Category Archives: Fellows Talks Talks from Fellows.

For more tolerance, we need more… tourism? Aziz Abu Sarah

Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian activist and cultural educator with an unusual approach to peace-keeping: tourism. In this talk, Sarah tells of how years ago, his older brother was arrested on charges of throwing stones, was beaten — and died of his injuries. Sarah grew up angry, bitter and wanting revenge. But later in life, coming face-to-face with Jewish people, Sarah realized the “enemy” were ordinary human beings who share his love of the small things in life – food, music, culture. He founded MEJDI Tours to send tourists to Jerusalem with two guides, one Jewish and one Palestinian, each offering a different history and narrative of the city. If more of the world’s 1 billion tourists were to engage with real people living real lives, argues Sarah, it would be a powerful force for shattering stereotypes, while promote understanding, friendship and peace.

For more from Abu Sarah, read his piece on the TED Ideas Blog, “What to do when your government collapses.”

Pimp my … trash cart? Watch Mundano’s TEDGlobal 2014 talk

Graffiti artist and TED Fellow Mundano describes his project “Pimp My Carroça,” in which he transforms the trash carts of Brazil’s rubbish pickers into works of art – while providing them with essential services and public recognition. Watch this talk, then read about how Mundano made a statement with election-waste art on the eve of this talk at TEDGlobal 2014!



The small and surprisingly dangerous detail the police track about you: Catherine Crump

A very unsexy-sounding piece of technology could mean that the police know where you go, with whom, and when: the automatic license plate reader. These cameras are innocuously placed all across small-town America to catch known criminals, but as lawyer and TED Fellow Catherine Crump shows, the data they collect in aggregate could have disastrous consequences for everyone the world over. Watch this talk and prepared to be shocked. And watch this space for a full-length interview with Crump, coming soon.

Fighters & mourners of the Ukrainian revolution: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

Earlier this year, when photojournalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind found herself at the epicenter of Ukraine’s Independence Square protests, she decided to record not the unfolding events but the people living them. She set up a makeshift studio and began making portraits in the midst of fire. The result is a set of haunting and intimate photos that tell a human story of the men who fight wars and the women who mourn those lost. In this talk, given at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she shows us the faces of revolution.

For an in-depth conversation with Taylor-Lind about her experiences in Ukraine, visit the TED Blog >>>

Imagination in health and medicine? 11 fresh ideas from the TEDMED stage

Nassim Assefi directed the stage program for TEDMED 2014, a conference which brought out unexpected ideas in medicine—like how one can help cancer patients with a pink tutu. Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr.

Prosthetics as sculpture, the maternal benefits of breast milk, Cuba’s radical approach to free medical education. These are just a few of the subjects tackled at TEDMED 2014: Unlocking Imagination, hosted last week simultaneously in San Francisco and Washington, DC, with a stage program directed by TED Fellow, physician, novelist and activist Nassim Assefi. On two stages over three days, 2,000 conference-goers and 80 speakers and performers gathered for an idea exchange on a vast range of subjects relevant to innovation in health and medicine.

A medical edition of the TED conference that was founded in 1995 (it’s now independently owned), we asked Assefi what made this TEDMED different from those in the past. “This was the most diverse TEDMED conference in its 19-year history,” she said. “We had slightly more women than men, more ethnic and international diversity than ever before, and a tremendous variety of fields. We didn’t point this out much during the program, but the impact of it did not go unnoticed.”

This year, it was truly a global event. “The conference was livestreamed to 146 countries free of charge, which felt like a democratizing coup,” Assefi added. “I believe being radically open is the wave of the future.”

In that spirit, for those of us not lucky enough to attend, the TED Blog hand-picked 11 of the most intriguing ideas presented on the TEDMED stage, and asked Assefi to tell us more about them. Find them below, grouped by theme. And for more speaker highlights, visit the TEDMED blog.

Photographer Kitra Cahana turned her lens on her father to capture his experience with “locked-in” syndrome. From “Father; Inchoate, Sub-Planetary, Protozoan.” Montreal, Canada, 2013. Photo: Kitra Cahana

Reverberations in global health

1. Financial compensation for living kidney donors may be a reasonable way to handle the kidney shortage crisis. Iran is the only country in the world that has legalized the sale of kidneys from living donor volunteers. The government-endorsed program has been in existence for over 25 years and is implemented by non-profit health charities. Bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere went on an underground research mission to investigate, and her counterintuitive research reveals that the Iranian solution may be the least exploitative, most equitable policy given the current kidney shortage crisis.

