TED: Exceptional Media + Ideas for Change

On May 13, at the offices of Philanthropy New York and via livestream, I moderated a discussion on the power of ideas and how TED is using media to tell stories, ignite imaginations and spark social change. (Check out the Storify.) We were fortunate to be joined by TED’s Curator, Chris Anderson; the Executive Producer of TED Media, June Cohen; and the Executive Director of WITNESS, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm. Big thanks to Philanthropy New York for organizing and hosting this conversation.

Between the main TED conference, which occurs each year in Long Beach, California, TEDx events that take place around the world and TED Talks at TED.com, TED is quickly moving into the ranks of global media brands that are able to proclaim “billions and billions served.” Operating under the motto Ideas Worth Spreading, TED has done an extraordinary job of nurturing ideas, celebrating innovators and acknowledging peoples’ innate thirst for information and community.

A few clear themes came out of our conversation. First, storytelling matters. Stories resonate with people on an emotional level and we’re learning more about the power of stories to incite change (we’ll be delving into the impact of storytelling on June 4 at our next Media Impact Forum, which will take place at the Ford Foundation).

Second, taking risks is key. Chris noted that TED put videos on the web to “see what would happen,” and shifted from thinking of itself as a conference to being an organization that spreads ideas. This little experiment changed the entire organization and set off a flurry of new initiatives, vastly broadening TED’s reach.

Third, people want to be connected, want to learn and share. TED is founded on the belief that sharing ideas can be transformative, and can create real change. Notably, it’s also founded on the principle of free information — there’s no fee for watching — and that model of giving away content is central to TED’s growth and success.

Fourth, we are all competing for eyeballs and attention (thanks for reading this much of my post), and the media you share has to be exceptional. Visual media has enormous power to create a shared sense of community, but the production quality and content must be really compelling.

Many organizations are experiencing the same dynamic, though perhaps not as dramatically as TED. Our own session at Philanthropy New York was a full room and a lively discussion, but with the miracle of livestreaming roughly 200 people were allowed to participate in our meeting remotely. Even without a lot of technical resources, we are all able to extend our reach in this way.

Finally, TED is doing what relevant organizations do — exploring new approaches and new partners and pushing at the boundaries of innovation. So far, collaborations with the philanthropic community have been on a case-by-case basis, but TED is looking for more strategic partnerships and wondering whether philanthropy and TED can ask the same questions and bring their respective resources and expertise to the table.

Some notable collaborations have already taken place. The Gates Foundation has supported TEDxChange, designed to help foster global conversations on health, development and education issues, and the Knight Foundation is formally working with TED to help create opportunities for action and measure the impact of all this sharing of ideas. We’re certainly looking forward to the next iteration of partnerships between philanthropy and TED.

Posted on Philanthropy New York’s Smart Assets Blog

By Vincent Stehle, Executive Director, Media Impact Funders

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