These TEDxBrussels speakers don't believe in limits

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These TEDxBrussels speakers don't believe in limits

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself where you are going, where society is going, where humanity is going? If yes, then you already have something in common with our speakers. All of them - from the personal level to the grandest – have embraced this train of thought and jumped into its carriages to mark out new tracks that transgressed old ones.

They didn’t believe in limits.

There are NO LIMITS.

They have all challenged themselves and other people, and now they want to share their experiences with you.

Come and see them at TEDxBrussels on 6 March 2017 in BOZAR theatre. You can register now.

Do androids dream of electric sheep?  That is the famous question/title of the science-fiction novel by Phillip K. Dick. Perhaps Pattie knows the answer, her area of expertise is artificial intelligence after all. Maybe she even creates the dreams? Pattie understands better than most the limitless possibilities of human-machine interaction. 

 

Degeimbre has literally taken the phrase ‘food for thought’ to another level. His love of cooking ignited a desire to learn, and he opened L'Air du Temps - a Michelin star restaurant in Belgium – without any formal training. Degeimbre is proof that determination driven by passion can get you anywhere in life. It can even help you can reach the stars (Michelin, in Degeimbre’s case).

 

Most of us hate extreme temperatures. Beth, on the other hand spends most of time in harsh, sub-zero temperatures all in the name of research. Her experiences at the North and South Poles are probably the closest that anyone can get to an outer space climate.   

 

What do you do when you hate your job?  You quit and become a record-breaking adventurer of course. Dave travelled 19,000 miles in eleven journeys as part of his ground-breaking Expedition 1000 project: 25 journeys of 1000 miles or more, each using a different form of non-motorised transport.

 

Imagine a world where your home is full of smart appliances, orchestrated and synchronised to cater to your every need. Carla doesn’t just imagine, she designs robots which have transformed this imagination into reality; the future is here and the future is robotic. 

 

Human rights are inalienable yet they are increasingly under threat as we grapple with the new ways in which people interact with one another, with technology and with each other through the medium of technology. Eva, who is a human rights lawyer, a professor and a politician, can provide nuance into the complex intersections of this topic. 

 

Space is for everyone. That’s the motto for Angelo, but he doesn’t stop at space. In 2009 he initiated SEAD (Space Ecologies Art and Design), an international network of individuals working in art, science, engineering and advocacy. Its goal is to reshape the future through critical reflection and hands-on experimentation.

Yeba is a woman who lives in the present and moves towards her dreams and goals.  She is the lead in her story and her fashion collections are designed for like-minded women. Aspiration has no limits or boundaries; Yeba demonstrates that if you can dream it, you can also live it.

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TEDxBrusselsWomen: It’s about time women had a greater say in their health technology…

 

If you could give an example of a product that has improved women’s every-day life, what would it be: the pill? The sanitary towel? The breast-pump?

Some of you may say the sanitary towel. With so many ranges to choose from, it’s easy for a woman to find the type that suits her most. Unfortunately, this is probably because it took until the 1920s for one of the US’s first female engineers to take the lead and ask women what they actually needed instead of relying on what was available. Lillian Gilbreth understood women’s frustrations of the sanitary towel: they were thick, uncomfortable, heavy and had embarrassing names, like ‘Flush Down Ideal’ and the ‘S.S. Napkin’. Using her insight and her position in Johnson & Johnson, she helped inspire new product lines.

As for the pill and the breast-pump? They were first patented by men and they hardly focused on comfort or relief for women, more about the most efficient way to (a) prevent a baby or (b) extract breast milk. In fact, the breast-pump, first patented in 1854, was not that much different to devices used to milk cows. Today, although much improved, they still can be bulky, hard to clean, painful and loud.

