About Athena

TED Conference

TEDGlobal 2012

Areas of Expertise

International Development and Social Change, Impact investment, Demography and Population Development, venture philanthropy, Social Innovation

I'm passionate about

Social innovation, Impact Investing, Co-Creation, International Development

Talk to me about

Professionally: Youth, education reform, and collaboration; international development, demography, and social policy. Personally: cycling, travelling, food, and literature

People don't know I'm good at

Making filtered coffee.

My TED story

TED first came up when a friend of mine told me about these cool new talks that you could download as podcasts. It resurfaced 2 years later when I started teaching, and the talks became my staple for engaging young students in the fascinating road that is life. At that point, I realized TED would have so much more impact if it became a platform for learning for youth. By happenstance, I met another TEDster whom was equally passionate, and we raved about the idea for a good 2 hours. 2 months later, I went back to that TEDster to bring her onto the first TEDxYouth@HongKong team. 4 years later, we're still working together to create opportunities for the young people of Hong Kong. In 2012, I had the opportunity to finally attend TED Global and the TEDxSummit - both of which were life-changing experiences.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 3 years ago
Sheikha Al Mayassa: Globalizing the local, localizing the global
I enjoyed the talk, and it is a wonderfully hopeful view of Qatar that I hope is realized. I completely agree in the cultural negotiations of identity and development. I mean no disrespect to Sheikha when I say all the parts afterward. Based on an issue that has grown in my mind more and more in the past year with TED, no matter how good the TED talks now, I no longer find them that novel. Yes, the ideas in general are interesting - often eloquently expressed, and wonderfully witty and humorous. However, I am beginning to find TED a tad stale because it is not controversial enough, and not trying to challenge and push its platform and potential further. I can't help but wonder if the curation of the TED Talks is too mainstream, and without enough reflexive ability to challenge tough and controversial ideas. How much of TED is really just reinforcing a community of people who generally agree on mainstream issues - despite the diverse occupations and sectors? Is it innovation within the box of a particular way of thinking? How is this talk challenging the mainstream (Western) view of how development is going in a particular region? Yes, it lends credibility that it's someone within the region, but I often wonder, if TED would have selected a speaker from the region that argued for something radically on the other view. For me, my bone to pick is the heavy bias towards education (definitely one of my greatest interest), poverty reduction, scientific discoveries, women (but not gender as a larger issue). Until I see a talk that addresses gender and sexual identity issues, and other controversial social issues, I feel that TED is not realizing its full potential of truly being a platform of innovative ideas - which begins with open dialogue and challenges from all sides, whether TED agrees or not. An idea worth spreading is the continual commitment to finding peripheral discourses, and neglected narratives.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 3 years ago
Why are there none, or so few, TED talks addressing gender identity and sexuality issues?
The thing though is that I would argue that many of the TED talks published are 'trivial' in a certain way as well. Many of them are fun, interesting, neat. How is the woman with the parrot (which I loved) of momentous societal import? I would compare gender and sexuality issues on a similar ground as Julia Sweeny's 'The Talk'. It's small, it's almost mundane, but it's relevant and it permeates a lot of things. It's not so much the trans issue, but rather that the trans issue is a visible form of the issues around gender that are very relevant to some of what TED debates about. TED has a lot of talks that address women, and the roles of women. But you can't just address the roles of women without addressing the assumptions around gender expectations themselves. On what grounds would you think that someone is confused around their identity, if when in reality I don't think it should matter at all. People should just be allowed to be whom they are, and judged on what they do rather than on how the dress or their voice pitch does or doesn't match the visible gender you think they are. You were talking about racial equality, and equality for women. Equality and EQUITY is as much about acknowledging someone with the same rights and freedoms, without taking out the unique elements that make them them - which might happen to be their religion, culture, skin colour, and gender. I'm basically just asking about how we can push this further and actually follow through with what we claim. It's not an issue of dating. It's an issue of - if this is such a trivial issue - why are so many people so uncomfortable around trans issues and trans individuals?
245509
Athena Lam
Posted over 3 years ago
Courtney Martin: This isn't her mother's feminism
