Business Unusual

TED, three letters with a plan to change the world

You may not have realised it, but the odds are good that at some point you have watched a TED talk. Possibly many. You may have shared them or quoted them, they may have even changed the way you think about something.

TED is a media organisation that was founded in the 80s to showcase technology (T), education (E) and design (D). It was centred around a conference that was held every year with speakers from those disciplines sharing new ideas to inspire those attending. A journalist and successful publisher Chris Anderson became involved in the early 2000s when the foundation he created from publishing acquired the rights to TED.

In 2006 the first major change took place with the talks being posted online. Rather than only reaching those attending the conference, many more could access the “ideas worth spreading”. It has since opened up the talks to cover all topics but caps them at 18 minutes. Initially, even that seemed long for an online video audience but it has proved to be long enough to tell a great story, but not too long to become a lecture.

They have featured celebrities, academics, activists and business leaders. The conferences are now hosted in many locations and focus on a range of issues. In 2011 TEDx was created to allow independent events to be run using the TED guidelines all over the world, provided they adhered to the licence.

Thousands have been held to date including annual versions in Johannesburg and Cape Town since 2013. As a result, tens of thousands of talks are available to free to add to what you know and help you with whatever project or life challenge you may face.

It was not just ideas they wanted to see being spread, but action too. In 2005 a TED Prize of $100 000 was awarded to a speaker who did not just have an idea to change the world but a plan. The prize increased to $1 million in 2013.

This year they have taken it a step further, based on the ideas that limit social entrepreneurship and charity from reaching the scale and impact of for-profit organisations. This year's prize will aim to raise over $600 million and include support for other speakers to enable the idea to be realised even quicker.

The winner of the Audacious Project will be announced in April 2019

Besides creating a powerful platform to launch a new idea or even finally enable an old one, TED may be changing the way philanthropy works.

Rather than addressing those most at risk or overcoming global challenges that prevent business, as usual, taking place, it may sideline the role of traditional governments with inefficient procedures and officials that are sometimes an obstacle to success.

Highly committed, well resourced and funded teams could achieve a lot more in far less time than even global bodies that need to pass all decisions through a bureaucracy. It may well not succeed with all the attempts, but then neither do the government and world body efforts, but it should add momentum to tackle long-standing issues with a combination of Technology, Education and Design.

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