5 Important Issues From 5 TEDxBerkeley Speakers: Help Us Pave the Way

by on May 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm

As a co-curator of a TEDx event, you have a joyful honor of bringing important issues you want to see brought to the table…to the table, or in this case, a TEDx stage. Having been involved in the curation process at TEDxBerkeley for a few years now, there are speakers and writers I’ve met along the way who have haunted me — positively and negatively — the latter often provacative enough that regardless of whether it’s a pretty story, you know the story must be told.
Personal issues that keep me awake at night include the ugly embrace of processed food, climate change & the implications for wildlife and the world, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, our sad state of healthcare and education, and women’s inequalities. There are countless others, but there’s only so much that can absorb my already noisy back channel at any given time.
At TEDxBerkeley this year, we were able to bring some of those conversations to attendees.
I have always wanted Robert Neuwirth to
speak at TEDxBerkeley ever since I first heard him speak at PopTech a
few years ago. He is best known for his work with squatter communities
and poverty. He wrote Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, a book describing his experiences living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai.  
brings us on a journey to West Africa and how locals came up with a
creative way to source their own energy when the government couldn’t.

Lagos residents use energy conservation. In his time in Lagos, he saw
people get their water in large canisters not from fresh water sources
or private wells. The Lagos government claims that it provides safe
drinking water in sufficient quantities to its people, according to a
newspaper he read on his way out of the country and yet, its far from
reality. There is no real functioning water system in Lagos and other
things are not efficient either. Apparently they waste N1.5 billion by
leaving their computers on standby.
The electrical company in
Nigeria was originally called NEPA, which the people refer to as “Never
expect power always.” On a future trip, Robert noted that the name had
been changed to PHCN, which locals now refer to as “Problem has changed
name.” He says, “Lagos is the only city I’ve been ever been to where
people have generator envy. It’s a home grown system that isn’t
licensed. We can argue about their efficiency and so forth, but this is
how Lagos gets electricity.”

Because of these
issues, the Lagos government decided to privatize electricity and raised
$156 million from private vendors who want to run the system and still,
nothing has changed. This is a great example of where people
organically get together to solve a problem when government isn’t able

Yet, privatization
isn’t going to magically transform a system that couldn’t provide
electricity to its citizens. If they hugely invest in a generation,
we’re gong to need more money from the consumer and privatization
doesn’t bring anything better to the consumer. More importantly, they
don’t have the kind of democracy that talks this out.

also talked about other initiatives there, where a marketplace was
literally knocked down by Kai (the Kick Against Indiscipline squad) with
no notice and no relocation because it was deemed a rough and dangerous
mayor has a plan for a kind of urban, mega city. He wants it to be the
African Dubai, pointing to Dubai as his model. Apparently, there is a
substantial cadre of Nigerians who feel that way.  These decisions are
designed to make them look better to the outside world yet of course, it
needs to be more rational.

Kim Polese was the opening speaker for this year’s theme of Catalyzing Change. In alignment with the theme, she addressed the communications gap
between education providers and students. Students don’t know what
courses to take so they can succeed in the 21st century.
Our challenge is to preserve the excellence and transform old curriculum she says. “We face a new crisis, the skills gap, which is a crisis which is affecting everyone so we need a revolution in the teaching model, a few of which are MOOC (massive online open courses) and passive
versus active participants in online open courses (small online
classes) in SPOCS, Small Private Online Classes.
The revolution is not
about cutting costs, it’s about this new transformational learning model
that is more engaged and also it allows for mass distribution to more
people. Only 50% of undergraduates receive a degree in six years. Moreso
than that, 55% of students need remediation.
The typical student
attends multiple universities, which equates to lost dollars and time
because so much of the credits don’t transfer over. Often, a student
takes “on average” over a year of credits they wouldn’t need to take.
One idea:
What if we offered and made those transfer of those credits seamless?
Think about what Visa did to revolutionize the credit business, by
swiping a card and it just works. If we standardize undergraduate
classes so the credits can be applied as seamlessly as a Visa card is
used today to pay for products and services.
The STEM gap
(science, technology, engineering and math) aka rouhgly 33% of students who just felt
that they weren’t prepared enough is widening……in the U.S., we lag behind most
developed countries.
Five out of every new jobs will be in STEM
related jobs in the next decade and yet we’re lagging behind countries
like Singapore, France and other developing countries. If we just
focused on increasing the number of STEM graduates by 10% can produce
75,000 more STEM graduates by the end of the decade, which is close to
what Obama’s goal is for higher education.
Women are turning away
from computing, the percentage at its all time high was 34% and now its
down to below 15%. The first programmers were women. During World War
II, the army recruited a group of women out of the University of
Pennsylvania to calculate bolistic trojectories and they called these
computers women. She refers to the work of TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra.
Known for his work in education research, Sugata Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.
Many who keeps tabs on education will know him for his project called “Hole in the Wall”,
an experiment he conducted in 1999, where Mitra and his colleagues dug a
hole in a wall near an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an
Internet-connected PC and walked away.
Over time, while a hidden
camera filmed the area, the video showed children from the slum playing
around with the computer and in the process, teaching themselves now
only how to use it themselves, but sharing that knowledge with their
His goal is lofty – he invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs). He asked for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”