This talk reminds me of when I was in university, and I got a phone call asking for an interview on political activism. I was somewhat mortified, as I had always tried as hard as possible to stay away from politics and especially activism. I had associated activism with what Courtney had discussed with the radical protests and such. When I told my friends this, they looked back me and said, "But you ARE an activist." And after thinking about it, I realized it was a label I couldn't escape. A few months later, another friend laughed at my indignant reply to my mom about a certain comment, and declared that I was much more of a feminist than her. This talk isn't something that swipes you over the head about how to be a feminist, or about changing the world. It's nothing profound, because feminism isn't supposed to be profound. It's just meant to be a shift in ways of seeing the world, and acting based on that, to be more equitable. Everyone does it differently, and by definition, even Courtney's dad, whom had resigned from his all-men's business club would count as a feminist to me. Feminism as a term gets a ton of bad rap - and for what it used to do, it deserves it. But that just means the term can be improved upon, and everyone can practice it in a more equitable and inclusive way (by that I mean including the men, I honestly don't think most feminists these days are man-haters). It's a nice talk. It was fun and insightful, and virtual hug to all the people out there who feel overwhelmed by the problems around. It doesn't need to be anything more than that.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted over 3 years ago
Courtney Martin: This isn't her mother's feminism
Justin - you're right that it's not just men in power. Moreover, the entire gendering system affects everyone, including men. That's something that feminists - or many of them anyway - have come to realize as the field has matured. I'm a woman and I don't agree with essentializing the gender binary or just hating men either. That's generally why I prefer gender studies. It's a bit more inclusive. However, it is still nonetheless a matter of fact that women are often more at a disadvantage than their male counterparts, all else equal. It would be falling into the same problem as race-blindness by saying all races are equal if we say men and women are equal now, period. It erases the opportunities to discuss inequities. I totally support TEDWomen. There are ample clubs and organizations out there that are just for men. Even if they aren't just for men, the social construct of it has made it uncomfortable for women to be a part. Engineering is a good example. Many CEO's and top managers are still men, and not just that - white men. So just as disenfranchised are people of colour. So I think it's good that there are spaces like TEDWomen around. Are we equally protesting conferences that are just for Chinese, or South Asians, or Muslims, or Jews? What about Davos? All organizations by default have boundaries. The difference between a conference that's just for rich white men is that it's those in power actively excluding everyone else. But I think it's fair that all the others who try to carve a space for themselves within these hegemonic systems.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted over 3 years ago
Courtney Martin: This isn't her mother's feminism
I don't think the revelation here is the idea of paradox. It's more a defense of feminism - as a practice, an academic field, a political leaning, or anything else it could be attached to. It's had a lot of problems - it has been essentializing, its methods (as discussed in the talk) can be dated, it can alienate people. Feminism can have a fanatical side, just as any other thought can. That statement doesn't mean very much. It says much less about the theory than it does about the people who are fanatics or essentialists. And while I would've agreed that the talk isn't profound for many people who are mindful of dogmatism, I would argue that a vast majority of people aren't. Even more dangerous are the people who think they are open-minded and then make essentializing comments. Nonetheless, i think she delivered an effective talk that was compact and light-hearted while also meaningful. Just because what she said is something you and I know doesn't mean everyone knows it; to write off the talk in such a scathing way is both disrespectful to the speaker, and demeaning to those whom did get something out of it - say as a new perspective, just like the e-mails from school girls that she cites.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 4 years ago
Do we invest in the youth of this World enough?
I checked out the link and the video! It's really well done and actually I learned a lot too. :-) And I agree with your definitions of leaders of tomorrow - the bakers part really swung my view. :P Just joking. But for sure, I think life skills should be incorporated into education. And as a teacher (for young kids, I'm only 21), I think that teaching follows the order of importance of 1) attitudes, 2) skills, 3) knowledge. Attitudes because - like in your video at the end, the people said that if they hadn't had the experience that they did, they wouldn't be where they are now - so it's not impossible to climb out of something, and if you have the motivation, you're way ahead of those who "have it all". Skills help people to teach themselves - and practical skills, or life skills are so important. For example, how to communicate, how to do research, how to do the technical stuff (make bread, be a mechanic). Knowledge is a huge one as well - I think it's true, people can learn knowledge on their own, but being a setting that is filled with the pursuit of knowledge adds to the experience itself. And honestly, school forces us to learn a lot of things we wouldn't otherwise bother to look at so I think that's good (it's really the teachers who need to notch it up in making it good). I really really like your project - I'm all about connecting communities, and giving a voice to those whom are neglected, underepresented, stigmatized, and I think a lot of that oppression (if I may use the word) is in what is left unsaid (in our stereotypes to be perpetuated, and our attitudes implicitly justified). I'm curious to know how you got it off, because you've had participants in more than one city. I'm actually going to LSE in October, so I'd love to really see the project in action once I'm in the UK.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 4 years ago
Do we invest in the youth of this World enough?
