TEDxBerkeley 2017 Constellate’s New Ideas

If you’re like me and crave knowledge, inspiration, creativity and awe-inspiring content in any form, you’re likely a fan of TEDTalks and TEDx Events. TEDx events for those not familiar with them, are TED-style events at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis, under a free license from TED.

This year’s TEDxBerkeley, now in its 8th year, took over Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley California on April 15, 2017.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

Let’s start with a topic I think gets less play on the global stage than it should: our emotional connection to money, something that Lynne Twist has dedicated her life to domestically and globally.

Lynne Twist

Do you actually know what your relationship with money is and how it impacts your life? Is it free flowing or are you constantly stressed over money and fear you don’t or (won’t) have enough? Truth be told, you can have plenty of money in the bank, but still feel deprived. Alternatively, you can have very little in the bank and feel that there’s plenty of abundance in your life – spiritually, emotionally and yes, even financially.

I grew up in New England and my grandparents (who raised me) were born at the start of the century, lived through a few wars and went through hard times. You may be from that generation and know what I’m talking about and if you’re from Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, it will resonate even more. She works on making that somewhat dysfunctional relationship we have as a society with money, a healthy one.

Additionally, Lynne Twist is committed to alleviating poverty and hunger and supporting social justice and environmental sustainability.  She’s the founder of the Soul of Money Institute and has written a book about it. (available in paperback and on Kindle)

In the west, we have a “sick” relationship with money and living and working in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the worst side of it. If we were to free ourselves from the tyranny of the control money has over us and the meaning we give to it, serenity, contribution and love would prevail.

From working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta to the refugee camps in Ethiopia and the threatened rain forests of the Amazon,  Lynne’s breadth of knowledge and experience has lead her to profound insights about why a healthy relationship with money is the answer to some of the world’s deepest problems.

Moving from money to science and medicine, meet Loretta Falcone who flew over from Italy to lead us on a journey that opened our minds and touched our hearts.

Loretta Falcone

Loretta taps into intuition and she does it often yet as a NASA trained scientist, she has more than dabbled in the world of scientific and left brain thinking.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

After dedicating her life as a scientist to the analysis of data in NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory where she developed “machine learning” and artificial intelligence techniques, her life was turned upside down when her son became ill.

Loretta was forced to explore out-of-the-box options to uncover the truth, using her maternal intuition and deep instinct with her methodical and rational approach to science, to dive into research and beyond. This led to an understanding of what happened to her son, which was far from conventional wisdom as we know it.

Her story teaches us that there’s so much we don’t know. When we see the world of any problem through the fresh eyes of a child free from the conventional lenses of entrenched expertise, there is a simple awakening that can illuminate the big ah-ha of a great hypothesis. And, she did.  As someone who believes that the power of intuition, passion and creativity is far greater than the power of knowledge, I am a huge fan of this approach to problem solving.

Speaking of passion and intuition, let’s move onto its cousin: happiness. A visionary named Mike Duffy is committed to spreading it around the globe.

Mike Duffy

As the founder of the Happiness Hall of Fame, Mike has been researching happiness for over 30 years and is the author of several books and guides.

On the Zellerbach Hall stage, Mike focused on the power of friends and relationships. I couldn’t help but think of the book, Never Eat Alone, which is a great read, but Mike’s work goes much much deeper. True happiness and pure joy is far far beyond having a network of positive relationships that help your business, your wallet and your social life.

Mike is also a philanthropist whose work with the Happiness Hall of Fame and beyond, is to recognize, encourage and celebrate people that make other people happy. What a noble and pure vision and life goal — I love what Mike is doing and his warm spirit was a treasure at this year’s event.

He has written a bunch of happy books as well, including The Happiness Book: A Positive Guide to Happiness, The Happiness Book for Men, the Happiness Book for Kids and others.

From happiness to drones? Yeah, why not. Meet another Mike who spoke at TEDxBerkeley stage this year: Mike Roberts whose work is centered around drones and drone research. Its fitting that I put Mike Roberts after Mike Duffy, because in addition to being incredibly smart, the man is funny.

Mike Roberts

As a Computer Graphics Robotics Researcher at Stanford University, Mike’s work is incorporating drones to support human creativity and his joint work with the Harvard Center for Brain Science has been featured worldwide.

In addition to being smart and funny, notice that he’s also a snazzy dresser. Who doesn’t love a great bow tie?

This creative energizing speaker has worked with Jeff Lichtman at the Harvard Center for Brain Science to develop new image analysis methods for nanometer-scale images of brain tissue and it was featured in BBC Horizon, The Guardian, Huffington Post, National Geographic, Nature News, The New York Times, and Popular Science.

Mike also co-developed the Introduction to Parallel Programming course at Udacity.

Minh Dang

As an advocate on Human Trafficking, Minh Dang was one of 15 AAPI Women named a Champion of Change by President Obama.

She’s a manager at a consulting firm and currently a Co-Principal Investigator for a community-based research study funded by the National Institute of Justice entitled, ‘Researcher-Survivor-Ally Formative Evaluation of San Francisco’s Anti-Trafficking Task Forces’.

Her story is a courageous one, one which will touch everyone’s hearts and did. Minh was first publicly identified as a survivor of slavery and incest in 2008, when MSNBC featured her story of slavery in a documentary. She shared her story and why talking about it makes it real and can help change things. Today, she provides guidance and mentorship to survivors and beyond.

Mayra Lozano

Given the volume of news lately on the crack down on immigration, it was awe-inspiring and brave to hear from an undocumented student at Berkeley who shared her story.

As a junior who is pursuing a degree in Legal Studies and Chicano Studies, Mexican-born Mayra Lozano spoke up about the importance of unity in a country as diverse as the United States, one known for being a melting pot around the world.

She is a first generation low-income student who also wears a hat as an activist and organizer.

Above two photo credits: Halina Veratsennik

Mayra is crossing borders, breaking barriers, and taking risks by voicing her concerns and not allowing herself to be silenced into the shadows. She remembers that as a child the border represented the geographical line that had the power to take all dreams from her. It is frustrating to see the door of opportunity open, and not be allowed to walk through.

Questions of insecurity arise such as: “Will I come home and find my parents where they were before I left for school this morning? Do I have a say in my future?” Being a part of a land where you are not truly accepted is a harsh reality for millions in the United States. She reminded the audience that we were all once immigrants too. Hear hear.

Tai Tran

Named the youngest Forbes 30 under 30, Tai is a LinkedIn top voice in marketing and advertising, followed by over 100,000 marketers and executives around the world.

He ran Apple’s Twitter account before graduating from Berkeley and mentors others on networking, personal branding and social media best practices. He’s currently the head of Content & Brand at SelfScore and you can follow him on Twitter @TaicTran.

Vivienne Ming

If you think that’s remarkable for 23, imagine being a transgender neuroscientist. Introducing Vivienne Ming, whose work as a theoretical neuroscientist and technologist, focuses on machine learning and cognitive neuroscience to maximize student’s life outcomes.

It wasn’t neuroscience that she spoke about on stage on April 15 however, but her transition from Evan Smith to Vivienne Ming, and how her career and marriage got through it and beyond.

“Imagine being trapped in a life you don’t want, a fate you can’t change. Imagine people deciding who you are with a glance — and getting it wrong, every time.” — Vivienne Ming

Her message was powerful, and I felt went far beyond “being as good as you can be,” which is what she echoed in her talk. It’s about courage to accept yourself exactly who you are regardless of what that identity is and following through with it, regardless of how far it takes you.

For Vivienne, it was transformative and included medical procedures although she says that surgery doesn’t have to be part of the process for everyone. In light of what is happening in the states currently and the discussions which may potentially affect legislation, this kind of courage is needed. There’s a great article on what she went through on Huffington Post which is worth a read. 

Brian Malow

While we’re chatting about science from neuroscience to our genders, imagine science wrapped in humor? Science comedy is Brian Malow’s world and has been for most of his life.

Bri­an Mal­ow calls himself Earth’s Pre­mier Sci­ence Come­di­an and has per­formed for NSF, AAAS, JPL, NIST, ACS, AGU – and many oth­er acronyms.

From making sci­ence videos for Time Magazine’s web­site to training sci­en­tists to become bet­ter speak­ers, he’s been fea­tured on The Late Late Show with Craig Fer­gu­son, co-hosted shows on The Weath­er Chan­nel, and been pro­filed in Nature, the New York Times and more.

TEDx talks are often a combination of highly intellectual and inspirational but can also be a bit heady at times, so it was refreshing to have a burst of humor in between it all.

Bravo to Brian to bringing tears to our eyes and helping us look at the funny side of science, from planets, stars and the cosmos to dinosaurs and gravity.

Esther Wojcicki

Esther is an educator and someone I met when I first moved to the Bay Area. At the time, new media was a new phrase and didn’t really have a definition yet. Social media hadn’t really emerged at least not in the form we know today, and we barely had blogging tools or sharing platforms.

I’ve always admired her work, known for transforming how we teach and learn about media in the classroom. As founder of the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Program, which has become one of the largest and most distinguished scholastic media programs in the country, she is committed to experiential learning and looking at education in a visionary way.

During my early days in California, Creative Commons was just starting to get attention, so given her work, it should be no surprise that she is Vice Chair of their board of directors.

She is also on the Board of Trustees of the Developmental Studies Center and on the Board of Governors of the Alliance for Excellent Education on the board of Learning Matters, is part of the Advisory Board at the THNK School of Creative Leadership among a myriad of other things. As a writer who values ethical and innovative progression of the discipline, I’m honored to know her and support her life path.

Francois Reyes

As a man who is deeply impacted by the lack of interest of the politicians in France for making people’s lives better and countering extremism, Francois created a global NGO called Citizen’s Awakening following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in 2015.

Citizen Awakening is trying to bring people together through dialogue and better understanding, with a goal of fighting terrorism worldwide. Francois believes that our most powerful weapon is our ability to speak up and create bridges between different communities and different countries.

