TED Conversations

Kate Torgovnick May

writer, TED


This conversation is closed.

What would you do for the world with $1 million?

The TED Prize has entered a new chapter, with this year's winner receiving $1 million dollars to execute their one wish to inspire the world.

This has me thinking: what would you do for the world with the $1 million prize? Answer here and you may see yourself on the TED blog soon.

Want to nominate a mentor, colleague, friend or even yourself for the TED Prize? Nominations are open from now until August 31st at this website:


  • Aug 8 2012: Growing fresh produce on poorly utilized space in urban areas has always been a goal of mine. Rooftops specifically make up a large footprint in cities that could be used in small or big ways to help increase production of a variety of produce, manage runoff water, and establish a growing, green environment in cities. I would use a million dollars to fund a project to encourage green roofs in cities without them.
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      Aug 17 2012: Absolutely like the idea! Lots of Eastern European, Soviet block countries full of block housings with flat roofs which are only waterproofed instead of finding a better use of it. I would be revolutionary idea to food industry if people supported this. Those unused/remote/untouched urban areas could be used for this as well. The other problem here is the governments who are still old school and not seeing urban farming as possibility.
      • Aug 17 2012: Thanks for the comment, Tadas. I come at this project from the standpoint of a product designer, so my initial thoughts for a project like this are based around simplicity and modularity, but perhaps the solution is more of a system rather than a product. I wish I had more exposure to other urban areas throughout the world as there might be existing materials that could be easily translated into a method for realizing this idea. I recognize that my suggestion is a bit idealized, but to even take advantage of a small portion of rooftops on residential or commercial buildings could provide some fresh produce and greenery for otherwise overlooked space. The real question is how many people can $1M help?
  • Aug 8 2012: I would start a foundation to connect adults and children as young as 10 with mentorships in a wide variety of fields. These would involve actual work and would allow kids, especially, to explore several career paths when they are still very curious and flexible. Exposing people to a wide variety of professions will help them make more informed choices, as well as give them something to strive for. If a pre-teen very much enjoyed their experience in a genetics laboratory, they are much more likely to try very hard to reach that objective with science classes and an appropriate choice of higher education. To promote self-directed learning, allow low-risk career exploration and restore the cultural institution of the mentor-mentee relationship is the goal of the foundation.

    Hopefully the exposure of TED and the monetary infusion would allow this dream to become a reality, across the entire world.
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    Aug 21 2012: I would love to put a pencil and paper in the hand of every child and teach them how to read and write... When they can write their own name they begin to know how much they matter and that they can make a difference. I would start with orphanages and with girls. What kind of change could occur if they all knew how to read and write? Then let them teach each other how to read and write and how to plant and catch water... their own imaginations would take over and they would build a better world for themselves....
  • Aug 17 2012: I would start an after-school program in low-income areas that taught kids how to cook. Each day, we would cook a meal and a snack. The snack would be eaten while at the program. The meal would be enough to feed a family and would go home with the child. The family's immediate need for food would be met and the child would be taught skills they will need in the future - whether that is simply making healthy meals for their own family or moving into a job in a professional kitchen.
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      Aug 17 2012: Mary, I love this Idea. I've done some volenteer work at a food bank and one of the problems we constantly noticed was the number of people who didn't know what to do with a bag of dried beans or how to cook a roast. I would include adults in this kind of education.
      • Aug 17 2012: Thanks, Robert! I've worked with a farm that offers a CSA/Food Stamp program which includes cooking classes. But they have trouble raising interest. I think a Food Bank where people already understand the model would be a great place to teach both adults & children.
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    Aug 17 2012: While choices help us in business to make better decisions, This is one area where the overwhelming needs of so many diverts the emotional response to focus on alleviation. Too much money is spent on temporary alleviation and hardly any to build sustainable models and infrastructure that can sustain for years and help create self sufficiency away from the cities. One need not always be helping the poor and many times the desire to maximize geographical reach becomes a paradoxical waste as we see in almost all Government programs. A tough evaluation 2 years ago had recommended a very rightfully sceptical philanthropist to fund a not very poor couple running an NGO to get their own accomodation closer to their targetted beneficiaries, rather than use those funds for supporting some families for a year or so. This has thankfully proved to benefit many more people and hopefully forever because the NGO is now able to extend benefit to atleast 100 more families per annum because they have closer access, Lesser costs of travel, and more hours to dedicate and mentor to help their targetted families become self sufficient. For me the focus of usage for a million dollars would appear to be cruel as i would not want to allow emotion to spend it all on those desperate for a meal, but execute on a model that can sustain itself over years. Replication is the lowest cost way to multiply benefit, so developing more models will yield the highest returns. Billions of Government and global aid money is wasted on emotional alleviation and after decades we still do not have a NON URBAN economic development model for the few billion who are not in urban cities. This intellectual bankruptcy of our education and research which has convinced all our rural folk and sold them just one dream; To run away to the the city and accept a lower quality of life than find sustainable ways to improve within rural environments. They have anyway sent off their kids and are waiting for ?
  • Aug 8 2012: I've been thinking lately if I were to create a foundation what would it do to improve the world. I came across this question and thought I'd pen my idea.
    I feel that an education can greatly improve an individual as well as a community. I would like to create a foundation that provides a matching college/learning scholarship for students who work while they study. Having worked multiple jobs through college to keep student loans down I strongly feel that a large portion of my education came from my work experience.
    With a million dollars I would set up a scholarship matching program that students could apply for and they could earn a scholarship up to 50%* of their tuition by contributing the same amount of money from their own work study or summer internships (Not from other sources such as family gifts or other scholarships). Students would have to pay service fee of say 10% (I have not run the numbers--that's just for example) of the match back into the fund to help fund administration of the scholarship. So if a student wants to receive 50% of tuition paid they would need to earn 60% of tuition and pay 10% of the tuition back into the fund.