2. Offering a free medical education could have big benefits for the world. Cuba-based American journalist Gail Reed describes a radical experiment of solidarity undertaken by the Cuban government — founding the largest medical school in the world that freely provides training to students from the Global South, educating them to be humanitarian, holistic doctors. That experiment in radical generosity is now paying off: there’s a disproportionately high number of Cuban doctors currently volunteering in the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and these new graduates are quickly becoming a significant force in combating the global physician shortage in low-income countries.

Bob Carey started taking self-portraits of himself in a pink tutu for his wife when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, his images cheer others up too. “Jump”, from the Pink Tutu Project. Photo: Bob Carey

Art therapy

3. Creativity can come from something as difficult as ”locked-in” syndrome. Photographer and TED Fellow Kitra Cahana is well known for documenting marginalized communities. (Watch her TED Talk, “A glimpse of life on the road.”) But when her beloved father, a rabbi, suffered a stroke resulting in “locked-in” syndrome — he could move only eyelids but had full cognitive functioning — she turned her camera inward to document his experience. Instead of pitying himself for his near total paralysis, Rabbi Cahana finds spiritual liberation and blinks out long, transcendent sermons to Kitra and her family, who steadfastly watch over him. The result of their three-year journey is a new visual art form that’s both eerie and beautiful, matching her father’s extraordinary spiritual resilience.

4. A photograph can be grown. Zachary Copfer was a microbiologist working for a pharmaceutical company who fell out of love with his profession and escaped to art school instead. In the process, he invented bacteriographs, a new photographic process where he literally grows photographs in living bacteria — and, paradoxically, reignited his passion for science.

5. A pink tutu can be a tool in cancer treatment. Another photographer, Bob Carey, turned to self-portraits as a form of self-soothing when his wife Linda was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. His favorite prop was a pink tutu, which cheered him from the bleakness of Linda’s diagnosis and made her laugh. When she shared his images with her fellow chemotherapy patients and saw the comfort they offered, The Tutu Project was born. Today, Bob continues to do ballerina self portraits all over the world, donating a portion of profits to help cancer patients cope with health care expenses. The hilarious and beautiful photos remind us that sometimes, laughter heals best.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>

An Unorthodox Life: Asha de Vos at TEDxMonterey

In this recently released talk, TED Senior Fellow Asha de Vos tells TEDxMonterey her personal journey of how a girl from Sri Lanka became a marine biologist passionately dedicated to the study of the Sri Lankan blue whale – with all its joys and challenges. Watch Asha’s TED-Ed animation to learn why blue whales are so enormous. Still curious? Read a full-length interview with Asha on the TED Blog!

TED2014: Sergei Lupashin’s aerial view

A selfie from the TED2014 Fellows stage.

A selfie from the TED2014 Fellows stage.

Sergei Lupashin’s tethered flying camera Fotokite, demonstrated Monday on the TED2014 TED Fellows stage, is a pretty popular piece of kit. It’s also a nifty conversation starter. Even Edward Snowden seemed delighted with a demo (see below). We asked Lupashin what it’s been like to have such an unusual perspective on TED. Here’s what he said:

“It’s great to see the wide variety of perspectives here. As Fotokite is a piece of new technology, we’re in the phase of trying to figure out how it really fits, and bringing it to the artists, scientists and wide variety of other TED attendees has led to some amazing moments, discussions and ideas. While many of the attendees at TED are hugely successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople, it’s refreshing to feel a strong push for responsible and sustainable use of technology — something anyone building a new startup today, especially hardware products, should consider deeply and continuously.”

A freak encounter between two remote perspectives: a Fotokite versus Edward Snowden's Beam. (It's great to see him smile!!)

A freak encounter between two remote perspectives: a Fotokite versus Edward Snowden’s Beam. (It’s great to see him smile!!)

A random snap-demo for Marco Tempest and others in the lobby of TED – another TED-only moment.A random snap-demo for Marco Tempest and others in the lobby of TED – another TED-only moment.


TED Fellows in Whistler at the Fellow's pre-conference.

TED Fellows in Whistler at the Fellow’s pre-conference.


From an eye exam on your phone to bioluminescent sculpture that looks alive: A recap of the TED2014 Fellows Talks, Session 2

Session 2 of Fellows talks at TED2014 was just as unexpected as Session 1. Here, read a recap of each talk in the session.

Uldus Bakhtiozina. Photo: Ryan Lash

Uldus Bakhtiozina. Photo: Ryan Lash

Somi, singer + cultural activist
East African songstress Somi brings her smoky voice to the TED Fellows stage, with “Brown, RoundThings for Sale” from her album The Lagos Music Salon. Often called a modern-day Miriam Makeba, Somi recently signed a recording contract with Sony’s relaunch of historic jazz imprint Okeh Records.