Above 2 photo credits: Halina Veratsennik

Francois is also a speaker and ambassador for One Young World and the Quilliam Foundation, and a member of the FATE (Families Against Terrorism & Extremism) network. He’s currently writing a book that will curate voices and solutions of, from and for families who have been impacted in one way or another by terrorism, whether they have lost a family member to a terrorist attack or a child to the extremist-narrative. Bravo for his courage and commitment to a more pluralist and empathetic society.

Fuji Lai

Remember when I said TEDx talks can be a big heady? How about one that is so heady and so powerful that it takes you on a journey into the future, a future that sounds like its light years ahead rather than decades ahead? A vision which blows your world open with new ideas around robots and what they’ll be able to do to better serve humanity?

What I love about Fuji’s work and her energy is how committed she is to the development and use of robotics in a way that helps improve healthcare access and the quality of care for all humans.

A powerful force in the world of bio-robotics, Fuji is revolutionizing the patient and human experience through augmenting human capabilities.

Fuji’s background in biomedical engineering, robotics, human factors design and healthcare consulting. Think telemedicine, medical/surgical robotics, mobile health, human-robot teams, human-machine interfaces, simulation, Virtual Reality and more. She has released 8 products in 5 years including VITA (with iRobot)—world’s first FDA-Class II-cleared robot with one-touch, “go there” autonomous navigation.

From one incredible female spirit to another, meet Jessica Hansen of Kiva.

Jessica Hansen

Kiva has been around for awhile now so if you follow social enterprise, it’s unlikely it’s a new name for you. If you’re not familiar with Kiva, its all about micro-lending, where you can make a loan to an entrepreneur across the globe for as little as $25. In fact, Kiva is the world’s first online lending platform connecting online lenders to entrepreneurs.

Jessica’s role with this non-profit is as their Global Engagement and Education Manager, where she is committed to protecting and empowering refugee women and girls.

She has quite a history helping people around the world who most need it, from her work in rural Kenya, the U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants, Mercy Corps, and the IRC/Women’s Refugee Commission, to the Centre for Refugee Research, and MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

One of the warmest energies and hearts I’ve met in awhile, her energy on stage was about as authentic as it gets. There are some incredible stories from the field on their fellows blog worth reading. Kiva works closely with their Fellows, also referred to as Field Partners, in over 50 countries to make sure loan dollars go where they’re needed most.

Also on a path of improve people’s lives around the world is Anna Lappe, who lives her life in the world of sustainable food and food systems.

Anna Lappe

As an internationally recognized expert on food systems and an author of three books, Anna Lappe works with philanthropists to help fund better health, justice and sustainability across the food chain.

Given that I’ve lived in ten countries and traveled extensively, this topic is near and dear to my heart. First, let’s start with problems in the first world. Even though I now live in the supposedly most advanced and wealthiest country in the world, there’s a health crisis that is directly connected to the amount of sugar and processed food Americans consume every day. Our supermarkets are full of them. Erica Wides, a speaker I invited to speak at TEDxBerkeley in 2013, is a national authority on how to find, afford, cook and eat minimally processed natural foodstuffs, or what she calls, real food.

Anna is the head of the Real Food Media Project, a new initiative to spread the story of the power of sustainable food using creative movies, an online action center, and grassroots events.

Her latest book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It around the world (available in paperback and on Kindle), addresses that how we farm, what we eat, and how our food gets to the table all have an impact and how our government and the food industry are willfully ignoring the issue rather than addressing it.

Dr. Andres Roemer

Mexican-born Dr. Andres Roemer is known not just for his work as the curator and co-founder of the International Festival of Bright Minds, but for his large publishing portfolio as well as author of 16 books on freedom, gender and equality.

His work as a Mexican diplomat is profound. He was the UNESCO Mexico’s Ambassador in Paris, France and until last year, served as General Consul of Mexico in San Francisco. He’s the creator of  “Rethinking G20: Designing the Future” and has been involved in over 1,000 TV programs, 300 radio programs and among other books, co-author of Move Up: Why Some Cultures Advance While Others Don’t.

Andres is a passionate and strong voice, a known scholar around the world and a bit of a Renaissance Man, the kind of man you’d love to have a long dinner with, starting with philosophy, psychology, public policy and politics and ending with art, happiness and love.

He’s also courageous and takes a stand for things he believes in and argues that we can’t sit back and watch inequality and injustice happen. Sitting on the sideline eats away at the core of our society and will erode away at your country’s democracy if you’re lucky enough to live in one.

Bravo for his courageous voice!

While we had four performers this year, two of them are also known for storytelling: Brian Malow noted above, and Damien Horne, who hails from Nashville (originally North Carolina) and is so much more than the incredible singer songwriter he is known for.

Damien Horne

Also known as MistaD, Damien’s story started with a sad tale where he watched two brothers die and family members become incarcerated. After he left home, he spent time being homeless in Los Angeles while trying to find his life purpose.

In the south, he is known as a member of the trio The Farm, as well as Nashville’s MuzikMafia, and is very committed to the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Feet, and other humanitarian organizations.

We discovered Damien while on a cross country trip (#WBTWxCountry) a couple of years ago and were given tickets to one of his Nashville performances. His authenticity, talent and warmth blew us away.

From homeless to a career in bright lights, he has since collaborated and/or performed with Melissa Manchester, Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, John Legend, Hank Williams, Jr. The Commodores, 3 Doors Down, Faith Hill, Big & Rich, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Randolph, Jewel, Josh Kelley, Gretchen Wilson, Velvet Revolver, and The Neville Brothers.

He recorded his first full-length album “Somebody’s Hero” under the direction and production of Big Kenny of Big & Rich, a number he played for us.  Being somebody’s hero is who he has become for so many who have turned to him for inspiration. Be sure to have a listen and be prepared to smile.

“I was meant to fly, meant to shine, gotta find the

better man in me before I die.”

He ended his talk and performance with another song that brings an even bigger smile to my face: SHINE. The idea is that if we all need to shine because only when we do can we pave the way for others to shine too. Damien certainly moved many as I witnessed by the glossy eyes of those in the audience as he walked off stage.


Cal WUSHU is the oldest collegiate wushu club in the nation, dating back to 1987. Their energy brought the house down and even if you’re not into martial arts, you’d be hard pressed not to be awe-inspired by their performance.

WUSHU literally means “martial art” in Chinese and it encompasses all Chinese martial arts, although it commonly refers to contemporary styles.

Wushu is especially known for its use of many different weapons, which include spears, broadswords, rope darts, benches, three section staffs, hook swords, buttefly knives, and many others. And, they used many of them during their performance.


University of California Berkeley Orchestra

There was also an inspiring performance by the University of California Berkeley Orchestra.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

In 2012, Darin Chhing, the son of Cambodian refugees, began composing a piece blending both Eastern and Western melodies with his culture’s rich musical heritage. As a way to applaud those efforts, orchestra premiered excerpts from Darin’s original composition entitled Singularity, which is dedicated to those impacted by recent terror attacks, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and the pressing social and political challenges that constitute adversity in our dynamic global society.

They tout that they’re devoted to fostering a space where curiosity, imagination, innovation, and collective storytelling all thrive in concert.

Above, one of the performers in the Green Room before their performance.

This Year’s Theme: Constellate

So, what’s with the theme Constellate? The idea behind the theme is that while single ideas can shine brightly on their own, constellating ideas creates a broader perspective and therefore a more beautiful image.

The event constellated thousands of unheard voices, uncovered perspectives and unexpected stories through 18 riveting speakers and performers who shared their stories and visionary outlooks.

Creativity was also abound. Introducing The Witness Tree Project, which is an invitation to engage in collaborate Intentional Creativity. Here’s how it works:

An inquire is asked: what are you here to cause and create?  For example, your wishes, dreams, ideas, hopes and intentions. You then declare it while writing it down on a paper leaf and then you contribute that intention to the witness tree.

Imagine if everyone acted with positive intention? What would happen for the greater good of all?

Behind the Scenes

TEDxBerkeley wouldn’t be a success if it weren’t for an incredible team who contributes their passion, time, brains, hearts and hands all year. I remain in awe of the volunteers every year and of this year’s curator Leilani Gutierrez-Palominos (bravo bravo).

I’ve been involved with TEDxBerkeley as co-curator for 7 of its 8 years, including this year, together with with R. Jennifer BarrEach year, I’m so proud of our team who work diligently around the clock with passion, commitment and resolve to make it not just a memorable event, but one which will leave attendees feeling enlightened and inspired to make a positive change in their lives.

What I’ve discovered from doing this for many years now, is that not only do attendees leave with new ideas that are catalysts for new projects and relationships, but speakers do too. And, we had a killer line up this year.

We couldn’t be more thrilled with our incredible speakers and performers who not only shined on stage but touched so many people’s hearts throughout the day.

Above, the team on stage at the end of the event. Below, team members bond behind the scenes in the green room.

Be sure to check out the videos over on the youtube.com/tedx channel, slated to be up sometime this week.

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett except for photos noted by Halina Veratsennik


TEDxBerkeley 2016 Helps the World Find X

I’ve been fortunate to be involved in TEDxBerkeley for six years now, a non-profit independently organized TEDx event which takes place at Zellerbach Hall every February. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience and there have been close to 15,000 of them worldwide since the initiative began. Each year, TEDTalks video and live speakers spark deep discussion and connection to a pack-filled auditorium of over 2,000 attendees.

Sixteen innovative and thought provoking speakers who are trying to change the global conversation about important issues such as healthcare, gender equality, education and privacy to technology, medicine, life balance, water safety and the search for extraterrestrial life brought tears and laughter to attendees over eight hours, all of which was live streamed from their website on February 6. In between heady and emotional talks, over 50 performers hit the Zellerbach stage, ranging from Bollywood and an inspiring cello group to piano, guitar and violin tapping tunes and gospel music.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain, who I’ve known for years from our mutual involvement in Singularity University, talked about the difference we can make in the world if we embrace more of an abundant mindset rather than one which comes from scarcity. This begs the question he asks, of whether in a not too distant future, it might just be as easy to travel to another planet as it is to get from New York to California.

He asserts that throughout our solar system, there is abundance and that simply by changing our mindset, we can change the playing field of what can be possible in space, in technology and even in identifying new ways to tap into important resources like fresh water. “Changing how you approach a problem changes how you solve a problem,” he says and that “it’s from that place and mindset that we can tap into our full potential.”

