2006 TED Prize winner Dr. Larry Brilliant has spent his career solving the ills of today -- from overseeing the last smallpox cases to saving millions from blindness -- and building technologies of the future. Now, as President and CEO of the Skoll Global Threats Fund , he's redefining how we solve the world's biggest problems.
Larry Brilliant's career path, as unlikely as it is inspirational, has proven worthy of his surname. Trained as a doctor, he was living in a Himalayan monastery in the early 1970s when his guru told him he should help rid the world of smallpox. He joined the World Health Organization's eradication project, directed efforts to eliminate the disease in India and eventually presided over the last case of smallpox on the planet.
Not content with beating a single disease, he founded the nonprofit Seva Foundation , which has cured more than two million people of blindness in 15 countries (through innovative surgery, self-sufficient eye care systems, and low-cost manufacturing of intraocular lenses). Outside the medical field, he found time to cofound the legendary online community The Well, and run two public technology companies. Time and WIRED magazines call him a "technology visionary."
His 2006 TED Prize wish draws on both sides of his career: He challenged the TED community to help him build a global early-response system to detect new diseases or disasters as quickly as they emerge or occur. Shortly after he won the TED Prize, Google executives asked Brilliant to run their new philanthropic arm, Google.org . So, between consulting on the WHO's polio eradication project and designing a disease-surveillance network, he was able to harness Google's brains and billions in a mix of for-profit and nonprofit ventures tackling the global problems of disease, poverty and climate change. Today, Larry is President and CEO of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, where he heads a team whose mission is to confront global threats imperiling humanity: pandemics, climate change, water security, nuclear proliferation and Middle East conflict.
“In 1980 we declared the globe free of smallpox. It was the largest campaign in United Nations history until the Iraq war. A hundred and fifty thousand people from all over the world, doctors of every race, religion, culture and nation, who fought side by side, brothers and sisters, with each other, not against each other, in a common cause to make the world better.”
“Smallpox was the worst disease in history. It killed more people than all the wars in history.”
“[Young people] are using their wealth in a way that their forefathers never did; they’re not waiting until they die to create foundations.”
“This is not something that happens far away to people that we don’t know. Global warming is something that happens to all of us, all at once.”