TED Talks: Invest in social change

Here’s a stat worth knowing: In the UK, 63% of men who finish short-term prison sentences are back inside within a year for another crime. Helping them stay outside involves job training, classes, therapy. And it would pay off handsomely — but the government can’t find the funds. Toby Eccles shares an imaginative idea for how to change that: the Social Impact Bond. It’s an unusual bond that helps fund initiatives with a social goal through private money — with the government paying back the investors (with interest) if the initiatives work.

Toby Eccles has created a radical financial instrument that helps private investors contribute to solving thorny public problems.



TED Talks: Why We Shouldn’t Trust Markets with Our Civil Life

I’ve featured Prof. Sandel, of Harvard, on this site before. His political philosophy involves powerful use of classic theories applied to modern issues in ways that compel deep thought about how we approach and react to different policy in our modern world. I love the effort given to truly contemplating the existential implications of some real world data and how it frames or ought to frame political debates.

Sandel’s talk is not a direct critique of my previously featured talk from Michael Porter on the potential for businesses to tackle social problems (an idea I believe  in myself), but a philosophical compliment to balance the hope of that notion with the political reality of allowing theories of “the market” to dictate too much.

In the past three decades, says Michael Sandel, the US has drifted from a market economy to a market society; it’s fair to say that an American’s experience of shared civic life depends on how much money they have. (Three key examples: access to education, access to justice, political influence.) In a talk and audience discussion, Sandel asks us to think honestly on this question: In our current democracy, is too much for sale?

Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard, exploring some of the most hotly contested moral and political issues of our time.

TED Talks: Businesses Can Help Solve Social Problems

This video is part one of 2 TED Talks I want to feature on the role of business and market theories in solving social problems, in light of the recent success of some local company dear to my heart (/shameless self promotion).

After working in both the non-profit and private sector, I’ve become a firm believer in the potential for corporations and for-profit businesses with good people to make a positive impact in the world. In the environmental and liberal communities especially, too often the business community as a whole is denigrated for past mistakes or modern bad apples. But the potential impact of a successful, mission-driven company is enormous and the value it brings to scalability and the impact it can have in terms of local jobs and profit should not be ignored.

Why do we turn to nonprofits, NGOs and governments to solve society’s biggest problems? Michael Porter admits he’s biased, as a business school professor, but he wants you to hear his case for letting business try to solve massive problems like climate change and access to water. Why? Because when business solves a problem, it makes a profit — which lets that solution grow.

Michael E. Porter wrote the books on modern competitive strategy for business. Now he is thinking deeply about the intersection between society and corporate interests.

TED Talks: Why Mayors Should Rule the World

It often seems like federal-level politicians care more about creating gridlock than solving the world’s problems. So who’s actually getting bold things done? City mayors. So, political theorist Benjamin Barber suggests: Let’s give them more control over global policy. Barber shows how these “urban homeboys” are solving pressing problems on their own turf — and maybe in the world.

Benjamin Barber believes that the future of the world may lie with the politicians who implement practical change every day: mayors.

TED Talks: For more wonder, “rewild” the world

Wolves were once native to the US’ Yellowstone National Park — until hunting wiped them out. But when, in 1995, the wolves began to come back (thanks to an aggressive management program), something interesting happened: the rest of the park began to find a new, more healthful balance. In a bold thought experiment, George Monbiot imagines a wilder world in which humans work to restore the complex, lost natural food chains that once surrounded us.

In his book “Feral,” George Monbiot advocates the large-scale restoration of complex natural ecosystems.

TED Talks: A Tale of Two Political Systems

It’s certainly a provocative take, but there is always benefits to be drawn from confronting principled opposing viewpoints. This is especially true when looking to determine the best ways to understand, draw up, found, and maintain political structures of society.

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right? Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a successful modern nation.

A venture capitalist and political scientist, Eric X Li argues that the universality claim of Western democratic systems is going to be “morally challenged” by China.

TED Talks: How behavioral science can lower your energy bill


What’s a proven way to lower your energy costs? Would you believe: learning what your neighbor pays. Alex Laskey shows how a quirk of human behavior can make us all better, wiser energy users, with lower bills to prove it.

Alex Laskey helps power companies to help their customers cut down — using data analysis, marketing and a pinch of psychology.

TED Talks: The Economic Case for Preschool


In this well-argued talk, Timothy Bartik makes the macro-economic case for preschool education — and explains why you should be happy to invest in it, even if you don’t have kids that age (or kids at all). The economic benefits of well-educated kids, it turns out, go well beyond the altruistic. (Filmed atTEDxMiamiUniversity.)

The author of “Investing in Kids,” Timothy Bartik studies state and local economies — and analyzes the benefits of preschool as an economic development program.

TED Talks: What makes us feel good about our work?

I’ve featured Mr. Ariely here before. I’ve really been interested in his work on behavioral economics, and how much we misunderstand with simple economics 101.

What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. (Filmed at TEDxRiodelaPlata.)

It’s become increasingly obvious that the dismal science of economics is not as firmly grounded in actual behavior as was once supposed. In “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely tells us why.

TED Talks: Are we in control of our own decisions?

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we’re not as rational as we think when we make decisions.

It’s become increasingly obvious that the dismal science of economics is not as firmly grounded in actual behavior as was once supposed. In “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely tells us why.