Second in the session was Eden Full who
is the Founder of Roseicollis Technologies Inc. She studied for two
years at Princeton University and is currently taking gap years to work
on her start-up full time after being selected for the inaugural class
of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Named one of the 30 under 30 in
Forbes’ Energy category two years in a row and Ashoka’s Youth Social
Entrepreneur of the Year, Eden founded Roseicollis Technologies Inc. to
take her solar panel tracking invention called the SunSaluter to
developing communities and established markets that need them.
SunSaluter won the Mashable/UN Foundation Startups for Social Good
Challenge and was awarded the runner-up prize at the 2011 Postcode
Lottery Green Challenge. While at Princeton, Eden initiated and curated
TEDxPrincetonU. Proudly Canadian, she was born and raised in Calgary,
Alberta. After coxing for the Princeton lightweight women’s team, Eden
was selected to be the coxswain for the 2012 Rowing Canada’s senior
women’s development team, where they won a gold medal at Holland Beker
and the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, beating the
German Olympic boat.
She shared her story about her patent-pending
solar invention called SunSaluter which she has been using in East
Africa. Provided extra electricity every day for one 60W panel to
charge, plus not just the benefit of getting extra water but clean to
people every day. She tested it out in a polit in Nyakasimbi Tanzania
and thereafter with a partner in Kirindi Uganda. The goal is deploy 200+
units to 15,000+ villagers.

Curt L. Tofteland
is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars
(SBB) program. During his 18 years of work with Shakespeare in
corrections, he facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Lucket
Correctional Complex, producing and directing 14 Shakespeare
“It is within the silence that we discover
the absence of self,” he said to TEDxBerkeley audience, as he opened
with lines from Shakespeare. “We arrive in this world, naked and alone
and we leave this world, naked and alone; we take with us our memories
and we leave behind our deeds,” he says reading a story that addressed
life issues such as dealing with truth and ego.
His work in
teaching Shakespeare to prisoners over the years was turned a movie and
he also teamed up with filmmaker/director/producer Robby Henson and
playwright Elizabeth Orndorf to create Voices Inside/Out – a 10-minute
playwriting program at the Northpoint Training Center in Burgin,
Kentucky. The program  has generated inmate authored plays that have
been professionally produced at Theatrelab, an Off-Off-Broadway theatre
in New York City.

Erica Wides from Let’s Get Real Show proceeded
to take the TEDxBerkeley crowd into the world of “real food,” versus
processed food, which has become the predominant food Americans eat
today.  She says, “artificial
has redefined the original. As Americans, we don’t even know what real
food anymore.
Food has become a hobby or fetish for some of us, it’s
become another utility like gas or electric of a real booty call.” She
asserts that we don’t really know where real food comes from anymore,
and that the
“foodie elite” is sending out the wrong message, about things they
don’t even care about.
The elite want people to care about whether food
is seasonable or organic. It’s now how mainstream America thinks she
says, who throws out examples of how they “do think:” Where is the
protein bar ranch? Is the gold fish in my gold fish crackers farmed or
caught? Why should I spend time to get real organic meat when I can get
an alternative for less than half the price?
do you know what real food is in the first place? In your grandmother’s
day, eating organic real food didn’t make you elite, keeping your teeth
after the age of 50 made you elite.  
US has the one third of the world’s excess weight. Erica says with a
sense of wit and humor that brings over 1,000 people to tears laughing:
we’re becoming the cute potato people from the movie Wally. Even my home
town of New York City, who was a thin walking city now has to widen its
subway seats for people.
for what’s real? If it grows or flies, it’s food. If you cook it at
home to bake it into a pie its real food. If that food goes off to a
factory to get processed before it gets to you, its not real food; its
what I call “Foodiness.” People are convinced that this is real food. Foodiness recasts the supermarket products as real food when it’s not real food.
we expect everyone to grow bees, grow their own fruit trees and go to
organic markets, they’ll just keep eating protein bars and gummy snacks.
While real
food might be really inconvenient it’s important to recognize that
cancer and heart disease is even more convenient when we don’t eat or
live well. The only way to make a sea change is for the elite to think
like them. In other words, says Erica, “we need to get the scooter
riders to stir fry rather than Kentucky fry.”