Rather than think about our current education system being broken which many suggest, perhaps it’s simply that our needs have changed and the existing system hasn’t adapted to meet those needs. In school, if a student gets an answer from another student, they call it cheating, but in the real world says Jain, “they call it collaboration.” The audience laughs. His belief is that a mindset of abundance can be applied to so many issues plaguing us today, including food scarcity.

Jeromy Johnson then took the stage who laid out ways we can keep ourselves and loved ones safe from the increasing emissions coming from more and more powerful cell phones and routers, cell towers popping up in front of apartment buildings, and the proliferation of smart meters in homes. Many of you may have never heard of EMF’s so may not know about the potential negative impact they could have on our bodies and minds over the long haul. Essentially, EMF’s stand for Electric and magnetic fields and are invisible areas of energy.

Jeromy who experiences health issues when near strong routers and smart meters, asserts that we should become more aware of the amount of time we spend being connected as a way to keep mind/body balance in check. He also believes that information on how to protect ourselves and reduce these fields, keeping them as far away from our heads, hearts, breasts and other vital organs as possible, should be discussed more publicly as a way for all of us  to take protective measures to keep us safe, especially for children who are starting to use these devices earlier and earlier.

Photo credit from DDees.com.

Why should you care if the scientific proof is not 100% confirmed? Being trained as an engineer, Jeromy is far from a technology naysayer and was quick to praise the benefits it has provided society, however believes that we need to update our standards based on the level of exposure we  have today. FCC safety guidelines haven’t been updated in almost 20 years and our exposure has grown exponentially over the past ten years.


Think about it: we have went from 2G to 3G to 4G, each with greater frequency modulation, which is a primary cause for biological effects. The ubiquity of smart phones the past seven years has also caused a massive increase in the number of cell towers in American neighborhoods. WiFi is now everywhere (including schools and churches) and has become much more powerful. Some of the latest routers now have two powerful antennas – one for your home and one for the public. Yes, your home is now a public hot spot – essentially acting as a cell tower in your living room. Add in wireless baby monitors, cordless phones, smart meters,  driver-less cars, and we are creating a man-made electromagnetic soup that humanity has never experienced.

Surgeon Dr. Susan Lim is a name you may not have heard of, largely because her first and biggest claim to fame is when she broke through the gender glass ceiling in transplantation surgery by becoming the first in Asia, and the second woman in the world to have performed a successful liver transplant.  It’s not the kind of thing that hits the top of your Twitter stream or your local newspaper, however her authentic and inspirational life tale of wins warmed the crowd.

A woman with a calming spirit and someone you find yourself wanting to spend more time around the more she speaks, she has also taken on philanthropic efforts with her husband through a trust which assists struggling parents to meet their children’s school expenses. The trust has also donated a science laboratory to a college and provided scholarships to underprivileged children in both Singapore and India. Rather than transplanting organs, her work has been focused on  Transplanting Cells, Not Organs, a talk she has given on the main TED stage in 2011.

Her stories revolved around the successes from her work with Stem Cell Technologies, a biotech company which researches the use of adult stem cells for application in cell therapy, regenerative medicine and even for the treatment of diabetes.

Astrophysicist and director of UC Berkeley Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research Dr. Andrew Siemon, is also the lead scientist for the “Breakthrough Listen Initiative”, a $100 million effort that is conducting one of the most sensitive searches for advanced extraterrestrial life in history. It’s the very same effort led by Russian tycoon Yuri Milner.

Apparently, one-third of the funding goes to funding  radio telescope time, one-third to fund research and development of new receiver technology, and one-third will be used to hire astronomers. The project will use thousands of hours every year on two major radio telescopes, the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in Australia compared to only 24 to 36 hours of radio telescope time per year previously.

SETI looks at our current understanding of life’s origin on Earth, which suggests that “given a suitable environment and sufficient time, life will develop on other planets. Whether evolution will give rise to intelligent, technological civilizations is open to speculation. However, such a civilization could be detected across interstellar distances, and may actually offer our best opportunity for discovering extraterrestrial life in the near future.”

It was evident that Andrew has a clear passion for discovery and as a scientific ambassador of sorts, he educated a crowd eager to know — will we find intelligent life out there and when? What is our place in the universe: are we alone in the vast ocean of stars and galaxies? When you consider that the universe is nearly 14 million years old and our galaxy is nearly 12 billion years old, the fact that we still don’t have a significant way of detecting intelligent life makes this “Breakthrough Listen Initiative” even more compelling.

From science and space to life purpose, nano-technology inventor Christopher Ategeka took the stage to talk about his initiative that identifies early detection and monitoring of chronic diseases.  He smiles wryly as he shares his childhood with us, starting with working the fields in rural Uganda and losing his parents, which led to an incredible journey which brought him to study in the United States and years later, to the Zellerbach stage earlier this month.

Motivated by his early years in Africa, Ategeka started Rides for Lives, which makes adaptive, cost-efficient vehicles in areas where they don’t have access to an ambulance. They essentially build and bring mobile hospitals to the most vulnerable in rural parts of the emerging world.  A humanitarian at heart, he is also an active proponent for STEM education, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Wearing red pants, a black vest and a huge smile, he gleamed from the stage as he talked about life purpose. He reminded the audience that talent is universal, but opportunities are not and he is living proof that this is indeed the case. He closed with inspiration for the students among us as well as those who may have turned 70 and still not discovered their purpose: “Find your purpose, embed passion into that purpose and build your life around it.” I’d argue that you could still start living your life with that mindset at age 70 — it’s never too late to live your dream.

Isha Ray spoke of the downside of the fact that dignity and modesty is paramount for women in India and other parts of the world like Africa. Those two “definers”, while could also be applied to western cultures like England, don’t come in the way of access to a bathroom like they do in rural parts of the developing world. We learned the shocking truth that there are places in the world where women cannot go to the bathroom when they need to and resolve to “holding it in,” until late at night or early in the morning when they are allowed to relieve themselves in darkness. Gender quality isn’t just about making sure a woman can make it in public office, she reminds. “Gender quality means a public commitment to infrastructure.”

Ellen Leanse brought us back to gratitude and remembering the simple things in life. While we live in a time of unprecedented connectivity, our interactions with people have become more like transactions, as if those human interactions should work like technology.

Happiness and pure joy however can be found in the simplest of aha moments, she asserts, like saying “thank you” and “you made my day.” Appreciation and gratitude can become as habit forming as the best technology already has in our lives, however unlike technology, gratitude recharges our batteries so we can feel more alive and rejuvenated.  Apps and drones will always be around to give us more productivity and let them do just that, but we’re humans and run on a different kind of code. We’re programmed to connect, so let’s make sure we take time to do that and not just on a social media thread or via a text message.

An authentic and telling story by Amandine Roche nearly brought me to tears. As a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome without even knowing it, she’s on a mission to create a wellness department at the United Nations to help people who are on the “front line,” just as she was and nowhere to turn in her time of grief and turmoil.

As a Human Rights lawyer, an invitation by the Taliban in Afghanistan changed her life. These experiences compelled her to pursue the path of peace building and conflict resolution and continue to pursue peaceful resolutions in various parts of the world including for ten years on and off in Kabul.

Amandine’s current peace building efforts focus on democracy, election, human rights, freedom of expression, education, media awareness, gender equality, and youth empowerment as means for attaining non-violence.

As CEO of the United Nations Foundation, Kathy Calvin took the stage to talk about an important issue impacting young girls around the world – sex. Talking about sex in a very real and important way and truly listening to girl’s needs early on can dramatically change the course of her life. Listening and engaging with young girls can prevent unwanted pregnancies and improve the chances of her success in the world, whether that be in rural Africa of in the United States. Globally, issues reign around gender inequality. If we really want to make a difference and contribute to humanitarian efforts, we must change the conversation about sex and take the right actions where it really counts.

Stephanie Freidwho is an International Conflicts Journalist, TV correspondent for CCTV (China) and Turkish TV International networks, reports from some of the world’s toughest conflict and war zones. She received a standing ovation for her emotional share of stories from the field, including tales from Syria. A video of this talk will be available soon so you can watch her authentically beautiful yet painful talk as well as the other 15 speakers from this year’s event.

Reverend Deborah L. Johnsona minister and author, talked to us about forgiveness and the importance of integrating it into our lives — not forgiving puts our lives on hold if we could only realize it. Her talk was riveting and also received a standing ovation as attendees cried and laughed through 18 minutes of lessons learned, which included a narrative of a persona that everyone in the audience could resonate with. Fearing forgiveness (and fighting it) is part of being human, but letting go of that fight can bring us inner peace and a sense of joy we may have put on hold for awhile.

Deborah focuses on Universal Spiritual Principles in her life which shone through in her talk. She is also founder of The Motivational Institute, which specializes in diversity.

There were performances by Celli@Berkeley, a cellist quartet made up of undergraduate and graduate students, spoken word artists Rose Gelfand, Molly Gardner and Isa Ansari, grammy award-winning musician for the best rock song for five-time nominated “Drops of Jupiter,” Rob Hotchkiss, the OSA Chamber Choirsinger songwriter Sonia Rao who entertained us on both violin and piano, and UC Berkeley Azaad, a competitive Hindi Film Dance team which combines Rock, Swing and film with Bollywood culture in an energizing way through dance.

Below Chris Lew, this year’s TEDxBerkeley curator.

TEDxBerkeley 2015: Compassion, Connection & Wisdom

For this year’s TEDxBerkeley‘s event whose theme was Compassion, Connection and Wisdom, over 2,000 attendees showed up to hear 57 speakers and performers at the University of Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on February 28. Below are highlights from some of our thought provoking speakers, several of whom flew over from Africa to join us thanks to this year’s Diamond Partner Fetzer Institute.

Performers nailed it out of the park, which included the upbeat Japanese drum performance by Cal Raijin Taiko, the energetic Cal Bhangra dancers whose goal is to keep Punjabi dance alive (below), and the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet who added humor to their doo-wop, barbershop and pop songs, acapela style of course.

Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who kicked off the first session on Wisdom, has committed his life to driving innovation and leadership. The bulk of Prasad’s work has revolved around getting people to realize their full potential, most known for his work advising companies like Disney, Adobe, Apple, Boeing and others.

His talk began not with lessons learned in corporate America however, but with a single, startling fact: Malnourishment kills 1,500 children in India every day. He reminds us that malnourishment happens not because of lack of food, but also because of lack of awareness.

Awareness is not just key to solving the malnutrition problem but also in allowing all of us to realize our full potential. He asserts that we may have an idea of what it ‘can be’ but most of us don’t feel as we’ve reached it as demonstrated by the show of hands when he posed the question to a very academic and entrepreneurial audience. “Knowledge without discernment and emotion without reflection is not going to get you there,” he says.

Prasad suggests that we can only truly reach our full potential when we combine our talents and strengths — in other words, you cannot stop at just one strength even if it’s a key strength that has made you successful so far.

If you don’t have a strength to get you where you need to go next, he encourages people to find that strength outside of ourselves…in a family member, friend, colleague, mentor or others. The combination of strengths is what will ultimately help us thrive and go beyond where we’ve ever imagined.

Adora Svitak, who is only a freshman at UC Berkeley, blew the audience away by addressing sexuality with both candor and humor as a way to honestly and authentically address the shame and silence Americans attach to sex. Without honest conversations about sex, kids will find it out on their own, which doesn’t paint a realistic picture. From a student’s point-of-view, she addressed the repercussions of sex if you don’t have the facts early on — facts without shame that is.

It was refreshing to see her take on a controversial topic at a TEDx event. Having lived in multiple countries over the years, I was always astonished to return to a puritanical America to find the same views on sex that haven’t seemed to change much since the 1800’s. How we learn about sex and more importantly, the attitudes we have about sex, doesn’t just affect us, but all of our partners and people in our wake.

She suggests a much more open and freeing conversation so that rather than starting our life with fear around sex, we can begin to see it differently, a paradigm shift in today’s society. Without fear in the way, we can make up our own choices with healthy unbiased knowledge — again, without the shame — which can only lead to healthier sex early on.

Ideas include stop calling each other sluts and whores.  We can promote open conversations and answer kid’s questions with honesty. The more private we make sex, the less we know about ourselves. We have all the answers, so why should we leave people fumbling in the dark. We leave people fumbling because it is where fear is and, says Adora, “those moments are our darkness. To speak of sex is to speak of life. There is beauty and encouragement to be found in the exploration of our vulnerability. Neither should be scary or stigmatized.” Hear hear Adora. You couldn’t have said it better – let’s stop giving power to the fear of sex.

Marc Gopin, who is the Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) talked about Seven Steps Towards Peace. Originally from the Ukraine and raised in a ghetto, Marc brought his own life experiences into his talk. Also a professor, he shared his own journey asserting that in order to make an impact, whether in our own professional life or for a bigger calling — to create peace in the world — all life journeys and outcomes ultimately begin with ourselves.

He asked, “how and when do human beings, who are capable of unspeakable violence, but also capable of the most tender love, move away from hate and violence and towards less violence and more empathy?” Weaving examples of the holocaust and other tragic political events since then, he reminds us how blind obedience can and has led to mass murder in pockets in the world.

He spends a lot of his time thinking about how people can change for the better. From philosophers and psychologists to academics and politicians, he feels that we can learn how to “become good.” He asks, “what is the capacity of the brain to focus on positivity? We are beings who slowly change for the better in numerous ways including empathy, reason and shared values, equal commerce between people and women empowerment, among others.”

Arising from his peace activism work, a company named Mejdi Tours was created to provide fair wages and equality for both Jews and Arabs. He grins as he says, “I like impossible places.”

He went on to say, “the stranger is the key to healing the planet. Approaching a stranger with empathy is the key to moving towards it globally. Emphasize the positive in all things. Have vision. Empower women everywhere. Embrace gentle commerce that is equal and has care, purpose, honor and respect. Above all, love a stranger when you cross the street, everywhere in the world. Find a stranger and love them and you will change the world globally. No dictator, no gang, no state, no war can steal the soul of that stranger you touch. Network is everything.”

Beautifully said. In other words, a journey with a stranger is what unlocks all of us and can heal the world!

During a chat with founder of Expect a Miracle! Carolyn Gable in the Green Room, I couldn’t help but marvel at her carefree way of approaching problems. Letting obstacles get to us is a sure way to bury ourselves, so it’s important to rise above them, even the smallest of glitches that get in our way. Carolyn’s approach is also brutally honest and raw in a very beautiful and authentic way, largely because of what it took to get to where she is today.

Everything she knows as a CEO, she learned as a waitress — Fear and Failure and beyond. I get it! As someone who also waited on tables around the world, I learned that the customer is always right (almost always) and how to juggle multiple things at all times, a valuable skill as a waitress….and most certainly a valuable asset as a CEO.

I resonated with her talk in a myriad of ways, much of it stemming from growing up in a working class world which is often focused on what you “can’t do” rather than what you can. Within this context, you have no choice but to block out the external noise and your primary conditioning in order to achieve your life’s goals and more importantly, dreams.

It’s what we do with failure and fear that makes the difference of what we accomplish in life. She says, “when we ‘fail up’ and ‘fear up,’ it’s when we learn life’s true lessons.  Showing up is 98% of everything in life.” So true Carolyn, so true — it’s something I’ve told many an intern over the years – don’t worry about the how or the why or the what — just show up. Show up and be as present as you possibly can.

Says Carolyn, “we all come into this life with a unique toolbox. Scientists say 99.9% of our DNA is the same, only .1% separates us and she believes it’s what is in our toolbox that makes the difference. “We’re all given gifts in life and tools to help us out in our journey,” she added. “The tools are the same but the gifts are unique – it’s up to us to tap into those gifts and live them.” And, I’d add, not to take no for an answer.

Faith was the number one thing in Carolyn’s toolbox. She asserts that if you don’t have faith, if you don’t believe that there isn’t a bigger purpose for your life, chances are that you’re not happy or love what you do. When you “live” in your gifts, you begin to realize that everything you need in your life is already inside you and frankly, given to you the day you were born.

Another great skill to have — gift or not — is determination! (Yup, we’re back to not taking no for an answer). Overcoming fear is how you give back to life and she definitely has — her company Expect a Miracle! helps children with single parents shine.

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ph.D. has dedicated his life to food insecurity. Through his company Food First, he’s helping the world address food insecurity through sustainable farming, a practice that if fully embraced, could change the world. As remarkable as it sounds, even the richest countries in the world still have food insecurity.

He drove a project where they compared 1,000 sustainable farms to 1,000 planted traditionally across 150 communities in Nicaragua and Central America. The results were astonishing but frankly not surprising. Sustainable farmers had less erosion and fewer crop losses than their neighbors. Based on this, their efforts were centered around an agriculture reconstruction plan — farmer-by-farmer — with a goal towards sustainable farming everywhere.

With such positive results, they expected a reconstruction plan to be implemented but sadly it never happened. Central American reconstruction failed miserably because they didn’t implement the research showing that sustainable farming was better.

A hard lesson learned, Eric reminds us that “it’s not enough to be right. This is especially true if you’re from an oppressed group of people who are often dismissed.  You need to dismantle the social injustices holding them back. If we want to make food justice the norm, we need to make a food movement, led by those who are most negatively impacted by food and other injustices.”

He says, “we need to support the leadership who has the most at stake. We need a common vision of food justice. Ask yourselves: what would our food system look like if farm workers received fair conditions and wages, if women were recognized and valued for producing 70% of the world’s food, if black lives mattered?”

Dr. Dan Garcia, who zipped onto the TEDxBerkeley stage on a scooter, is redesigning and breaking down barriers surrounding computer science education. Originally from the Bronx, he wound up at UC Berkeley as a professor where is dedicating his life to the future of computing. While computing may in fact be a core literacy of the 21st century, it is still only available in 5% of schools in the United States.

You have a much higher chance of having football offered in a high school than computer science. “Without the high school piece, anything we do for middle school will be lost, and anything we do at the college level will be insufficient,” says sociologist Jan Cuny.

Dan is working on an organization that gets courses in high school through AP courses, a single source of national leverage. It is founded on 7 big ideas: creativity, abstraction, data and information, algorithms, programming, the Internet and global impact.

Based on those Big 7, teachers can build a syllabus around them. The project name is CS10K and its goal is to get engaging rigorous computing curricula into high schools around the country starting with New York City, which, with 70% kids of a different color, is the most diverse in the country.  I love the effort, which with Dan behind it, has a high chance of succeeding – his passion, wit, humor, commitment and drive is intoxicating on and off stage.

Music minister Valerie Joi moved me with her song on forgiveness she sang at the Steinway grand piano on the Zellerbach stage. My only wish was to hear more of her.

Valerie’s “raison d’etre” in the world seems to be to spread the message of unconditional love through music. “Forgiveness,” she says, “is something we do everyday if we make a choice to.” In other words, forgiveness is something we can choose every day – it’s merely a choice. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can be joyful and it’s actually very freeing.” Her song echoed those words and more. Oh so lovely and oh so inspiring!

We jumped into compassion starting with South African entrepreneur Dr. Suzanne Ackerman-Berman who wears the hat of Transformational Director at Pick-n-Pay, the chain we shopped at regularly when I lived there in the eighties and again in the nineties. What’s driving Suzanne today is socially responsible capitalism and it is this calling she brings into her business every day.

Truth be told, many people leave countries where there is heartache and upset and many don’t return. “You can take the child out of the country but can you take the country out of the child,” she says, talking about her personal journey and how despite living in Europe for some time, she was called to return to South Africa during the country’s transformation.

At the end of the day, we are fulfilled when we make a difference in the world and as Marc Gopin so rightfully pointed out, it all begins with your own story. The essence of inequality is something Suzanne learned early on when her parents taught her that inequality anywhere effects quality everywhere. Despite political change, she saw that in a post Apartheid world, there was still a lot of diversity and that the country was still split by education, split by color and even moreso, split by privilege.

