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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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The “Deeper Future” through the eyes of a photographer

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The “Deeper Future” through the eyes of a photographer

Bart Heirweg Watch your step, Sint-Jan-in-Eremo, Belgium

Bart Heirweg Watch your step, Sint-Jan-in-Eremo, Belgium

Bart Heirweg: a professional nature photographer specialized in landscape photography.  Autodidact, his motto is to “be at the right place at the right time with the perfect lighting”. Heirweg shared his experiences of being a photographer and his view on the Deeper Future. 

1/     Why did you become a photographer?

I grew up in the countryside and was fascinated with nature from an early age. For years I was an impassioned ornithologist. It did not take long before I traded my binoculars for a camera. Nature was my first love, but I still ended up working in the IT business for about 7 years. I started to become restless and missed the outdoors. My passion for photography grew steadily and in 2009 I started working as a semiprofessional. In 2011, I finally took a leap of faith and gave up my job to become a professional landscape and nature photographer. 

I never planned on becoming a photographer. I guess it was just something I felt I had to do. For me, being outside is therapeutic. I love nature's silence and its remarkable beauty. Photography is my way of sharing those unique moments with other people.

2/     Why are the arts important in our lives?

Next to nature, art is probably the most important facet of our society. Art can influence and reflect feelings, opinions and experiences. It has the power to move people and raise awareness about critical issues. I love how documentary photography can help bring about social change. Yet, in my own work, I choose not to show the darker sides of reality. By showcasing the beauty of nature in all its forms, I hope to make people realize that we should all do everything in our power to protect the planet. 

3/    Considering your artistic point of view, what’s you vision of the deeper future? 

Unfortunately no one can predict the future. But I hope that the near future will bring us to a point where the environment is considered a top priority. I long for the day when environmental protection will trump economic growth. Without nature there is no future. We need sustainable solutions and above all, new mindsets. My secret for a better tomorrow? Valuing the things money can't buy.

Bart Heirweg Colourful dawn, Maarke-Kerkem, Belgium

Bart Heirweg Colourful dawn, Maarke-Kerkem, Belgium

4/    Which factors you think will lead young people to a deeper future in which the environment and the arts are valued?

I feel like the younger generation is motivated to bring about a positive change to the world they live in. On all levels. They should be given the opportunity to find and develop themselves. Learning how to express yourself through the creative process and art should be considered as equally important as developing other skills. 

Bart Heirweg Water violet, Drongen, Belgium

Bart Heirweg Water violet, Drongen, Belgium

5/    How will photography contribute to the creation of the Deeper Future?

Through my work I want to show my endless respect and passion for nature. It would be great if people could experience the same enthusiasm for nature's wonders when looking at my pictures. I rarely photograph people: nature is stronger than us and whatever happens to mankind, it will always succeed in restoring itself. Yet, we could all create a better world if we treated our planet better than we do now. By capturing nature's beauty, I hope to inspire people to respect the environment. Believe me, nature has so much to offer. Take it outside!

Bart Heirweg Banded darter, Mol, Belgium

Bart Heirweg Banded darter, Mol, Belgium

For more information visit Bart Heirweg's website and Facebook page.

Bart Heirweg Vestrahorn, Höfn, Iceland

Bart Heirweg Vestrahorn, Höfn, Iceland

Interview by Chrysa Vazitari

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