    In order to receive the scholarship students would have to participate in brief financial education.

    My goal with this approach is that students would leave college with more experience working, less student debt (they would have worked to pay off some of the debt, by working and studying they would have had less time to rack up debt, and with the scholarship they could focus more time on studying and maybe less time on finding multiple jobs to fund their learning.

    This fund would be for worldwide learning and not just for universities, if someone wanted to take a course in a trades like computer repair, they could qualify for the scholarship by working for part of the tuition themselves.

    After students are successful they'd be asked to give back to the program -similar to how universities ask alumni for donations
  • Aug 8 2012: I would create a venture with tablets Manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, etc.) to distribute x000s of iPad with satellite Internet connexion to remote villages in developing countries.
    I would educate one kid per village on how to use it (to avoid human and technical problems) so he can look-up any problem the village wants to solve: how to clean water, medical questions, etc… I would also stay with them for a while to study their interaction with the interface to optimize a UXUI for easier use.

    I would then create a social network among these villages not only to monitor their use and progress, but also for them to share and interact between first nations, and not only to consult occidental approaches.

    Who knows, they might create better venues among themselves than the ones we’ve invented...
    • Aug 9 2012: I love the idea! The "I will teach you how to catch the fish instead of giving you fish" approach is more realistic and more affordable for us in the long run.
      • Aug 9 2012: Yeah. I kinda like the idea... Mainly that we can still learn from them while we still can, before they forget by learning from us :)
    • Aug 10 2012: Satellite connections are prohibitively expensive.
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    Aug 8 2012: Build a micro-hydro with an in situ (Civil engineering) approach and connect it in smart micro grind that will be further connected to a bigger nation-regional grind selling and baying from the big bro to be efficient and make money for long term expansion on renewable energy production witch will generate more energy and jobs and money.starting with the micro-hydro is the most low tech and less money eating approach.close to $300k you have this stuff set up and it will give the money back in 6 - 8 years.the rest of the money are there for help if there is need for it.expansion earlier is a possibility.
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    Aug 8 2012: Create a small scale hydroponic system like www.verticalharvest.org to grow local food all over the place.
    this will reduce the dependency on other crops, weather related issues like droughts, and will provide local organic food year round to local communities.
    many small scale systems already exist, this would be used to automate the system and develop a process that can be reproduced world wide in any environment by anyone.
  • Aug 8 2012: With the money I would continue doing Research on Clean Space Energy Farms. I currently lack the resources and funds to look into this matter completely, I would love to see this concept of mine become a reality. With the help of professionals, I could learn if this is obtainable or just an illusion. However if it was to work I believe we could provide Clean Energy to majority of the world. Although the cost is High in the beginning it would pay off in the long run. Cheers.
  • Aug 8 2012: I would start a non-profit called Sound Foundation focused on affordable introductory vocational training for electronic music and media arts. The primary goal would be to enact structural change within the K-12 educational system by creating a program that produces self sustaining revenue and remove reliance on government assistance and private donations. The program would utilize instructional revenue to bring new technologies to school systems that are notoriously slow to adapt to modern methods, while at the same time producing job opportunities for emerging artists. The secondary goal would be to encourage participation in traditional music and arts programs. We currently operate different programs throughout Southern California focused on electronic music. With 1 million dollars I would expand the programs nationally and unify the direction and curriculum.
  • Aug 8 2012: Investment in developing world internet infrastructure that will allow children to connect, learn and communicate.
  • Aug 7 2012: I would probably donate it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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    Aug 7 2012: I'd buy some of the toxic assets and burned them in my backyard!!! Awwww!!!
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      Aug 7 2012: Way to increase the value of the dollar! I see what you did thare
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      Aug 7 2012: Everything is relative. 1 MUSD; 100'000 families protected from Malaria by mosquito nets, 20 schools in Vietnam, it's 20'000 annual incomes in the poorest countries, enough micro-credit to start up 10'000 businesses in poor countries.