Says Suzanne, “we had communities whose only asset around them was their resources.” She realized that people around her had no role models or the only role models in their lives were domestic workers and didn’t know anything about health hygiene regulations. Her foundation is working to make changes here and create hope within communities.

She ended with a powerful Nelson Mendela quote, who was still in prison when I lived there. “Overcoming poverty is an act of justice – poverty is not natural, it is man made and can be eradicated by the actions of human beings.” So right, so true and so necessary for equality and positive change to happen in the world.

Tanzanian-born Dr. Victoria Kisyombe has dedicated her entire life to women empowerment. Having grown up in a farm with few resources and even less money and mentors to help her along the way, Victoria pioneered micro-leasing, starting with a single cow.

Micro-leasing in Africa has proven to not just empower women but allow them to become economically sufficient. Her life transformation started when she became widowed with three children and one cow named Sero. She learned that Sero wasn’t just a cow, but also a productive asset. Once she realized the value of her cow, compassion kicked in. She began to look around at other women who were trying to cope with even less than a single cow, which led to her passion and drive to start micro-leasing.

Through micro-leasing, she realized that women could jump start businesses right away. The lease asset would become a woman’s collateral, which was the main issue with Tanzanian banks — without collateral, it wasn’t possible to get financed.

This initiative has resulted in women growing their assets exponentially. Once women’s businesses are up and running, her company transfers the ownership over to the women. She shared several stories with us including a woman who started two businesses from one hairdryer and another who is now exporting her sunflower oil to Switzerland. Since roughly half of the communities don’t have power, they are powering women’s projects with solar energy. The results of her initiative has been profound: 25,000 women are now financed, more than 125,000 jobs have been created, and 200,000 jobs have been impacted.

What’s so great about her story, is that it all started from one cow. As the leasing increases, so do the profits.  Recently, she brought the voice of grassroots women to the World Economic Forum. A remarkable woman with passion and a fabulous smile, we all left feeling empowered by her story. When someone tells you something isn’t possible, think back to what Victoria did with one cow, get re-grounded and try again. There’s always a way!!

Leadership coach Alison Meyer shared how to access more of our compassion in our daily lives. Rest assured, we all have wisdom we can tap into during our calmest of moments. The problem is that we rarely have calm moments and when calmness does arise from a storm, so few of us take the time to tap into our inner wisdom.

Everyone has thorny problems that crop up in our lives we can’t figure out a solution for — stepping back and giving ourselves a few calm moments allows us to look inward for the answers rather than going external for a “fix.”

She shared a touching story about the loss of her sister, who she felt hopeless to help when she was dying. Later on when she was losing her mother, she realized that life gives us a second chance. We often don’t do things for people or in a situation because we don’t think we’re capable.

“The truth is,” says Alison, “we’re all capable; when we dive deep into ourselves, we’ll find a way. The heart has clear yeses and clear no’s. When we’re weak hearted, we avoid things, we avoid conflict. When we’re strong hearted, we have the courage to do whatever we need to do when we’re called to.” So very true and is powerful empathetic wisdom that can serve all of us in our daily lives.

The life work of Mike Robbins is focused on how to be your authentic self everywhere you show up. He gives regular talks and coaches entrepreneurs on appreciation, authenticity and compassion in the context of leadership, success and teamwork in the business world. He suggests that in order to be truly successful in our professional lives, we need to bring “all of who we are,” to the workplace, especially the things that matter to us most.

What that means for individuals and companies is having courage. Courage is a scary word for most of us because we don’t always know exactly what it means pertaining to ourselves – what does being courageous require me personally to do? To be? For those of us who have had to be courageous again and again, you know that you can’t “be it” without going through vulnerability.

Having worked with Tony Robbins over the years and taken dozens of workshops, seminars and more on the topic of overcoming fears to succeed, I couldn’t agree with him more. I have observed that vulnerability is the key obstacle that holds most of us back, and that is regardless of culture in my personal experience.

Being vulnerable is scary largely because we are afraid of the unknown and if we show up vulnerable, we tend to fear the worst possible scenario – we will no longer be accepted, respected, included, or even….loved. You have to be vulnerable in order to love fully and deeply in personal relationships and you have to be vulnerable to show up authentically at work.

Says Mike, “vulnerability is the key driver to trust and connection and it is fundamental for leaders to build trust. Trust is the birthplace of risk and innovation and if we’re going to grow and do anything different and new, we must be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not bad nor does it mean weakness, but it IS hard.” That said, Mike asserts that vulnerability is necessary to live authentically every day.

Said a coach of his many years ago, “don’t live your life as if you’re trying to survive it.” If we want to move beyond survival, we need to take risks, which involves vulnerability — ultimately, it all comes down to how we relate to ourselves. Spot on Mike, spot on. Buddhism wisdom can lend a helping hand here as well — nothing changes until we do – it’s an internal process.

Mike encouraged the audience to think about the situations and circumstances we want to have in our lives and the risks we want to take. Ask yourself: where do you find yourself holding back? Can you challenge yourself to step beyond what might be safe and what might be comfortable? Strong but important questions and ones we all should spend some reflective time on if we want to live a magical life. As Neale Donald Walsh so rightfully says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

 Above image credit taken from Alissa Finerman article from http://www.positivelypositive.com. 

Working below the radar is often the hardest place be – it isn’t necessarily fun or sexy and frankly, it’s often really really hard. Meera Shenoy is a woman who takes risks and is is deeply committed to making a change. By day, she’s a senior government official in India but she was led to start a non-profit called Youth4Jobs, which provides opportunities for disabled people to get jobs.

I absolutely loved the title of her talk: “Ability in Disability.” She says, “compassion and business can be combined to transform lives of the disabled.” Let’s look at the stats, which quite frankly, are staggering. One out of every 7 are disabled, and in India, it’s apparently even worse.

In the last three years, her non-profit has touched 100,000 households. One of the biggest issues for those who are “labeled” disabled is confidence since they’ve spent their whole life listening to people focus on their disabilities rather than their abilities. My heart sank as she said this as I thought of a teenager I have been getting close to has been labeled a disabled child of sorts and sure enough, her biggest disability isn’t what she lacks physically or cognitively but in fact, lack of confidence.

Meera’s work is so important as is her message: once you can get people to focus on what the disabled ARE capable of doing, then you open up opportunities you couldn’t even imagine, which fundamentally changes family’s lives and destinies. After they learned that self esteem was the number one issue disabled kids had, it was the first challenge they addressed as a non-profit.

Next came training them with skills they lacked — from language and computer skills to yoga. As these kids went through training, every new word mattered. The final piece was curricula in banking, retail, manufacturing and ultimately wherever the jobs were. Rather than suggest disabled people can only work in “some industries,” they developed training in jobs that were already abundant and brought them to the disabled market. Soon, they realized it was not enough to change their students and their trainers, but they had to change the mindset of companies as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this shift became their biggest challenge as a non-profit organization.

They’ve added 100 new companies who have become first time employers of disabled youth. Overnight, the equations can change. Her inspiring story teaches us that if we can employ one person in a family we couldn’t have before, we can transform a family’s entire economic situation and over time, a whole country’s growth and prosperity.

Dan Viederman who is the CEO of another non-profit called Verite, a non-profit, is focused on eliminating slavery in companies and supply chains.  Many people may not realize that there are 30 million people who are working in slave-like conditions. I was aware of its existence around the world and in countries you’d not necessary expect, but I didn’t realize how chronic the problem was or the volume.

There are many workers and migrants around the world who are paying more than they can afford to get jobs. This situation is a form of debt bondage and is at the center of sustainable corporate responsibility and slave labor.

As companies started outsourcing work offshore, many didn’t realize there were unfair conditions happening under the hood. Enter Verite, who does social assessments to make sure there is no slave labor, unfair practices, or unsafe conditions. Through their research, they learned that there were an astonishing number of serious labor violations, such as pushing employees to work hundreds of hours a week for months at a time and unfair treatment of women. The common thread in most of these cases was that there were foreign laborers in these countries doing the work.

Another sad factoid: one third of the workers in the electronics industry in Malaysia are effectively slaves and forced labor.  The same happens throughout Asia (in Taiwan, the apparel sector is one such industry where it thrives) and in the Middle East. Apparently, 20% of Indians have spent time in jail because of visa fraud. Fifteen years into the business, Dan and his team now have a deeper understanding of the issues at hand and how to address them.

From the Vatican to Obama, agreements are in place to make sure that companies don’t have forced labor and slavery in their supply chain.  Says Dan, “essentially, we need to ensure that workers never pay to get jobs.” He encouraged the audience to go to brands they like asking them to be more open and transparent about this issue so more people can become aware and speak up. Hear hear!!

Comedian Emily Levine is also an activist and a producer. I first met her when she delivered a TED talk on the main TED stage when it was still held in Monterey way back when. She had me in stitches on and off the stage when we first met and I was thrilled to not just see her again (she’s a genuinely warm and inspirational woman worth knowing) but to see that her witty writing and humor is as brilliant today as it ever was. Her talk also addressed a pivotal and relevant theme that eventually we all have to deal with – how to gracefully handle life change and grave reality when it hits!

As part of dealing with it, she is producing a video called Emily at the End of Chaos which she hopes will get America to “change its mind about everything.” She wryly asked the audience before getting warmed up: “Is it rational to measure our self worth in dollars? How do I demonitize them?”

She says she has a bad relationship with reality. Don’t we all Emily? Don’t we all? I found myself saying under my breath as I watched her pace the stage. After all, everyone around us makes up reality every day, from Disney to those on the Hill during the Bush administration. She adds, “we are an empire who says, ‘we create our own realities.'”

She goes on: “the problem with action heroes is that they always take responsibility for themselves, but they never come back and pick up all the lemons they spilled all over the ground.” The audience laughs. It’s funny, but of all the micro-things that don’t matter and many that do that I spend far too much time thinking about, I never thought about the absurdity of that one.

Emily says, “what I learned is that we need interaction heroes. We have to give up the idea that we can control everything. We can do our best but we cannot control anything. We cannot make things up but the idea in our head is not going to over rule reality.”

