When the TED Conference first put videos of its speaker presentations (known as TEDTalks) online in 2006, it found a way to reach more people with its forward-thinking content. And last year, the small nonprofit debuted a new crowdsourcing program, expanding the scope of its grass-roots movement. TEDx, a concept that gives anyone—local communities, organizations, or individuals—license to host their own TED-style gathering, has spawned more than 600 independently organized events this year, from the student-run TEDxYouth@Tokyo in November to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's TEDxChange in New York on September 20. This week, there were more than 70 smaller events surrounding the TEDWomen conference in Washington.
The two-day female-focused meeting in the country's capital was an opportunity for people to discuss how women are shaping the future at a local level. One such person was Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder of social venture firm Pipeline Fund, who not only wanted to try her hand at producing a TEDx event, but also hoped to bring more exposure to innovative women who have yet to be recognized. Through the network of New York Women Social Entrepreneurs, a local chapter of Young Women Social Entrepreneurs she launched in 2008, Oberti Noguera was able to secure a venue, volunteers, and speakers to complement the simulcast of TEDWomen.
“When I heard about the TEDWomen conference in D.C., I knew I wanted to be part of making sure the visibility of the stories we would be hearing there would be available to people who wouldn't be able to attend,” Oberti Noguera said. The resulting event was dubbed TEDx636EleventhAve. “I saw having speakers in addition to the live-streaming component as an opportunity to increase the number of stories that could be shared. We had nine live speakers, and having them share their stories was another way to make sure we're mainstreaming unknown or lesser-known voices that weren't invited to the TEDWomen conference in D.C.”
Oberti Noguera's team included Julia Smith, the New York community outreach coordinator for nonprofit social networking site Idealist.org and co-founder of 826DC; Arikia Millikan, blogger and community manager of Wired.com's HaitiRewired; and Cynthia Hellen, co-creator of the Girls Who Rock benefit concert. She also had support from PR agency Ogilvy, which offered its New York headquarters as the site for the conference. Thanks to that help, Oberti Noguera was able to put together a free two-day event for just under 100 attendees. Looking to complement the assortment of speakers at TEDWomen—a list that included Ted Turner, Madeleine Albright, Donna Karan, robotocist Cynthia Breazeal, and documentary filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert—the planner invited a mixed group of individuals to present their ideas.
“It was important to me to bring more voices to the table and to showcase diversity, especially in terms of age. I knew I wanted most of those voices to be women, but I also wanted to at least have a guy involved, as well as several different types of ethnicities and sexual orientation represented,” said Oberti Noguera. Thus, among TEDx636EleventhAve's lineup of presenters were Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork, two Columbia University grad students and creators of the Solar Light Pillow; Jennifer Brown, owner of an eponymous organizational consulting firm and LGBT advocate; and Blockbuster C.E.O. Jim Keyes.
There are of course guidelines for TEDx gatherings, which Oberti Noguera was careful to follow, such as limiting speakers to a maximum time of 18 minutes, not charging admission, and maintaining the organization's mission of “ideas worth spreading” by providing cross-disciplinary content. Oberti Noguera was quick to point out that TED also provided a lot of helpful advice and direction about how to promote her event, create the program, and even prepare speakers.
“What was so powerful about my hosting and curating [TEDx636EleventhAve], was that I could have a hand in creating the tone and setting the agenda. That's what I'm so excited about with the TEDx model—that TED is enabling so many of us individuals to create our own TEDx event and provide different lenses of how we perceive 'ideas worth spreading' and go about getting those ideas to spread.”
To continue the conversation taking place at TEDWomen, New York Women Social Entrepreneurs hosted a roundtable following the conclusion of TEDx636EleventhAve on Wednesday night, with the topic “Building on TED and the TEDWomen Conference: How Can We Make Conferences More Inclusive Spaces?” In addition to looking at alternative models that could complement TED conferences and add to the experience, attendees also spoke of the need to push for greater integration of women at all TED events. The topic has already been broached by many, including Salon.com editor in chief Joan Walsh, who was invited to speak at TEDWomen, but declined.
Nonetheless, Oberti Noguera is invigorated by the open forum TED conferences and the TEDx program provides. “I hope that TEDx starts and continues to inspire TED, that these grassroots, bottom-led TEDx events influence TEDGlobal,” she said. “I'm looking forward to seeing what the conversation is now that TEDWomen is over and hear from the organizers who held a TEDx event around TEDWomen.”