Bruni Giussani, European director of TED, starts with a warning: "Just be aware that you might be on camera. But stay relaxed. There's no pressure!" In Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, decked out for the occasion in the colours of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, more than 550 people await the first speaker.
TED is a non-profit organization that stages events and makes them available as webcasts in order to share ideas with the power to bring about peaceful global change. In addition to two major gatherings organized each year, in Long Beach, California and Edinburgh, Scotland, hundreds of TEDx events are held worldwide. On the eve of its 31st International Conference, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement opted for this kind of communication for the first time as a means to reflect on the future of humanitarian action.
The first speaker steps forward. Edna Adan Ismail, a courageous Somali nurse and midwife, starts telling her story. This former World Health Organization employee describes her project, a maternity hospital that has delivered 12,000 children and trained hundreds of Somali nurses and midwives: "If I can throw myself into such a project at the age of 60, then anyone can."
The importance of personal commitment
That sets the tone. The common thread running through this TED is the personal commitment of exceptional figures who, each in their own way, are trying to make humanitarian crises more bearable. Paul Conneally, head of Communications and Partnership Promotion at the International Telecommunication Union, talks about advances in social media. He believes that new technologies have revolutionized humanitarian action since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This is a view shared by Heather Blanchard, social entrepreneur and founder of Crisis Commons, who explains how hundreds of volunteers provided assistance following the disaster in Haiti by mapping the evolving situation online.
On stage, boxes bearing the Red Cross emblem and wooden pallets symbolize the work of the Movement. Against this backdrop that brings home the precarious conditions of life humanitarian crises can create, editorial cartoonist Patrick Chappatte points out how other means of communication, such as editorial cartoons, can make people aware of humanitarian issues. "Sometimes we have trouble finding meaning in the profusion of images. Editorial cartoons can help us focus," he believes. Chapatte has produced 20 illustrated reports about situations ranging from the Gaza Strip to the slums of Nairobi, and made an animated film about cluster munitions in conjunction with the ICRC in South Lebanon.
The importance of the principle of neutrality for long-term humanitarian action is stressed by Fiona Terry, author and long-time relief worker. This view is shared by the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, who explains Norway's commitment to dialogue and conflict resolution.
Admiration for their contributions is palpable in the room. The music of Senegalese musician Seckou Keita and his sister Binta Suso offers a meditative interlude before the final speaker, Alberto Cairo from Italy, head of ICRC orthopaedic programmes in Afghanistan, takes the floor. He has set up a whole social reintegration system for people disabled as a result of armed conflict.
"This is such a high-quality TED because of the commitment and preparation of all the participants," concludes Bruni Giussani, European director of TED and the curator of TEDGlobal, who has taken part in around 50 events of this kind. The speakers’ contributions demonstrate that, despite the dilemma often facing humanitarian workers, a strong personal commitment and original ideas can offer a glimmer of hope during times of crisis.