She added, “we have to accept situations as they are when they come up regardless of how absurd or shocking they seem later on, like a situation that may sound absurd when in fact, it could so easily be reality. Here, she told a joke: An old woman is driving to the store with her daughter and proceeds to go through one red light after another. The daughter says to her mother, “are you aware that you just went through two red lights?” The mother turns to her daughter and says, “Oh, am I driving?”

Anyone been there? Reality can be hard but embracing it when we want to run from it or avoid it, can sometimes be the most freeing thing we can do. And, oh yeah I might add that Emily’s comical facial expressions when she tells a joke or simply shares a story always bring me to tears. If you want to bring a smile to your day, look up some of her talks on YouTube — her style is highly intelligent and magical.

Shifting gears entirely, Eric Rasmussen then took the stage to share best practices on dealing with a major disease outbreak. He has been the principle investigator at DARPA and instrumental in working with the Ebola Crisis for the White House.

“Ebola is a tragedy, there’s no doubt about it,” says Eric. “But,” he added, “we’re a learning civilization. We work to try to make the next catastrophe a little better with more knowledge under our belt.”

Once they found the third Ebola case, it was called a medical emergency since 2,000 people had already died from the disease. Ebola stats are severe: as of the time of his talk in late Feburary, 23,000 had been infected and nearly 10,000 have died, with 833 healthcare workers infected and 488 of them dead. The impact has hit healthcare, education, agriculture, income and lifespan. An entire year of education has been lost in West Africa. Up to a million people in West Africa will be food insecure because of Ebola. Schools closed, mines closed, jobs were shut down and life expectancy dropped.

That said, the Ebola crisis is now waning because public health actually works says Eric and he added with positive hope in his voice, “we have learned a lot. We now have a new surfaced disinfectant, which is 100% more effective and an effort called HuaDao, which is an eco-city being built in the south of China that will be shared freely throughout China and throughout the world. The UN-WHO has altered the way they do business, and diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines are being moved into a rapid protocol they haven’t had before.”

While there’s no doubt that Ebola has negatively impacted thousands, the fact that major initiatives and plans have been implemented to help reduce the risk of fast acceleration of future outbreaks is a godsend.

I was thrilled to have the Queen of of the Flute Viviana Guzman on our stage this year as we had hoped to have her join us in 2014 but she was off traveling, no surprise since she spends more time on the road than not, having played in more than 120 countries. Her on-stage story was of her emotional journey from being in a cocoon in a child (literally) to flying out of one.

A Chilean-born flutist, she dealt with medical issues from a very early age prohibiting her from walking and resulting in more operations than she cares to remember. Having started musical training at the age of 5, by age 15, she had played as a soloist with orchestra, studied with Jean-Pierre Rampal and was featured on national television, recently receiving a Grammy Nomination for her work.

In addition to sharing the challenges she faced in her life and what she learned from them, she played a few different flutes from around the world, for flutes in different countries are in fact very different. Who knew? She played the Tahitian flute with her nose because that’s how it’s played in Tahiti.

In between performing various flutes, she spoke of overcoming fears and obstacles, a common theme from this year’s TEDxBerkeley speakers. Gratitude is core to her life. “Rather than think about my childhood condition as a disability that would hold me back, I saw it as an opportunity,” she said. She now feels grateful for a pain free life and encouraged the audience to feel the gratitude of whatever they have, rather than focus on what they don’t have. In other words, embrace life’s challenges for in that embrace, those challenges can transform us.

And alas, the final speaker of the event is a name my sisters who live on the other side of the country do not know, but is a household name among Apple enthusiasts and those in the technology and business world. Note cards in hand, Apple co-founder and geek extraordinaire Steve Wozniak, took the stage with a goal not to deliver a talk or give a speech, but to share anecdotes and personal stories from his time at university, which included quirky things about Steve Jobs and ‘early Apple days.”

Known more commonly in the industry as simply Woz, fundamental to his life is Food, Fun and Friends. “There might be a fourth F,” he said with a smile on his face. I wondered if his F’s priorities were in the order he mentioned them.

Woz said that when he was a student that he had posters of computers in his room and taught himself on paper and pencil how to design computers. They say it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something.  He noted, “if I have the same answer as everyone else, they might call you brilliant, but that’s not what it is.”

He became a pacifist during the Vietnam War which when he was still studying at UC Berkeley.  He shared stories of getting caught in the middle of a tear gas blast during a protest, how they learned to make calls from a pay phone on someone else’s dime, the time they went to Tijuana in an old Pinta and made it through the border with gunpowder, and when his buddy Harvey set off an M80 in the middle of 17 pounds of saltine crackers piled on the top of someone’s bed. I guess Woz and I spent our college years a little differently.

He was warmly welcomed by the UC Berkeley crowd as an alum, likely their most successful one. I’ve met Woz several times over the years and the top three things that most jump out about his presence are his genuine warm authenticity, his coy, fun almost child-like behavior just below the layer of his brilliance, and his inherent interest in helping others around him.  I personally adore him and am grateful he was able to join this year’s impressive set of speakers.

Below, the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet perform, while making the crowd laugh with their creative song selections.

Musical talent Valerie Joi gives us cause to reflect on forgiveness and how it can free us the more we’re open to it.

The art of control. The art of focus. The art of discipline. A force of nature. I was blown away by the energy of the Japanese drumming group Cal Raijin Taiko who made me want to learn more about Japanese culture and music.

I found myself smiling ear-to-ear during the entire performance of Punjabi dance group Cal Bhangra, their energy electric and their aura exuding pure joy.

Below, four incredibly inspiring women worth knowing — Dr. Victoria Kisyombe, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Meera Shenoy and Carolyn Gable — lay low in the Green Room before they take center stage for their talk.

Below, the TEDxBerkeley Team from left to right: Chris Lew, Erin Roberts, Lucky Ding, Max Wolffe, Jennifer Barr and Renee Blodgett.

While I didn’t capture summaries from every single speaker, they were all phenomenal — there wasn’t one speaker who didn’t get me to think about the world in a new way. Video links to all the speaker’s talks can be found below, so you can tune into any or all of them, which I’d highly recommend — their insights may just transform how you view things and people around you or at the very least, shed some light on an issue, problem or event you’d had in your own life, OR, are about to…

Video Links to Performances

Photography by Renee Blodgett.



TEDxBerkeley 2014: Rethink, Redesign & Recreate

This year marks the fourth year I’ve been involved as co-curator at TEDxBerkeley, an annual TEDx event held at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley California. Now in its fifth year, this was the first year the event sold out at 1,700 and that’s not including volunteers and our team. We had an outstanding line-up of speakers and performers this year, and the talks were centered around this year’s core theme: Rethink, Redesign, Recreate.

Below is a summary of a handful of the talks, but you can find out more about the speakers on the TEDxSpeaker page and through their online videos which should be posted sometime in February or early  March 2014.

Kicking things off in the morning was well renowned entrepreneur and former Apple evangelist, Guy Kawasaki,  whose talk was entitled The Art of Innovation. Addressing entrepreneurs and wanna-be entrepreneurs, he suggests that rather than draft a mission statement, create a vision with real meaning…in other words, a mantra of why you should exist. Fedex doesn’t equate to a series of trucks that deliver packages, but Peace of Mind.  

He also pointed to the fact that so many companies try to innovate from the same growth curve rather than jump ahead of the curve which is where real innovation happens – that was Kodak’s fail btw. Change in an industry is inevitable, so don’t lag behind because you’re too set in the way you do business and too inflexible to pivot to a new vision before it’s too late.

When you start to think from a truly innovative place, you’re essentially rolling the dice.  If you have indeed jumped to the next innovation curve like Apple did, it’s okay to have some crappiness in your product suggests Guy, as long as you get it out there. No surprise coming from an Apple veteran who worked alongside Steve Jobs who is known for his infamous slogan: Real Artists Ship. Taken from Steve Levy’s book Insanely Great, which chronicles the creation of the first Mac, he writes: 

“One’s creation, quite simply, did not exist as art if it was not out there, available for consumption, doing well. Once you get the computers into people’s homes, you have penetrated their minds. At that point all the clever design decisions you made, the turns of the interface, the subtle dance of mode and modeless, the menu bars and trash cans and mouse buttons and everything else inside and outside your creation, becomes part of people’s lives, transforms their working habits, permeates their approach to their labor, and ultimately, their lives. 

But to do that, to make a difference in the world and a dent in the universe, you had to ship. You had to ship. You had to ship.”

I couldn’t agree more and have seen more ego and time spent on details that simply don’t matter get in the way over the years of getting a product to market for the long haul. The next part is also true – once you ship, you will suddenly be surprised how people start to use your product in ways you didn’t even anticipate. With Twitter, it was the same case as well as from countless other products and services which have been documented over the years. It’s up to the customer not to you since they drive your future.  

He also thinks its smart to polarize people even at the expense of major push back from corporate brands. He cited Tivo as an example because of its ability to time shift TV. Great products polarize people – don’t be afraid of polarizing people because that will upset the status quo. He also spent some time on the “pitch.” Hear hear Guy since so many social media purists argue that there no longer is a pitch, it’s just a conversation. Bottom line – both need to happen in a raw and inherently authentic way for sustainable success. It’s astonishing to me how many CEOs don’t get that.

Also in the first session, Carol Sanford started her talk with a moving statement “It took me 42 years to find an answer of how to change the world.” She moved into a dialogue about what she refers to as The Responsible Entrepreneur, which is anyone who is helping to bring a new business into the world which creates a better world. To learn more about the modern entrepreneur and the responsible ones, she dives into the Four Game Changing Archetypes.  

Of those timeless archetypes, she cites the warrior who can see things the rest of us cannot see, the clown or the court jester who thrives on bringing the connections to those who cannot see the nation, the hunter who thinks about governance and how things work.

Every Responsible Entrepreneur represents an archetype, each with a unique role to play in the entrepreneurial system. As she references in a post she wrote, “cultural anthropologists have identified all four in every healthy culture, and all four are needed to ensure the health of our own evolving social system. Each takes on change differently in search of different outcomes and all four approaches can also be found inside established organizations, among intrapreneurs who lead change.” 

