Social innovators come to BYU for TEDx event


[soundslides width=”620″ height =”503″ id=”190508″]Members of the BYU community and social innovators from across the country rubbed shoulders and talked about how to change the world at BYU’s third TEDx conference on March 28.

TEDx events are independently funded and organized events patterned after and licensed by TED Conferences. A number of presentations, called “TED Talks,” from TED conferences have gone viral online. Over 1,500 smaller, independent TEDx events will take place during 2013, in locations ranging from Finland to Honduras.

Fraser Nelson, Director of the Community Foundation of Utah and past president of the Utah Nonprofits Association, gave a presentation that was not typical for BYU. Nelson identified herself as an atheist and a liberal and spoke in support of equal rights and discussed problems she sees with the nonprofit sector.

“A pro-gay marriage talk at BYU. That takes guts,” tweeted Joshua Magleby from the audience. “I like that #TEDxBYU is making us listen to many different issues and be open minded.”

Nelson didn’t view the presentation as such a gutsy move, though. Although she felt nervous about the public speaking, she wasn’t concerned about the audience’s reaction to her content because of the sense of shared commitment to community she experienced with friends who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I didn’t realize I was being brave, I was just telling the truth,” Nelson said. “I just think that having people speak really authentically about who they are is helpful. I wanted to defend the government and say, ‘Let’s not starve the beast.’”

The Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance honored another speaker, Kushal Chakrabarti, as its Social Innovator of the Year. Chakrabarti left to found Vittana, an organization that connects students in twelve countries across the world with microloans to help them complete their educations.

Four BYU students presented together at TEDxBYU. Benjamin Gong, Kyle Durfee, Natalie Dance and Jace McLaws are all Social Innovation Student Fellows with the Ballard Center. They have demonstrated their commitment to social innovation through internships ranging from a renewable energy company in Beijing, to the Polaris Project, to Ashoka US in Washington, D.C.

Jessamyn Lau helped organize and spoke at the first TEDxBYU in 2011. She was in attendance this time representing the San Francisco-based Peery Foundation, a sponsor of the event that has helped train and mentor the Social Innovation Student Fellows. She tweeted approvingly following their presentation.

Lau obtained her master’s of Business Administration at BYU and maintains a connection with the school.

“I love coming back to BYU as an alumna,” said Lau. “It’s amazing to see what is possible when creative, thoughtful and deliberate students want to use their life and education for good. I don’t think BYU has a monopoly on that, but (with Peery) we’re figuring out how to truly support students in doing good, better.”

Lau said her own TEDxBYU talk was a good opportunity for introspection.

“It was fun, but so nerve-racking,” Lau said. “I loved the opportunity and appreciated the challenge of asking, ‘What might I have learned from life, so far, that would be valuable to share with a whole audience?’”

Attendees Annie and Nicholas Romano, who are both currently in BYU’s Master of Public Administration program, said that the personal touch in TEDx presentations was valuable to them.

“It’s not necessarily new material (that I get here), but new perspectives. Everyone has their own piece to bring to the table,” Annie Romano said.

“It’s important to be at the venue so that you can meet these people,” Nicholas Romano added.

Notre Dame graduate student Steve Lehmann attended as a part of a team competing in the Ballard Center’s Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition.

“(I like) to get to know and talk to folks that are like-minded and a force for good in the world,” Lehmann said.

Videos of the presentations will be available on the TEDxBYU website by May.

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