TEDxFulbright DC Dared Us to Think in Inspiring Ways
By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams
On April 5, a beautiful Spring morning, hundreds of enthusiastic participants filed into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hall of Flags for a day of inspiring and thoughtful conversations.
As they made their way to their seats, participants walked through the Projection Center, a visual playscape and art installation that took them to places foreign and familiar with engrossing and stunning photographs from around the world illuminated 360 degrees onto a balloon cloud fifteen feet in diameter.
Our host, German television journalist Ingo Zamperoni (@Ingo_Zamperoni), welcomed those gathered in Washington DC and thousands joining us via the livestream from 200 locations around the world. He then welcomed Harriett Fulbright, who ascended the stage to rousing applause from a grateful crowd honoring her role in maintaining her husband’s vision for a world connected by gifted individuals in pursuit of a common good.
The first session of the day, under the banner “Dare to Witness,” featured speakers whose work either chronicles or envisions what’s possible at the intersection of human ingenuity and technological knowhow.
To get us thinking globally, defense analyst Rush Doshi (@RushDoshi) showed us just how deeply location can impact history, commerce, and politics. His conclusion that, “Geography casts a long shadow, but geography can change...with inspired leadership” provoked many of us Fulbright alumni to consider just how much that may be true—individually and collectively.
A highlight of the second session, “Dare to Innovate,” was Romain Lacombe (@rlacombe), Head of Innovation of the French Prime Minister's Open Data Taskforce, who reminded us that, “With so much data, we have created a new instrument to understand the world. We now have a way to see the invisible.” Lacombe used beautiful illustrations and simple definitions to make the compelling case for using data to redraw the boundaries of what’s knowable, and to harness the power of human relationships beyond mundane data gathering.
During breaks, participants visited idea incubators in the Experience Lab, located in another beautiful room in the Chamber of Commerce. Fulbrighters who are daring to think and translate ideas into action showcased what’s possible to solve lingering problems, alleviate unnecessary circumstances, and push us a bit closer to what we can accomplish when we dare to think.
The presidentially-appointed Fulbright Scholarship Board was represented by one of the most celebrated speakers of the day, President of Pitzer College, Laura Trombley. Engaging the audience with a humorous telling of her experience as a professor in Bavaria, Germany, she illustrated the values of a well-rounded and humble approach to leadership.
World-class music closed the session as cellist Danielle Cho, co-founder of Sound Impact and frequent National Philharmonic guest, regaled us with Fantasia and Intermezzo e Danza Finale by Gaspar Cassadó, a virtuosic piece filled with Spanish melodies and flamboyance.
A tangible way TEDxFulbright recognized and rewarded innovators who dared to think unthinkable thoughts was the first-ever Fulbright Association’s Social Innovation Challenge. Five finalists presented their ideas to a panel of judges and the attentive crowd, including the winner, who joined us via Skype from Pakistan. Adnan Khawaja, a Fulbright alumnus and Acumen fellow living in Lahore created Odd Jobber, a mobile tool to connect low-income workers to jobs in sectors such as transportation and domestic labor.
For lunch, we poured out of the building and into a gorgeous day to dine al fresco under the cherry blossoms in a park across from the White House.
The next session was “Dare to Produce.” First up was Massimiliano Versace (@MaxVersace), Director of Boston’s Neuromorphics Lab, who wants robots to learn like living things learn—intuitively. By studying, and one day replicating, the neural networks that make intelligent creatures respond and adapt, Versace wants to “change the way robots are designed.”
Lisa Dyson, an energy scientist and serial entrepreneur, seamlessly explained her laser-like focus on reducing CO2 emissions by taking a cue from nature: “In nature, there is no carbon waste. There’s only a carbon cycle.”
In one of the day’s most cathartic moments, documentary filmmaker and artist Jeremy Xido (@jewuxjeux) performed a monologue that traced the connections between his childhood friend and the brutal reality of many young people in parts of Africa.
“Dare to Empower,” our last session of the day, was a testament to the power of ideas being acted on, of knowledge being shared, and of minds and spirits being unfurled by understanding, cooperation, and learning. Rebecca Davis (@RDDanceCo), founder of Rebecca Davis Dance Company, uses dance—its discipline, beauty, and creativity—to educate and empower children in war-torn countries.
The day was capped off with a Champagne and Cookies Reception in the Projection Center, where speakers and participants continued their spirited exchange. Current grantees, 425 alumni, and friends from over 60 countries came together to hear from Fulbrighters who dared to witness, produce, innovate, and empower. By the end of the day, it was clear that at the heart of all audacious endeavors was the transformative power of an individual driven to think the unthinkable, as Senator Fulbright compels us to do.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Fulbright to Spain in 1996, is a writer and editor. She was part of the TEDxFulbright Washington DC Organizing Team as Communications Director. For more, visit juleykalantigua.com or follow her @juleykalantigua
Flickr Photo Album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/90239193@N07/sets/72157644524247112/
Seldom do two independent concepts connect as well as Fulbright and TEDx. The Fulbright Scholarship Program nurtures mutual understanding and respect across cultures by the exchange of compassionate, socially aware individuals, serving as ambassadors across all fields of professional engagement. TEDx, similarly, has shown immense promise in furthering ideas for the benefit of all societies in a way that is both personable (revolutionary story-telling) and powerful (demonstrating incredible feats of intellect, creativity, and collaboration). It is our continuing wish to provide Fulbright alumni with a TEDx framework to most effectively excite and gather others to join efforts in working for the sake of humanity's progress.
Complete list of TEDxFulbright 2014 Speakers, in order of the program:
Michael Forster Rothbart