TEDxRC2: making the concerns of the Red Cross and Red Crescent more accessible.

21-11-2011 Interview

On 27 November, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will be holding a TEDx event on the future of humanitarian action. It will take place in Geneva’s Bâtiment des Forces Motrices on the eve of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The organizer of the debate, Anna Nelson, explains how the Movement became involved in this exciting initiative.

What does “TED” stand for?

TED stands for ‘technology’, ‘entertainment’ and ‘design’. TED is a non-profit organization which was started out with an interest in topics related to technology and design. It has since become a global web platform dedicated to the sharing of ideas.  TED organizes two conferences a year, one in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the other in Long Beach, California. These meetings have been held for the past twenty years and have been webcast free of charge on the Internet since 2006. 

Is it somehow a new way of learning?

Through TED ideas spread like a virus. TED has even been described in some media as the “Harvard of the 21st century”. Beginning in 2009 the people who created TED noticed that people all over the world were greatly interested in organizing similar events. As a result they decided to set up a new programme, called “TEDx”, the “x” indicating that the event is organized independently, but with TED’s authorization.

Why is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement holding an event of this kind?

TED and TEDx have the common goal of sharing ideas to change the world. I believe that some people think of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as out of touch with their reality. Employees and volunteers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies might well be under the impression that the Conference is closed to them. It occurred to me that a TEDx event would make discussion of topics covered during the Conference much more accessible. Our Movement comprises so many people who have exceptional stories to tell the world. The Red Cross exists because one man, Henry Dunant, more than 150 years ago had an outstanding idea. If he were still alive today, he would make an excellent speaker at a TED event. There are many people within the Movement who have ideas about humanitarian work that are worth sharing with the wider public.

What does “TEDxRC2” stand for?

TEDx events are usually named after the place or town in which they are held, such as TEDxGeneva or TEDxEPFL. Since our TEDx event is global by nature, I was looking for another, shorter, name. TEDxRC2 (pronounced “RC square”) is original and meets this requirement.

TED events rely on the power of personal accounts, which can have a very strong impact. In the past, what kinds of stories had your audiences glued to their seats?

One of the most popular videos was presented by Jill Bolt Taylor, an American neurobiologist who testified to the existence of an immaterial reality after she suffered a brain haemorrhage. Her video was viewed all over the world. A Swedish statistician, Hans Rosling, touched a great number of a people because he succeeded in bringing to life the most obscure statistics imaginable, especially figures on population growth and the Millennium Development Goals of the UN. And then I remember a young man from Malawi, William Kamkwamba, who showed how he used spare parts to build windmills. His story was deeply moving. TED makes it possible to spread stories that can change lives and inspire other ideas.

How did you get the idea to organize an event like this?

One day someone sent me a link to a discussion with the philosopher Alain de Botton. I found his presentation really inspiring and wanted to know more about this form of communication. Then, in September 2010, a TEDxChange was organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to discuss progress made on the Millennium Development Goals. The event was held in New York and people in eighty other countries watched the video. I was invited to the viewing session in Geneva. It was there that I said to myself that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement could do the same. I knew someone who had just started working for the organization TEDGlobal. We got in touch and she thought the idea was fabulous. Everything started from there.

How will the TEDxRC2 event differ from the others?

The theme of the Geneva event is “Multiplying the power of humanity”. We expect it to be attended by at least 500 guests, including ambassadors, politicians, senior officials of the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, representatives of international organizations, academics, journalists, scientists, youth volunteers and others. Our audience will be very international, with participants coming from all four corners of the world, from Azerbaijan to Vanuatu.

What will the event consist of?

It will last two hours, during which eight speakers, all of whom are in some way connected to the Movement but most of whom are external to it, will share their vision and ideas for meeting the humanitarian challenges of the future. The two hours of discussion will be webcast in real time in English, Arabic, French and Spanish on the site www.tedxrc2.com; the webcast is expected to be followed by people in many different countries. We also have a group of volunteer bloggers who will be in attendance in Geneva or follow the webcast, to generate a “buzz” on the social networks in several languages, including Chinese, Arabic and French.

How is the ICRC financing the event?

I would like to point out that the budget for this TED presentation is fully covered by external donors and that none of the funding comes from the ICRC’s annual operations budget. Our partners are the Republic and Canton of Geneva, Radio Télévision Suisse, Nestlé, Lombard Odier, Mövenpick, Getty Images, Livestream and ICV. In addition, the management of the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices has spent a lot of time helping us organize this event. Without them we could not have done it.



Anna Nelson
© ICRC / Jean-Yves Clémenzo