Steve Boyes, conservation biologist
“Wilderness cannot be restored or recreated, only destroyed,” says Steve Boyes. “We are about to lose our last glimpses into pre-history.” Every year, Boyes crosses Botswana’s vast Okovango Delta in an18-foot dugout canoe in a quest to preserve Africa’s last wetland wilderness. He undertakes this 220-mile research expedition to conduct a comprehensive biodiversity survey, benchmarking the wilderness against which to note future changes. Boyes and his colleagues are privileged visitors here: the only inhabitants of the Delta are the indigenous baYei people, who have accepted the researchers part of their tribe. The explorers enter baYei territory barefoot, unarmed, with minimal food — but with hundreds of pounds of high-tech equipment: the batteries, computers and solar panels required for research and to offer real-time data online with the public — “sharing the experience with people around the world to convince them to protect a place they’ll never visit.”

David Sengeh, biomechatronics engineer
Born and raised in Sierra Leone, David Sengeh witnessed the devastation of a war in which entire villages were destroyed and an estimated 8,000 men, women and children lost their limbs to amputation.  As the country recovered, Sengeh was troubled to see that many amputees were not using their prosthetics, because ill-fitting sockets made prosthetics too painful to wear. Even in the developed world, it can take weeks or even years to procure a custom-made, single-material socket made the traditional way, with molding and casting. At MIT, Sengeh began developing a comfortable socket that can be produced quickly and cheaply, using magnetic resource imaging to get precise scans of limbs and finite element analysis to analyze stress and pressure points. With this data, his custom sockets can be produced anywhere using multiple 3D-printed materials that relieve pressure where needed on the patient’s anatomy. The new sockets are a revolution in prosthetic design, and is set to transform the lives of amputees the world over.

Eric Berlow, ecological networks scientist
Scientist Eric Berlow joined the TED Fellows specifically hoping to work with people outside of his own area of expertise. He was not disappointed: he worked with artist David Gurman on a project called We the Data about democratizing personal data, during which they reached out to experts on privacy and personal safety, including human rights activist Esra’a al Shafei and censorship activist Walid al Saqaf. Curious about other Fellows’ experiences with collaboration, Berlow recently polled the other Fellows about their collaborations, and mapped the answers. The resulting network map is startlingly dense and complex, especially given that the Fellows program is only five years old. Interestingly, 84% of the people involved had collaborated across disciplines, and many had not even met in person. Among tech, science and art projects, one collaboration stood out: in 2011, during the Libyan revolution, comics publisher Suleiman Bakhit worked with strategist Adrian Hong to evacuate tens of thousands of injured civilians to Jordan. The cloud-based interactive tool used to map these collaborations is itself a brand-new Fellows collaboration between Berlow, Gurman and Gaustav Biswas, available browse at

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>



“Change the world one eye at a time”: Audience responses to the TED2014 Fellows talks


The 2014 Fellows and Senior Fellows talks hit the ball out of the stadium on Monday. During the breaks, we captured audience impressions of this year’s talks. Here’s what they had to say. (Visit the recaps of Session 1 and Session 2 on the TED Blog for a summary of the talks.)

I arrived from Australia yesterday, so I’m very jetlagged. And I found that each of the layers of the Fellows allowed me to wake up. I’m so tired, yet each talk in a different way is cutting through the fog in my head, and reminding me of why I’ve come. I find myself simultaneously overwhelmed by the breadth and range and complexity of what people are doing, but more than anything, I feel inspired – really moved by people who are working so hard to do so many great things. – Sonya Pemberton

Bora Yoon’s music was spectacular – very ethereal, very moving. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. I didn’t want to watch her on the screen; I wanted to watch her whole body move, because you could see the performance was as much about her in the space creating the music as anything. It was beautiful. – Richard Averitt

I always love these mornings with the Fellows. I was inspired by so many of them – by Aziz Abu Sarah’s tourism initiative, Shubhendu Sharma’s reforestation project, Janet Iwasa’s molecular animations. Each was so particular, important, and interesting. It’s nice to watch somebody’s discoveries unfold. – Jonathan Nadler

I found WIll Potter the most tactful in his call to action, and helping us understand the situation. He educated me on something I knew nothing about. I had never heard of ecoterrorism. Now I would like to know what I can do. – Lydia Varmazis

Sergei Lupashin’s Fotokite intrigues me.  As director of [the US Department of State's] Art in Embassies, I’m responsible for all of the art that our ambassadors have at post for their tenure, borrowed works from artists, collectors, galleries, and museums. It would be fantastic to get aerial views of large-scale installations, and to then get artists to talk about the process. I can get video, but I can’t ever get those perspectives. It would be a fabulous tool, used correctly. – Ellen Susman

