said.

Viravaidya followed that message with a rollicking description of how he employed outrageous marketing techniques to convince people in Thailand to reduce the birth rate through the use of contraceptives. Through marketing, his campaign helped decrease the Thai birth rate from an average of seven children per family in 1974 to 1.5 children per family in 2000.

“Before long, the condom was known as a girl’s best friend,” he said.

Machel said empowering and educating women and girls will pay the biggest dividends going forward. If they want to achieve the millennium goals, leaders must do more to work with women to affect change.

“A lot of promises have been made. Targets and goals are important, but not enough,” she said. “It’s important to mobilize every single citizen in every country to realize the millennium goals.”

Korbel Professor Barry Hughes, a global futurist known for his models and forecasting, held a discussion session at DU after the TEDx presentation ended. He said the goals help target ideas and mobilize participants. Now, it’s time to look at what affect the ongoing actions might have in the future. By looking ahead, planners can better guide the process toward success.

“In addition to data analysis, we need to be able to do some forecasting,” he said. “Where do we seem to be going? What path do we seem to be on?”

The University of Denver will host its own TEDx event May 13, 2011. For more about DU’s involvement with TEDx, visit

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