      Perhaps the 1MUSD could be used for those :o)
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          Aug 8 2012: Kate, well not all of it, one or the other. Though I'm willing to cut you a deal. If you buy the 100'000 bed nets, I'll throw in 4 schools. :o)
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    Aug 6 2012: pyramid-scheme micro credits for startups in economically underdeveloped countries

    Instead of interest rates the credit would only be granted with one obligation, so called 'instead rates' :o):

    Those who succeed and remain stable have to grant a micro credit themselfes under the same condition to help others, etc., etc., etc. ...
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      Aug 8 2012: bring the credits back with no interest in a very long schedule so every time a new amount is gathered you can give some credit to a new person and you'll have the potential at a point to delete a portion of older creditors reliving theme from the credit with less cost,for them.This of course based on the principal that the more stable one is the quicker he'll be relived from his credit.expanding is the goal so more can benefit ASAP
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        Aug 8 2012: There is no cost for the micro credit itself, no interest rate, and it is a long term loan if necessary.

        If the startup established on the market and gains a stable position, the loan is then to be returned in reasonable rates and without any interest rates. So you just return what you lend, not more. If the business remains stable within a moderate timeframe, and the owner was able to put some extra earnings aside, the only obligation in this 'micro credit deal' was to grand some of this earnings as a micro credit as well and for the same conditions for other people in need.

        This way micro credits without interest rates could slowly start 'reproducing' themselfs in the idea of 'help taken and given in return'.

        The original $ 1 million budged may shrink over time due to possible losses in failing startups. But if those who succeed are fulfilling their promises, the overall 'help' gained in this concept may stay the same or would even incease like a top-down pyramid-scheme.

        In any case, it was woth trying!

        Also there was no ASAP approach involved in this concept, as stability goes for urgent quantity here! It would just not make any sense to endanger a new founded business by forcing it to give out this loan in return, if its financial sitution would not be stabe.

        So slowly, yet steady the millstones grinds... :o)

        And with a bit of luck those loans may even form friendship in between the people involved, which would add a true value to the concept itself.
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          Aug 9 2012: this is an approach of stable progress and quit frankly better den mine.the ASAP is the view i have for most things.it would be preferably from my part to explain better and thoroughly my concept but i admit that i forgot the mane reason i was talking about,the humanitarian concept that you pout in it is the value itself
  • Aug 31 2012: I would reshape the creative minds of our youth that has been missing. independent children who focus's and strive for happiness beyond their selves. I would start a group organization that will teach and share ideas with children around the world. I truly believe our generation has been the dominant yet negative influence. From Media entertainment, articles(propaganda of terrorism), Teachings of division(rich and poor/Racism), and simply what truly defines happiness. I believe we all need to wake up and reach out to our youth. We simply forget the limits of our times and are easy to forget about the end(death). I would use the one million dollars to teach understandings far from education, and focus on the insights of world slavery, Natural disasters, Animal cruelty, and simply human health conditions. Would focus and deliver these problems to their attention, As I believe the children from half of the world truly live with joy. From teaching self respect, and self understanding, I believe this would generate love and understanding through one another. As the group of youth age with responsibilities, they would consider the absence of others needs to fully bring peace and equality through out the world.
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    Aug 31 2012: I'd use the money to fund a organization which inspires a human identity and sense of global patriotism, since most real issues exist at a global level and have no masses behind them, pushing, demanding, and ensuring their needs are met globally, and permanently.

