A Dream Come True: 18 Amazing Girls & Young Women Make TED History

zoe-sprankle.jpgSusan notes: Sometimes, when you least expect it, dreams become reality. And when the dream has the potential to change the world, its realization is all the more sweet.

Two recent TEDx conferences, held two days apart on opposite sides of the world, brought my dream of gender parity on conference stages everywhere one step closer to becoming a reality. (Zoe Sprankle, left, eyes her dreams at TEDxRedmond)

Brainchild of precocious author, educator, kids activist, and TED-speaker-turned-TEDx-curator Adora Svitak, and billed as a TEDx “by kids for kids,” TEDxRedmond made history for more than just being a “kids only” gig.

I believe it was also the first conference in the 26-year history of TED to achieve gender parity on its stage. In fact, a whopping 12 of the 21 speakers and entertainers (57%!) who participated in the September 18, 2010 event were pre-teen and teenaged girls.  

The conference line-up was stellar overall, and the feminine contingent shone especially brightly. Beside curator Svitak it included:

  • Jessica Markowitz: charity worker who created her own NGO to help educate girls in Rwanda. Here’s a short video about the project, Richard’s Rwanda:

  • The Pink Polka Dots (sorry no video available): Maddy Berkman, Sierra Alef, & Kelsey Josund have raised USD 250,000 for pediatric brain tumour research.
  • Maya Ganesan: writer, poet and author.
  • Priya Ganesan: renaissance teen.
  • Olivia Bouler: aspiring ornithologist, artist, and saxophone player. Here’s a bit about her project to help birds after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:

As an advocate for gender parity on conference stages around the world, including those at TED (more about that next time), I was delighted by the breadth and depth of talent exhibited by these young TEDxers. They spoke with assurance. They shared practical wisdom. They entertained beautifully.

With this experience under their belts, they will surely evolve into even more confident speakers in the future. Equally important they will be role models for their female peers, more of whom may feel encouraged to speak up, speak out and take the stage.

TEDxChangeDubai Walks The MDG Talk

Two days later, TEDxChangeDubai, held in conjunction with The Gates Foundation TEDxChange event in New York City trumped TEDxRedmond’s first by hosting a conference in which 100% of the speaking slate comprised women.

TEDxChangeDubai was co-curated by TEDxDubai curator Giorgio Ungania, and two amazing young women Iman Ben Chaibah and Uzma Atcha, who co-hosted the event on the night. 

Atcha (aka @LHjunkie) is a 21-year-old Dubai-based blogger and activist. She writes for Mideast Youth, manages the March 18 Movement campaign, and supremely commands Mideast  Tunes, a platform for regional underground musicians and the subject of this article. Read her provocative AWR guest blog post on Islam here: Give Me Something To Defend.

Iman Ben Chaibah, a 25-year-old Emirati, quit her corporate IT job four years ago to establish Sail Magazine an independent Emirati monthly e-publication. Through Sail, Chaibah aims to re-ignite in UAE National youth a passion for reading and writing, in the belief that doing so will inspired them to future greatness. The e-magazine’s content revolves around the UAE community, as well as knowledge, inspiration and adding value.

Atcha and Chaibah were a wonderful MC tag team that introduced each of the quartet of speakers in turn. The programme had not been released ahead of the event, so the string of women came as a complete surprise to everyone in the audience.

All four were brave and brilliant:

  • Emirati Amal Al Redha, Senior Analyst and one of the founding members at Dubai Cares, the philanthropic organization launched by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in September 2007, has been instrumental in helping the organisation raise more than USD 1 billion in donations. In addition to her professional achievements, Al Rehda is a wife and mother.

  • International Development Design Summit organizer Laura Stupin has worked as D-Lab staff at MIT where she mentored student teams and lead project trips to Zambia. She is now at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi where she is setting up a D-Lab Energy program to address energy issues in the developing world.
  • Rabia Sarwar, a consultant with Ernst & Young, is also heads up the UAE volunteer chapter for the Acumen Fund, a non-profit development fund founded by frequent TED speaker and development activist Jacqueline Novogratz. Sarwar recently returned from a four-month project in Nairobi working with one of Acumen Fund’s portfolio companies, Ecotact.
  • The youngest of the four speakerst 17 years old, Ramina Sotoudeh takes every opportunity she can to volunteer with Dubai-based charities. She has also travelled with UNAIDS to Iran where she worked “on the ground” with HIV/AIDS patients. Sotoudeh’s goal in life is to further develop as a humanitarian and philanthropist so that she can “help make this world a better place for everyone.”

When Sotoudeh, the last of the speakers, stepped onto the stage, my heart skipped a beat. Both event MCs and ALL FOUR speakers were women — I was ecstatic!

Masarat Daud, 8-Day Academy founder and TEDxDubai 2009 speaker, who happened to be sitting beside me chuckled softly at my obvious pleasure and tweeted tongue-in-cheek on her blackberry:

@AmazingSusan’s dream just came true.” 


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