Archetype 1 is the Freedom Entrerpeneur, driven by the desire to live freely and creativity, and their contribution is the intense pursuit of perfection, potential and “doing it right.” Examples include Steve Jobs and a Samurai warrior.

Archetype 2 is the “Social Entrepreneur”, who is the  foundation of change, since they play a key role in identifying and exposing gaps in traditional thinking. They often sacrifice for the greater good while seeking to mend a tear in the fabric of society others often don’t see.

Richard Branson exemplifies this archetype when he takes on outrageous endeavors to call attention to what’s missing from the global dialogue, or when he designs businesses that foster camaraderie and mutual understanding. 

Archetype 3 aka, the Reciprocity Entrepreneur supports the whole by making sure that all life gets what it needs. In other words, they work to make the systems that nourish us healthy. Reciprocity entrepreneurs see the need to work in balance with human and natural systems.

They seek to reduce the harm we do on Earth and in society. An example of this archetype is Oprah Winfrey, who in the course of her routine business has done more to evolve education—for girls in particular—than anyone in the traditional school systems. Lastly, Archetype 4 who is the Regenerative Entrepreneur. They seek to guide people and organizations as they cross boundaries and create transformations for a better world.  

What I loved most about her talk was the correlation to tribal behavior that can be garnered from each modern stereotype and why each one is valuable to the “whole” since each of the four archetypal entrepreneurs approaches growth and change differently. She notes that each is critical to revitalizing democracy and, on the larger world stage, capitalism itself. Rather than reference examples of Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, she talks about the warriors who are doing innovation in the fishing industry and in sectors and products most of us may have never heard of, but are bringing forth true consciousness in a unique way. She referes to them as the reconnection entrepreneurs.

She says to the audience: “If you’re one of those people who wants to change the world, ask yourself: Do I want to change industries by connecting us with values and can I go after a whole industry?  Can I bring conscious to the way I do business or the way I do a non-profit? Do I want to bring a sense of repriocity where we understand that we’re all part of a whole? Do I want to reconnect us to government and corporate business and individuals where we are all complete?” I loved this woman’s energy!

Connective Bahavior Expert Kare Anderson spoke on the power of mutuality and how to think about mutuality in work relationships. What do you well and with whom and when do you not?  That wonderful sweet spot of shared interests can be an inoculation and help us see things in a bizarre way,” said Kare.

For most of our lives in the business world, we’ve been advised to lead and manage others. We’ve been taught to resolve conflict, influence, negotiate and otherwise attempt to get what we want from people.Through self-improvement, we’re told we’ll become happier, smarter and more attractive, successful and self-aware. The problem with that paradigm however, she asserts, is that there is no “us” in the equation. Wouldn’t you prefer the camaraderie of smart collaboration over being lead, persuaded or managed?

What’s missing is the guidebook on how to engage with others to accomplish something more powerful together than we can alone. From within that mindset, she addressed successful methods to be successful, such as the best ways to find and recruit the right partners and groups, following a set of rules of engagement? 

Mutuality happens in the military, it happens in the operation room, it happens in boardrooms, it happens when we create big things, says Kare. There are benefits to hanging out with those who can help you think about a process differently, i.e., fast thinkers hanging out with slow thinkers. Seeking people out who are different can provide more meaning, more adventure and more assistance. The more grounded we are, the more we can see people more clearly and understand what they are saying and not saying.

Specificity creates clarity. Sometimes you need to slow down to get that clarity and to make things happen, and when you slow down, people suddenly start smiling more which improves interconnections at work and at home.

Often, when we see something that move us, we project other qualities that have no relationship to them. Think about when you get in sync, you suddenly start to walk together. Welcome to the power of mutuality. When you walk together in sync, you suddenly start working together more effectively. 

Whatever holds our attention controls our lives and what gets rewarded, gets repeated. Our behavior is contagious to the 9th degree. In a civilization where love is gone, we turn to justice. When justice doesn’t work, we turn to violence.  Violence isn’t just about shooting, it is about ignoring humanity. The anecdote is mutuality. Great great talk!

Paul Rucker is a visual artist, composer, and musician who combines media, often integrating live performance, sound, original compositions, and visual art. His work is the product of a rich interactive process, through which he investigates community impacts, human rights issues, historical research, and basic human emotions surrounding a subject.

Paul spoke about Recapitulation, his Creative Capital project that parallels slavery with the current day prison system. He did this with data visualization of maps he created of the US prison system with data from the organization Prison Policy Initiative, and a slave density map from 1860 showing slave populations in some areas of the south at over 90 percent. Even though the US population is only 5 percent, the prison population makes up 25 percent of the worlds prison population.

Whereas African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the country’s total population, they make-up 40 percent of those incarcerated. His work also examines the colossal disparity in the racial composition of the U.S. prison population and points to the vast number of African American’s whose lives have been affected by both the institution of slavery and prison system.

Paul says “Slavery worked”. From a cost benefit analysis, you can’t argue with free labor. The economic impact was tremendous. In 1860 cotton was 60 percent of US exports. The US provided 75 percent of the world’s cotton. This was an estimated 200 million dollars and this was 1860. Rucker taught about the importance of knowing history, and the amendments and how language was used and manipulated.

He paralleled lynching with current shootings by police of unarmed men and then showed an animation of a postcard from 1915 that he brought to life and composed new music for the imagery.  A powerful cello player, Paul often weaves in controversial and painful issues into his playing and his storytelling. 


Before, during and after giving us a historical glimpse into these issues through animated video, sculpture and digital prints, he fired up his cello again and again, each time breathtakingly beautiful.

A refreshingly creative approach to storytelling, his execution was a sweet mix of a rich interactive process through combines community impacts, human rights issues, historical research and basic human emotions. You’re left feeling that his work is rare, his findings are important as are the way he presents them and that he’s one helluva musician.

One of the more intensely passionate talks was by biologist Tim Shields, who is more excited about tortoises than life itself. Because the world looks at environmentalism and issues surrounding it as boring, a bit like “broccoli,” says Tim, it’s not a lot of fun. If something isn’t fun, people won’t spend time doing it.

For someone who has spent his entire life dedicated to studying and observing the life of tortoises, it’s also not a lot of fun seeing their dramatic decline, largely because of the increased numbers of ravens who are destroying them, now growing by roughly 1,000% in the West Mojave Desert. Ravens destroy desert tortoises and they are also destroying trees.  Says Tim, “it’s in parallel to the human species through its negligence of having no idea of what their impact is having on the planet.”

It’s the truth but not the whole truth. After growing tired of reporting on the tortoise decline, he began to focus all his efforts on the raven problem. In that process, he created a laser and they are now working on the notion of enabling people to fire a remote laser via email or via the Internet. The idea has a few moving parts.

Given that the world of gaming, drones and rovers are thriving, he wanted to figure out how to merge that growth with protecting a species.  Taking environmental action has to be deadly serious business is how we think of environmental action. We take it with a sense of grimness, as if we’re sacrificing some of our time for a worthy cause.

He asserts that this approach could make conservation fun. Players could monitor feeds from an array of drones over the region of Africa and report on poachers on the ground. How about games to monitor tropical forests or far less than stellar activities happening in the Amazon? 

Ecologists and biologists could identify possible candidates for the games since it’s a win for them given they’ll have thousands of people out there with eyes and ears to report back.  The gear heads and the inventors can manufacturer the devices, the game players can bring their skins and talented thumbs, the game developers can create the games and rovers and environmental organizations can help spread the word.  It’s a fascinating idea and personally, I can’t wait to follow his progress.

Randy Schekman, who teaches molecular biology and has won a Nobel Prize, addressed the issues that are throttling the ability for more scientific papers to make it into the public domain. He suggests that we are faced with a broken system for scientific reviews. Does that mean we’re in the dark ages with the review process? After all, it is the 21st century so there should be no reason to limit someone’s access through a print only model or place limitations so only a fraction of scientific papers can ever be read. 

“We need to democratize science publication so any reader of science has the ability to read a paper free of charge,” says Schekman. He encouraged people to sign a paper called DORA (Declaration of Research Assessment), which is being put forward by scholars in an effort to defeat the influence of commercial venues which negatively control the output of scholars around the world.

Beth Kanter is most known for her work around social change for social causes and her area of passion: ”Individual Social Responsibility” or ISR. She notes that individuals taking small action online can have a huge impact, whether its to help you raise money for a non-profit, someone’s sickness or cause or to metabolize grief, which she did when she lost her dad. She launched an online fundraiser to honor her father and benefits went to the surf rider foundation and an ocean conservation program.  

She encourages people to start their own ISR program. Key ways to get started: first, identify your passion and your spark, in other words, find something that you care about. Then she suggests, start talking about what you think makes the world a better place. She gives the example of a 13 year old who wanted bullying to stop at her school and started talking about it online, an effort which led to reduced bullying around the world. There are also organizations like Giving 2.0, which is designed for college students to learn about social responsibility with your peers – you can join or start an organization. Think about what you can do to make the world a better place and start speaking out about it. All it takes is a droplet into the online ocean so to speak.

Marnie Webb‘s work is also around non profit work and social responsibility as well as tools that create a ‘better good.’

Marnie-Webb (6)

Marnie wanted to recreate how we look at social issues and how we think about abundance. She says, “when we start thinking about abundance, we often don’t think we have enough, but if you start thinking about abundance differently, from a possibility place, things start to shift.”

She raises examples of organizations which have made a dramatic impact, such as D.C. Central Kitchen, whose mission is to reduce hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise. After they kicked things into gear, people began to realize that people in soup kitchens were eating better than kids were eating in local schools. They made a paradigm shift.

Youth Uprising helps youth kids in Alameda, in apparently one of the worse areas of the United States. Kids were crying out for a safe place to hang out and so they turned an abandoned Safeway supermarket, then a derelict building, into a a safe environment and playground where kids could go to play. Asks Marnie: “what if we look at resources that exist and figure out a way to do this together by orchestrating a way to raise enough money and resources and get it out to the right people?” For what it’s worth, I have been a fan of Marnie’s work for years.