    Riling up the human spirit and an identity of a global citizenry as a real living breathing thing, with both legal and political realities, has far reaching potential to address the problems we face today.
  • Aug 30 2012: I would like to help the current infrastructures that are currently in place to support the development of children (like schools) be better. Namely, I want to link these infrastructures with other community programs so that groups are able to focus on what they do best while still providing wrap-around support and services for children and teens. Having this level of coordination would provide kids with ideal environments for development and maintaining efficiency.
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    Aug 24 2012: The TED prize requires people with accomplished track record, which puts certain people at disadvantage, and does not quite promote the entrepreneurial spirit of TED, as I would like to believe it does.

    What if this TED plan was their main breakthrough? And they did not have any proven track record to wet the appetite and comfort of TED jury?
  • Aug 23 2012: I would seek further possibilities in games like foldit, using competetivness and gamers imaginery to solve complex problems. Alternatively, i would try to arrange game developers meetings with a purpose of making them introduce educational value on a higher level into their products, as gaming have became fully developed media, not only for kids.
  • Aug 20 2012: I would use it entirely to hire people for various jobs. If local people needed help with projects, it would be wonderful for the local econonmy to offer good paying jobs. Too many times help is looked at as a hand out...hand outs don't offer people confidence and pride the way a good job does.
  • Aug 19 2012: Walk up to first homeless person I met, Give them the money
  • Aug 18 2012: I'd buy out part of MTV and make 8-10pm documentary time with a bit of John Pilger for one hour and then someone aged 18-25 who is analytically and academically grappling with a work issue through documentary making with a live twitter or Facebook discussion happening whilst the programme is airing. The last half hour would invite the presenter back with a couple of field experts, a politician and a uni student/'young person' to bring up and discuss some of the points raised, raised and talked about via twitter or Facebook, 'cafe style'. Along with all the online users there would be a list of tangible things that could be done to move forward that are accessible to everyone - for example, suggestions for diret action through policy change for local and national politicians, action that can be implemented tomorrow by you and I, charities/NGOs names who are already working towards the changes discussed as well as further sites for information.

    Of course, Kim kardashian would be along for the ride... Can't completely revolutionise MTV too fast ... And I think it would be pretttttty funny!
  • Aug 18 2012: Develop the innovative NeuroKinetics Health Services medical expertise for drugless trauma and concussion treatment into computer algorithms, systems, and tools so that it can be more easily made available to the millions who need it. (www.neurokinetics.com) When you treat someone who is chronically ill, it helps not only that person, but also their family and support network.
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    Aug 18 2012: I would start a farm that run's on renewable energy. Then I would teach others (hands on) how to start a farm that run's on renewable energy. Then I would teach others how to teach others (hands on) how to start a farm that run's on renewable energy. Then I would give the $1,000,000 back.
  • Aug 17 2012: I would donate the money to further the non-profit organization The Venus Project's goal to render money itself, obsolete. That way I know that if we as humans were to ever consider having a tiny chance of surviving on this little planet and finally become civilized, we would have to declare all of Earths resources as the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. Not by force, but with education. And that is what The Venus Project is providing. The education. The blueprints of a better world. A world without money. A world where war, politics, poverty and human suffering is a thing of the past. A world in equilibrium.
  • Aug 17 2012: I would gather the crew that helped green the great Loess Plateau in China, the size of Denmark. In ten years they turned the desert into a rainforest. All done with the locals, grasroot, the only way a process can be controled and protected. I'd gather them if they're willing and take them to the next devastated area in the world, to do the same, doing it as many times as the money will last. Greening the plateau not only improved the lives of the locals, it stopped erosion which was the main cause of pollution and smog in the cities along the main river. The climate also changed, and the watter supply in the area is now at a constant high level. Greening devastated areas is the best thing we can do. It provides biodiversity, supports all kind of wildlife and can be of a great significance to future human generations.
  • Aug 17 2012: I'd like to invest the money in El Salvador (Centro America) to buy thousands of acres around the country in every community for plant millions of organic plants, fruits, vegetables and put on the market for free without a profit, every community will own acres near of they live and they will share part of his time to produce, cultivate, they will share with other communities part of what they have on hand so make that system balance,(refer to variety of vegetables in fruits, etc) Of course the families have the option to invest his time for have free healthy food or make a donation or just take it for free. Second, teach to all the people about how to eat right, how they can be healthy eating right, how to plant, care the plants, how to keep the seeds, put a descent food in the table of every family in my country. Make people feel they have a new opportunity to learn something that can help the community his families, his country, the world. Make a new agriculture system based on share without profit, without selfish making right for everyone.
  • Aug 17 2012: I think that I will design an organization that will make accessible health programs that insurance companies don’t apply because they consider not necessary but for a person do make a night and day difference like… reconstructive plastic surgeries and prosthesis.