Lilian Gilbreth knew nearly a century ago what the medical community are beginning to catch on today: that the best ideas on how to solve problems experienced by us usually come within ourselves. This a view that is also shared and promoted by this year’s TEDxBrusselsWomen speaker, Dr Lode Dewulf. This idea also serves as one of the ingredients behind MIT’s health hackathons: that people can play an important role in solving their own healthcare challenges. Health hackathons look at old problems in a new light and foster medical innovation - which under normal circumstances may take ages to materialise - in a weekend. This is because it brings people across all disciplines to tackle the problem: doctors, engineers, designers and the target community. For instance, in 2014 there was a health hackathon on breast-pumps where mothers were involved in improving them. Half of the winning team, Mighty Moms, were made up of mothers.

Yet, although such patient empowerment is to be welcomed, there is still a long way to go for women to be their own health advocates. In the New York Times article by Pagan Kennedy, ‘The Tampon of the Future’ she highlights the obstacles confronting the health technology sector in the US: that patent holders tend to be men, that men tend to have more social networks to help them get their ideas off the ground, and perhaps the most important of all in my view, venture capitalists tend to be male. In the article, Kennedy highlighted the story of a female engineer, Ridhi Tariyal, using menstrual blood to be able to help women monitor their fertility or check for STDs. She encountered much difficulty trying to get investment since the idea was purely for women.

What appeared to be the winning ticket for Tariyal was that she and her business partner saw the problem in a new light: what if testing menstrual blood could also give indications of early signs of cancer or other reproductive conditions? Once they were able to market their idea in this way, the capital started to roll in.

The story may have had a happy ending for Ms Tariyal, and no doubt contributes to the advancement of women’s health, but she does lay a cautious note at the end of the article: “that if inventors and funders are homogeneous, then so will our future”.

Gemma Rose

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TEDxBrusselsWomen: “It’s about time…we gave people our time.”

Being a senior energy manager at Starbucks, with a portfolio that covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa, one would be forgiven to think that Jaz Rabadia hasn’t much time on her hands. Yet, she manages to volunteer as a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassador, mentoring children and young people, especially females, to become engineers. “At first, they think it’s all hard-hats and boiler suits - children especially have no idea where engineering can take them. Even when I speak to engineering undergraduates, they think their options are quite limited,” she continued. “My advice is to think more about who you would like to work for, rather than be defined by the subject you study.” This is because companies you least expect may require your skills. She herself never thought that an organisation like Starbucks would need people dedicated to energy.

Jaz’ career in energy began unusually: at the checkout till of a Sainsbury’s supermarket. She worked there part-time during her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. She wasn’t that keen on engineering but she enjoyed studying the energy modules. Thus, she decided to do an energy study of the store for her final-year dissertation. Her bosses were so impressed with the study that they offered her a position with the energy team at Sainsbury’s head office.

Since then, Jaz has gone from strength to strength, scooping up industry awards and occupying energy management posts in top retail companies. In 2015, her industry work and commitment as a STEM ambassador was honoured by the Prince of Wales: at the age of 30, she became a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Although she has courted success at a young age, it wasn’t always plain sailing. “Being young, Asian and a woman, there have been times when I have felt different or felt like people were questioning why I was there,” she told me. “But I turned that into a positive. I thought: ‘if you want the same perspective, then hire the same people. I bring something new to the table.’”

By working in renewable energy and encouraging girls to study STEM, she is ultimately fulfilling her life’s purpose: serving to make the world a better place. She is also determined to challenge the myths that engineering lacks creativity or that it’s only suitable for boys. “The problem is that women have not been nurtured from the start to become engineers. It doesn’t happen at home or at school. When we call girls creative, it tends to mean they are good at dance or art. With boys, it means that they are good builders. Why can’t engineering be seen as creative for boys and girls?” she asked. “I actively encourage my nieces to take an interest in it. At the moment, only 9% of engineers in the UK are women, so I say to them, ‘You will be part of the 9%; you will be sought after; you are one of a kind.”