No, I think we don't. But to take the question further, how are the youth being supported? How are they supporting themselves? Where are the changes happening? I think it is - and if it's not visible, well at least it's happening around the people I know. It might be a very small drop, but it'll get somewhere some day. It might happen with an educational overhaul. But I find governments slow, so I'd much prefer the education movement/revolution at the grassroots level - TEDx's, youth groups, Ashoka...these will create the alternative spaces for youth. Here's another question: How can we learn to invest in our youth - not in the monetary sense. I think there's a huge poverty in investing in educating youth in values - and I don't mean indoctrination. You meantioned A-levels and SAT's. That starts at HK at the age of 18 months - when kids are thrown into English immersion play-groups. So in other words - to invest in our youth, we have to reinvest into the parents who have them. We have to support the parents in realizing that there are alternatives. It's not enough to tell parents that marks aren't everything - they want the best for their kids, and they're not shown the examples of those who have made it without 100%'s and scholarships. We need to offer an alternative way of helping parents help their kids too. Here's another thought: I would love to see youth as the leaders of tomorrow. But I also wonder - can't we just start at a very basic level - supporting them to be happy individuals? I really hope we're not procreating for the sake of leader-production. I would like to think we have kids because we want to, and we want them to be happy first and foremost. Yes, there are lots of problems in the world to solve, but I think happy people might be a bit better off than someone who's overpressured and unhappy. :P James - I'd love to know more about your project as well. :-)
245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 4 years ago
How can we teach young people the mindset and skills to be effective social innovators, and therefore, change schools for the good?
Dom, great questions. I'm answering down your list. If we want students to be better... To what ends? As an educator, I don't know that's what I want. I want my kids to have curiosity, passion, interest in their lives. I hope that it will drive them to great heights because it fulfills them - they want to achieve. And I think their contributions will be decided afterward. But at the end of the day, I just want them to be happy - does it matter that they're the best? Not to me, no. Understanding change in the community or global context is an essential element of a good education: agreed. And I would add that it's not just understanding (I think that makes for a good planner), but it more begins with empathy - relating. Showing them how this affects them, how some situation across the world is just like home. How we constantly change, but are not so different. Definition of the mindset of great social innovators: for sure. And as mentioned above, I believe it starts with curiosity, an interest in one's personal life, before finding others are interesting as well. It's finding passion. It's the feeling of fear, but knowing you can overcome it. Students I think need to learn attitudes that will let them succeed, and the experience of emotions and how to gain meaning from them. And of course, after that, they also need the skills to analyze, and the knowledge just as general background. Changemakers as a goal: I believe in this 100%. Hong Kong has "MaD": Making a Difference. It's basically a TED format for youth, and with tons of gov. funding it works. There is so much energy, so much passion, optimism. It's inspiring. Yes, I think the educational systems need overhauls - but before that happens, let's bypass the system and create spaces for youth to explore, ask questions, connect, and get fired up. And it's amazing where they'll take it.
245509
Athena Lam
Posted almost 4 years ago
How can we teach young people the mindset and skills to be effective social innovators, and therefore, change schools for the good?
Nic, I don't think it's impossible. I think there are teachers out there who want to truly empower and educate their students. I also think there are students out there brave enough to contest their systems - and also tenatious enough to thrive despite oppressive school systems (if they happen to be in one). I agree a huge education reform must take place. However, that argument doesn't provide insight into how that would happen. If we simply keep on saying that, then it's an excuse to not act now until the time is right. A friend of mine said the time is never right - just act now. I agree with him. Feminists fought when the time wasn't right. The gays. The blacks, the minority groups. They created movements precisely because the time wasn't right, and would never be right. I think you also underestimate students in saying that we must give them artistic tests to train artists, or that they will only blindly question everything if we teach them to question. You're not giving individuals the credit of being able to absorb concepts and reapply them in new and innovative ways. Artists precisely draw on the diversity of their experiences - in fact, I would argue that in order to be a great artist, you have to have a great sensitivity to life, or a diverse background. Otherwise there is nothing to inform the art. I would agree with you that changing what they are learning is a key step. But what they are learning is also learning techniques. That's possible to change in little ways in the classroom. I'm a teacher, and I have to teach my students RWI phonics. I'm supposed to follow the handbook - when I'm observed I do. It works, but it's boring. So most of the other times, I think up other games for the kids to learn the phonics. When they get stuck on a hard word, I explain to them why I am challenging them - because I've given them the tools already, and they can solve it. Kids don't get it right away, but somewhere along the way, they do and they will.