Every piece of music was absolutely exceptional. – Debby Ruth

Andrew Bastawrous’s work in opthalmology in Africa was mind blowing. He brought something that was heretofore so complicated, and just made it possible. One man, one bike, one iPhone. How brilliant. We can all make that kind of a difference. Donate a little money, donate some time, change the world one eye at a time. – Cynthia Hardy

A line from Ziyah Gafic’s talk has stayed with me all day. He said that genocide is “denied identity.” In war, what’s really happening is that you strip people away from their identity, their sense of self. He just touched me with that. I thought it was an amazing way to put it.
– Shivani Siroya

The Fellows talks were absolutely phenomenal. Each speaker that came up to the stage just kept surprising me more and more. It’s hard to actually pinpoint one that I love the most, because I think each one brought something unique and special.  This was actually my first time at a Fellows session, and what I took from this is that I want to get involved, and find out more about the Fellows program. – Orly Wahba

From 3D animated molecules to tethered kite-copters: A recap of the TED2014 Fellows Talks, Session 1

Janet Iwasa. Photo: Ryan Lash

Janet Iwasa. Photo: Ryan Lash

With the TED Fellows, expect the unexpected: 3D animated molecules, tethered quadcopter cameras, death row inmates turned lawyers, quantum chaos. It’s the fifth-anniversary edition of TED Fellows talks, live from Vancouver, and here’s what happened in Session 1.

Usman Riaz, musician + artist
The Fellows stage comes to life quietly with the melodic strains of Pakistani composer Usman Riaz’s guitar. The piece, called “Boneshaker,” accelerates into one of his signature percussive pieces. Hammering on strings with his fingers and knocking on the body of the guitar with his knuckles, the piece crescendoes and crashes. The 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Karachi is also a composer, filmmaker and visual artist.

Ziyah Gafic, photographer + storyteller
Ziyah Gafic photographs simple, everyday objects: books, keys, shoes, combs, glasses. But these mundane items tell a violent story. Exhumed from mass graves 20 years after the Bosnian War of the 1990s, these objects belonged to the victims of genocide, and are cleaned, catalogued and used to help identify the bodies found with them. Afterwards, they become what Gafic calls “orphans of the narrative,” either destroyed or stored away out of sight and out of mind. His quest is to keep them in view as a last testament to the fact that these people existed, preserving them as an easily accessible visual archive that tells the story of what happened — integrating an objective forensic perspective with human compassion.

Alexander McLean, African prison activist
With quiet intensity, British lawyer Alexander McLean tells the tale of Susan, a female prisoner living in a 7-by-9-foot cell, whom he met while volunteering in a Ugandan prison. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable when they come into conflict with the law, says McLean, often suffering torture and rape at the hands of interrogators and punished for crimes committed by their husbands. Susan, for example, was sentenced to hang for killing her husband when he tried to attack her with a machete. To help people like Susan, McLean founded the African Prisons Project, an organization that offers prisoners a legal education via distance learning so they can defend themselves in court, help empower fellow prisoners, and pave the way for a promising future. Susan finished her degree, spoke for herself in court and had her death sentence overturned. She opened a legal aid program in her prison, and will practice law upon release. This year, the project will launch a class of female inmates from Uganda and Kenya, establishing a new generation of prisoners-turned-lawyers, proving that one’s future need not be determined by one’s past.

Dan Visconti, composer + concert presenter
Dan Visconti wants to update the image of the composer from an old man in a wig with a quill pen to a figure deeply integrated and in service to his or her community. Growing up listening to pop but trained as a classical violinist, Visconti creates vibrant new ways to present classical music, letting it serve as a locus for engaging in social issues. One recent project, a work commissioned by CityMusic Cleveland, was a weeklong musical event based on the experiences of the city’s 30,000 refugees — including musicians and dancers from refugees’ home nations. This project gave voice to typically sidelined communities, helped young kids learn about their own cultural histories, connected the city’s refugee groups, and helped identify and empower community leaders. With this kind of public engagement, Visconti is embodying a new classical composer’s role for the 21st century.

Aziza Chaouni, architect + ecotourism specialist
The river that runs through the ancient Medina in Aziza Chaouni’s hometown of Fez was once considered its soul, sending water to both public and private fountains throughout the city. But since the 1950s, overcrowding, over-development and pollution from such industries as tanning  turned the stream into a toxic sewer. The city responded by covering the river over with concrete slabs, in the process destroying houses and creating dumping grounds. When Fez received a grant to divert and clean the water, Chaouni proposed the Fez River Project to uncover and restore the riverbanks, create pedestrian pathways, reclaiming these areas as public spaces and reconnecting them to the rest of the city. Over the course of years, the river is gradually being uncovered, illegal parking lots are being transformed into playgrounds, trees and other vegetation are being planted, revitalizing Fez as a living city.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>