For Jaz, the biggest energy challenge is how to manage it in a sustainable way, acknowledging that we depend on it and that it’s precious. “There are about 1 billion people in this world who do not have clean water or electricity. For us, energy is accessible and fairly affordable so we take it for granted. We forget that it’s a luxury. If everyone changed their habits just a little bit, we’d make a big impact.”

Towards the end of our conversation, I ask Jaz what inspires her. “A lot of people have helped me in some way shape or form. I admire someone who’s gone out of their way to do something for someone else,” she replied. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘How often do we give up our time to help people?’ It’s about time…we gave people our time.”

Gemma Rose

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Ideas worth sharing: physical reactions to TEDxBrussels

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Ideas worth sharing: physical reactions to TEDxBrussels

Nearly all events today can be followed live via webstreaming. TEDxBrussels, which took place at the Brussels Event Brewery on 14 March, was no exception to this rule.

In addition to enabling thousands of individuals to follow the talks of their choice from their desks, homes and travels in more than 50 countries around the world, the organisers also encouraged group viewings, such as those held in Brussels Airport, at the DIGITALEUROPE offices and the simulcast events at six Belgian Universities. This novelty increased the participation rate by around 800 more people. Of course, interactive, social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, allowed even more people to feel connected and to share their personal insights into a Deeper Future without even setting foot into the auditorium.

Social media team engaging with the online audience.

Social media team engaging with the online audience.

So what did these remote viewers miss?
Despite an increased demand to consume events online, TEDxBrussels did not miss out on a lively audience at the sold out event. Why? Because you can’t beat the power of shared experience and networking… especially not in Brussels. Connecting and developing personal relationships with others in the same industry, finding new potential business prospects and contacts are the most common reasons given for attending events.

Audience during breaks.

Audience during breaks.

There is also something much more intimate about being part of the audience. As those who are familiar with American politics will recall, the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy was a defining moment for televised speeches. Whilst those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won, those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Ever since this debate, how speakers present themselves, the way they appear physically, their tone of voice and connection with the audience has become an art form, which can only truly be appreciated to the full by a direct and uninterrupted line of sight.

Personally, I came away from TEDxBrussels with four specific moments that made me particularly happy to be an active part of the audience on the 14th March:

  1.  the audible gasp when Madi Sharma stood on her head to encourage the audience to take a new perspective towards sexual parity and the electricity in the room when she finished her speech to a standing ovation
  2.  the hairs on my arm standing on end when Sarah Krüg told her powerful life story, which inspired her to help cancer patients and caregivers to partner more closely with their healthcare team
  3.  the awkward laughter when Srecko Horvat pointed out the danger of being too vane and self-obsessed when it comes to love through his description of selfie-induced deaths
  4.  the slight rise of volume, temperature and sense of optimism coming from the audience, following Alberto Alemanno and Christian Felber’s calls for cooperation and creating a common good.

The day was full of these magical moments, which I am sure are different for every member of the audience. Yes, social media plays a vital role in connecting attendees and speakers. It is also essential for encouraging meaningful interactions between those who physically present in the room and those viewing remotely, who are often dividing their attention and time to other tasks.

But, for me personally, there is an inexplicable difference to witnessing an event live that enhances your memories and adds another dimension to the experience.

What happens when the memories fade?
One of the great things about TED and TEDx events is that the recordings are uploaded and made available for many more to enjoy, in the spirit of the TED objective to create “ideas worth spreading”. So, if you missed the moments I described above, you will be able to watch - or even re-watch - the talks again via the website to see if you get the same impression. Talks from 2016 will be uploaded very soon.

Madi Sharma during her talk at TEDxBrussels 2016.

Madi Sharma during her talk at TEDxBrussels 2016.

With TED Talks reaching their billionth video view and estimates suggesting they are viewed at a rate of 1.5 million times a day, the audience for video on demand, as well as a thirst for innovation and inspiration, is clearly there. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that watching online can replace attending an event in person, but with increasingly busy schedules these catch up videos may offer an entirely different audience the chance to find their hair-on-end moments in this journey into the future.

Katie Owens | @ktowens

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