Brenda Chapman touched my heart when I first heard her speak at TEDxUNPlaza, an event I was also involved in earlier this year. She started her career as a story artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation where she worked on films such The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Fantasia. Chapman was the story supervisor on The Lion King (my favorite modern musical and yes, I’ve seen it a half dozen times). She is most known for her work as writer and director of the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe winning Brave. 

Brenda is a great storyteller and this came out as she went back to childhood to share her journey with the TEDxBerkeley audience. She spoke of her professional timeline starting back to the days when stories depicting dreams of little girl that revolved around marrying a prince and living happily ever after to the more modernistic and adventurous image we see of women in BRAVE. My favorite moment (it was during rehearsal) was when she spoke of the moment she knew she’d become a feminist.

She looks at us with tender but intense eyes as she goes back to the past and recalls that defining moment, “when my father said ‘we can’t find the salt and I have 3 women in the house, I knew things had to change?”. Her father was a man who retired to the LazyBoy chair after work every day while women made dinner, cleared the table and washed the dishes. While my grandfather changed his thinking and behavior dramatically once he hit his late seventies, this way of ‘being’ for men in the 1960’s and 1970’s was very common.

When she cited that defining moment on the TEDxBerkeley stage the next day, I couldn’t help but think, “was this woman eavesdropping in my kitchen when I was a child?” The woman behind me, also in her forties, burst out laughing and one eye exchange said it all – Brenda had clearly been in her kitchen when she was growing up too.

“It’s about observation and change,” says Brenda. Observe something deep in your heart and deep in your core and do something about it.” She asks, “what is the one thing that keeps you up at night and what can you do about it?”

Her work is indicative of her childhood history and of her commitment to making a change for how women are perceived starting at an early age through the medium of children’s animated films which may end up as musicals on Broadway, which Beauty & the Beast most definitely did. I applaud you Brenda Chapman for your soul-searching work and for making the world a better place for women by depicting a different image of what we (as women) will accept and also what is possible.

Other speakers included Leslie Lang, Roberto Hernandez, Sarah Hillware, Dr. Alan Greene, Edward Miguel, Dutta Satadip and Ashley Stahl. Performers included The California Golden Overtones, Yonat Mayer, musician/clown and aerial acrobatic Nikki Borodi and Vangelis Chaniotakis and New Orleans Manifesto, a jazz group which included bandleader John Halbleib, Chloe Tucker, Manuel Constancio, Stephan Junca, Adam Grant, Hermann Lara and Sam Brown-Shaklee.

All photos: Renee Blodgett.

Louann Brizendine & Mallika Chopra: TEDxB 2013

Louann Brizendine, M.D. is a practicing neuropsychiatrist, a New York Times best- selling author, and a media commentator specializing in sex differences and The Male and Female Brain. Earlier this month, she presented on the TEDxBerkeley stage at Zellerbach Hall, an event I curate with two others every year.

I first heard Louann speak at PopTech many years ago and was so inspired by her talk that I had to hear her speak again….this time locally at a TEDx and at a university she herself graduated from. She inspired as much as she did the first time and not just me, but over 1,000 attendees who showed up for the day long event.

Now an endowed professor at UCSF, Dr. Brizendine pursues active clinical, teaching, writing and research activities, where she founded the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic in 1994 and continues to serve as the clinic’s director. Her first book, “The Female Brain,” has been translated into 30 languages and its follow-up, “The Male Brain,” is now in15 languages.

Girls have a different kind of role play which is “relationship play” she says as she talks about how female and male brains work, operate and play out in the real world. Even in the beginning, children play differently she asserts, giving examples of how the process of growth is self segregating at a very early age. Mixing wit with stats, she took us on a journey from childhood to adulthood, helping us to better understand ourselves and our children.

Mallika Chopra also inspired  the crowd as she talked about a world full of injustice, inequality and hatred. She says, “my intent is to give my kids the tools to compassionate and good citizens. As I look at my ancestors, I think about how each one had made sacrifices to ensure they committed to their own destiny.”  

Then, she throws out something that sounded like a mantra: “I am responsible for what I see, I choose my own experiences. Everything I ask for is what I have asked for and this is what I have received.” Some of her mantras and lessons learned have obviously come from her father, the infamous Deepak Chopra.

She was taught to ask for intentions every day for what she wanted to achieve in her life. “Intents are not goals, they are who we inspire to be at the deepest level,” she says.

Mallika continued in a reflective and soft tone, one which drew the audience into her parlor for 18 minutes of insights and lessons.

“In meditation, we often ask ourselves, who am I. The more I ask that question, the more mysterious it becomes. I realize that I’m part of my environment and my own expeirences but I’m also about my own legacy of what brought me here today. My children are growing up in a multi-cultural environment. Their classmates are diverse – kids in their class is from China, India, Latin America and other countries from around the world. When you know what came before you, it inspires humility, and reverence for life. Reverence for life is of the utmost importance. This week, we experienced a horrible terrorist attack. We realized once again the tenuousness and the previousness of life. Hopefully while we are all dealing with a lot of fear, we also saw that humanity is loving and people want to help each other. We hopefully reaffirmed our values to become the catalysts for change so we can make a better world.”

She asked us to think about our parents, the parents parents and the children, and the children’s children — in other words, our heritage. When we think of ourselves in the context of the continuum….something bigger than ourselves, then we have a deeper sense of ourselves and what matters in life.

She asked people in the audience to go into a minute a half meditation, asking us to breathe in and say I and to breathe out say the word “am.” In that process as we all breathed in and out, she asked us questions which was woven into our inner thoughts: who am I? what do I want? How can I serve? At the end of this exercise, I felt a sense of peace and relief, even if for a moment in time. Given the stressful work load in my life over the past few months, that moment of serenity felt like an eternity. Mallika, thank you for that.

A toast here to two fabulous women who once again inspired me on April 20 and no doubt, will continue to do so for the rest of my life.







Robert Fuller on Rankism: TEDxB 2011

Robert-fuller (13)Robert Fuller’s TEDxBerkeley talk this past weekend brought me back to my own childhood as well as made me reflect on the childhood of my parents and grandparents.

He was fresh and frank when he spoke about racism, how it is baked into people’s DNA for generations before its ‘hold’ becomes undone entirely.

This lead him to his work and passion for not just understanding rankism, but turning it into a movement so the generation behind us doesn’t let rankism create more nobodies.

Refer to his book: Nobodoes & Somebodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rankism.

One thing I loved about Robert Fuller was his astute attention to things and people. I saw him in the green room early on and then back stage and as he was wandering around, it was not just as a speaker waiting to go on, but as an observer of ‘intention,’ listening in that way where you knew he was absolutely present for every part of it.

He started his talk by focusing on the word DIGNITY. He says, “to claim such a future, we have to own up to our past,” and reminds us that the past of our species is a predatory past.

“Among your ancestors, there were some great predators or you wouldn’t be here,” he says. “Dignity is on the march yet it is defined by its absense.” As for how the absense of dignity shows up? Words and actions that are patronizing and condescending, which often come across as threats, even if they’re quiet ones.

Robert brought up examples in his own upbringing at a time where racism was prominent and not hidden. Even though he is a generation behind me, it applied to my own childhood and I was raised in the Northeast, not the South. He also shared stories of where it shows up today in India and Bangladesh among other emerging countries.

His calming and purposeful voice then recited a portion of an Emily Dickinson poem on stage:

I’M nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody too?

There there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

From examples to emotions, I loved the way he took us on a journey of dignity and lack of it and an awareness of rankism. Robert shared a thought he had in the middle of the night during a dream: Nobodys of the world unite, we have nothing to worry about or lose but our shame.

You have to wonder if you have such a powerful thought, one which you remember in the middle of a dream as if you were lucid, is it important enough to become a movement? Or a book? Or at least something to act on even if in some small way?

He says, “you can’t start a movement unless you know what you’re for and what you’re against. When women realized that they were against sexism, they had teeth.” He then moves onto the ‘dignity movement’ and asks “what is the dignity movement is against? It is against humiliation, it is against talking down to people, it against one upmanship, and it is against rankism.”

He says, “when you’re a nobody, you look for other nobodies, so you’re not a freak and so you have a pal.” And while I’m sure many of the people in the room reflected on grade school, high school and even college, rankism occurs everyday — in our social encounters and in business, and sometimes it occurs where we are a part and sometimes it occurs where we are the observer.

Robert says with intent, “you’re probably wondering whether our predatory nature of our past is embedded in our DNA and there’s nothing we can do it. I remind you that this is exactly what men said about the women’s movement.  Rankism is the residue of predation. Rankism and predation are extremely dangerous…..and humiliation is more dangerous than plutonium.

I’ll leave you with this thought as he left us with this and other important observations about dignity, rankism, humiliation and how we treat people everyday.

Protect other people’s dignity as you would your own.

He ends with this powerfully simple but important statement: “there’s only one thing that is more important than how we treat the planet and that’s how we treat each other.”

David Rose on Storification: TEDxB 2011

David-rose (4) In the first session on the TEDxBerkeley stage on Saturday, product designer and technology visionary David Rose talked about enchanted objects. He showed us how you can build and program whatever you have ever imagined, talked about what’s currently happening with game play, and demonstrated how the folks at MIT have been reinventing painting among other insights.

For years, David has been working on the reinvention of medication packaging with wireless technology.

He is known for embedding Internet information in everyday objects like light bulbs, mirrors, refrigerator doors, digital post-it notes, and using umbrellas to make the physical environment an interface to digital information.

He says, “if you’re in the software business, you should try to enhance animated objects. If you’re in the objects business, think of objects as avatars for surfaces; combine that with gamification in order to achieve a goal.”

David challenged us to think about storification…..in other words, embedding the experience into a larger narative. He says, “displaying information in multiple ways changes people’s behavior.”

Also take a look at the talk he gave at Lift ’09 on “Enchanted Objects – How fiction foreshadows innovation” which is not the same talk he gave at TEDxBerkeley however in the talk, he does talk about enchanted objects and ‘lassos of truth’….he gives examples of comics and fictional female characters ‘as objects’ including Wonder Woman and Snow White. He says of the invention and the fictional character, “rarely do you see the two collapse into one person.”