Melinda Gates Inspires TEDxChange in Berlin

By David Knight |

The eyes of the world were on Berlin yesterday as the TEDxChange event looked at the big picture of the problems facing the world. The big name speaker was Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft billionaire Bill and appearing on behalf of their foundation.

She spoke of the need for more women, especially in Africa and South East Asia, to be given more access to contraception and family planning, as the role technology can play in achieving that aim.

The event, which was simulcast to 194 other gatherings in 66 countries, was held at the astonishing Trafo venue, a former power station in which a stage and gallery had been erected.

One downside was the frigid conditions – TED curator and host Chris Anderson at one point encouraging the audience to run on the spot to keep warm – but the speeches soon had attention focused elsewhere.

IDEO designer Jeff Chapin spoke about his campaign to provide better toilet facilities in Laos to combat diarrhea, German Greens politician Sven Giegold highlighted the country’s efforts to generate more environmentally-friendly power and Theo Sowa talking movingly about the African women who are increasingly finding their voice.

But there was no doubt the star turn was from Melinda Gates, whose speech emphasised that there are millions of women who want and would use family planning who do not have any access to it.

Before the event started, Melinda dropped by the equally-freezing bloggers’ room – which resembled the old-fashioned control room of the power station – to talk about her efforts to take the controversy out of contraception.

And she told Silicon Allee that new technology can help these efforts. She said: “We know that women want (contraceptive) implants; they’re used all over Indonesia, they’re used in a few places in Africa. This injection women really like to get in Africa, we can make that widely available. We can make IUDs available if women want them.

“But when I talk about new innovation – so (for) the injection today you have to go in four times a year to get that. It’s pretty inconvenient. We can change that with new technology and make it every six months instead of three. And eventually, we could hopefully make it in a much smaller pack where a community health worker could carry it in her kit out in the local village. That would change things a lot for women, so they don’t have to leave their fields to go walk to some local healthcare centre to get it.”

In addition, making injections simple an quick would help enable women to take control of their own contraception – in societies where the men would otherwise refuse them access to it through the desire for a large family.

It was fascinating to talk with Melinda, and the entire event did, as aimed, help bring the big problems into the spotlight. Opening the show, Chris Anderson praised Berlin as a place of creativity, invention and ideas, and rhetorically asked what better place to host the second TEDxChange event.

And, just maybe, that creativity can help spark something off to make the world a better place.

The stunning venue ahead of the event