Among rapid technological advances, an accelerating environmental crisis and escalating worldwide conflicts, the news appears to reflect a new reality every day. TEDxCornellUniversity’s annual conference, which is themed “The Future is Now,” will feature speakers who are pioneering change in the face of these unprecedented modern challenges.
TED — which refers to technology, entertainment and design — is a non-profit committed to spreading ideas, typically through powerful talks that run for 18 minutes or less. TEDx events include live speakers and recorded TED Talks and are managed independently under a free license granted by TED.
TEDxCornellUniversity’s upcoming “The Future is Now” conference will be one of the over 3,000 independent TEDx events that are formed around the world each year. The conference will take place on Saturday, April 29 in Statler Auditorium with five talks.
Lior Cole ’23, an IMG model and tech entrepreneur, will discuss how artificial intelligence and Web3 can be used in creative endeavors. Rumbi Mangwende ’23 is a student entrepreneur who will discuss how the term “social entrepreneurship” can be used to undervalue minority-run businesses. Mark Kreynovich ’19 and Dillon Carrol ’20 are nonprofit founders who will talk about their experience supplying humanitarian aid to individuals affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Prof. Sarah Evanega M.S. ’03 Ph.D. ’09, plant science, who also leads stakeholder communication at Pairwise — a food-tech start-up — will discuss how biotechnologies can be harnessed to foster a more sustainable and healthy food system. Paul Rose, former vice president of the Royal Geographical Society and an expedition leader on the Pristine Seas team of National Geographic, will discuss our collective responsibility to better the world through science and exploration.
When asked about the theme “The Future is Now,” Justin Yehuda ’23, who is an organizer on the speaker curation team, explained that the slogan refers to the rapidly changing world.
“I feel like the world — over the last couple of months even — has gone in a crazy direction, especially with the way that technology has improved,” Yehuda said. “‘The Future is Now’ is a celebration of times changing.”
According to Paulina Klubok ’23, who is also an organizer on the speaker curation team, “The Future is Now” had been considered in previous years. However, Klubok noted that the team was particularly inspired by their “Ideas Worth Spreading” series, which featured small write-ups of students’ ideas.
“It was so cool to hear what students had to say. So many Cornell students have so many interesting ideas,” Klubok said. “Seeing that made us very excited to give that opportunity [to speak at a TEDx conference] to younger people this year to share their stories.”
According to Jessi Schlewitt ’24, another organizer on the speaker curation team, TEDxCornellUniversity speakers are chosen through two pathways — an application process and a recruiting process. In the application process, individuals can nominate themselves to speak at the conference. During recruitment, the TEDxCornellUniversity team reaches out to potential speakers that fit the year’s theme. Then, potential speakers are interviewed to determine who will ultimately speak at the conference.
“What we look for in the best lineup is a vast diversity of ideas,” Schlewitt said. “We want each talk to be especially interesting to one particular demographic in the audience but applicable to everyone.”
Schlewitt explained that after speakers are selected, speaker curation organizers work closely with each speaker to develop talks that are understandable, concise and powerful.
“A key piece of advice that we give each of our speakers is, ‘How can you ensure that the audience that comes and attends the conference is going to leave remembering exactly what you want them to remember?’” Schlewitt said. “And ‘how can you ensure that it’s going to be something they actually apply to their lives when they leave the auditorium?’”
Mangwende is the founder and current chief executive officer of EthosSphere, the first marketplace solely dedicated to ethnic beauty products. The venture uplifts entrepreneurs of color by providing a low-cost, personalized distribution channel through their fulfillment center.
In her talk, Mangwende will discuss how as a minority entrepreneur leading a business targeted toward an underserved population, her company was exclusively labeled “social entrepreneurship” — which refers to developing, funding and implementing solutions to community issues — rather than just as “entrepreneurship,” leading to her acquiring less funding.
“[Venture capitalists] see [my business] as a non-governmental organization or a charity business, instead of a highly profitable corporation,” Mangwende said. “Venture capitalists would tell me really crazy things like to stick to the Black funds [and to] stick to the women funds.”
Mangwende noted that all entrepreneurship could be defined as social entrepreneurship, considering businesses are meant to help people.
“So even though we created a title [social entrepreneurship] to be inclusive, by using that title, we’re actually segmenting founders, and we’re giving them less capital than they deserve,” Mangwende said.
Mangwende said that she was eager to bring attention to the real-world consequences of biased word choice.
“I want people to start to dismantle their internal biases when they hear certain words — specifically, social entrepreneurship,” Mangwende said. “I want to see if any light bulbs go off in the audience.”