Beth Barnes talk

BethBarnes_portraitNow we hear from Beth, who is a student at Exeter College. We wanted to hear what young people have to say and what they want, and Beth won a competition to speak today.

Beth is telling us about a system that allows us to direct our resources to what we think will do the most good: charitable giving. Increased transparency of governance mean it is possible to find charities who are doing great work, such as the Schistosomiasis (spelling?!) Society.

We are used to a world in which the most resources are invested in things that are not important. What if we directed our huge resources to solving global poverty? 10% given by 10% would generate $4 trillion. It would only take 5% of that to solve poverty, so Beth has given us a shopping list for the remaining 95%, with some left over to fund a mission to Mars!

Effective Altruism encourages and helps people to give well – via e.g. GiveWell, Giving What We Can websites. The latter asks people to give away 10% of their lifetime earnings. Wouldn’t it be good if everyone did this?!

Dick Moore talk

DickMoore_portraitThe focus in the third session is switching back again to the UK. First up is Dick Moore, a passionate advocate for mental health in children and teens.

“How are you?” he asks. Statistically, 26% of us will be suffering from a cold, 46% from an injury, and about 70 of 460 in the theatre from some emotional or mental health issue.

He is showing a photo of his family: Dick, his wife, and their four boys. Life was kind, with decent schools and university opportunities. Three of the four coped well with life’s ups and downs. The fourth, Barney, lacked confidence to be in a group of people. He had a serious relationship, which sadly ended. He tried to win her back, and became obsessive, to the point of saying life was not worth living without her. He was eventually sectioned, but he argued his way out. Dick gave him a letter saying that he was loved, but Barney didn’t read it. Later he took his own life.

Dick and the rest of the family were heart-broken. Eventually the storms gave way to some surprisingly silver linings. The relationship end wasn’t the underlying cause of Barney’s action. Just as diabetes is a physical condition, so depression is a mental condition that can’t just be ‘got over’. Barney killed himself because he wasn’t equipped to deal with the storms of life.

Dick doesn’t blame anyone in particular. But in the world we’ve become obsessed with hard evidence and measurements – perform better, look better, and be better. Young people are under more pressure than ever, and the outcome is occasionally emotional turmoil. The World Health Organization estimates a 300% increase in self-harm in the UK in the last 10 years.

If you were to work out in the gym for an hour, the release of endorphins makes you feel good. Self-harm leads to an immediate release of endorphins. Why haven’t we explained to young people how they can cope with pain without resorting to physical harm? Suicide among young men accounts for more deaths than AIDs, violent crime and road traffic accidents added together.

Worry, anxiety and stress are part of life. At what point do they become problems? Life is in three parts: sometimes fun, sometimes normal, and sometimes stormy. If we are lucky, the storms are short-lived squalls. Others experience longer-lived storms or even hurricanes.

How are we teaching children resilience? The New Economics Foundation suggests we can help young people be more connected through noticing the world around them, being physically active, engaging with new ideas, doing random acts of kindness. Dick argues we need more – a fundamental change in attitude, led by schools and universities.

We need to explore what and how we are teaching and assessing at every level. Prioritising mental health will have a direct and positive impact on academic performance. We need to embed social learning in all academic institutions, in every lesson, not as an appendage. Edutopia is working on this in the US.

Dick encourages anyone with influence to encourage this change, so that young people in the future can dance, rather than drown, in the rain.

Celia McKeon talk

CeliaMcKeon_portraitCelia is asking us to clench our fists, tighter. How would it feel to clench it for ever? Now open your hand, stretch it out, and notice how that feels.

It wasn’t until she was 16 that Celia realised how important security could be. She was in a camp in Europe, and became friends with a Croatian girl. During the Balkan conflict, she wrote to her friend, but eventually lost contact. She was horrified that her friend was exposed to such experiences and insecurities. So she got involved in peace-building.

Time and again, she has learnt that peace and security are built by talking about the root causes, with an out-stretched hand and not a clenched fist.

In places like the UK not affected by such conflict, we can still ask what security means. Does it mean defence? Pictures of tanks and barbed-wire fences?

Sources of insecurity include patriarchy, militarised violence, climate change, concentration of power, financial insecurity. All cross boundaries, and require collective global solutions. So the 20th century requires us to build security with an out-stretched hand. Yet the global spend on defence is over $4 trillion dollars. There is something wrong.

Iraq and Afghanistan have been dubbed ‘strategic’ failures for Western governments. We are deploying drones, supposedly precision strikes, but more than 100 people have been killed when trying to kill one leader. Which has led to even higher resentment. Everyone has a clenched fist.

We are told there are no other options. But there are, from a different starting point, relying on building relationships, confronting inequalities, and recognising humanity. There are seven elements required, including: access to work, access to food, health protection, trust in communities, political participation.

Celia is sharing stories of how this has worked in practice: in the Philippines via a touring government commission; in northern Mali via many community organisers; in Northern Ireland via a touring citizens’ inquiry.

It is not a magic solution, but conversations and the willingness to listen are powerful. In the UK’s ‘war on terror’, we need the courage not to respond to a clenched fist with another clenched fist. How instead can we build basic security for everyone? Power – the UK elite are tied into global military sales – isn’t working. Let’s consider being vulnerable instead, where most break-throughs have come. The most transformative moments in peace processes around the world are when the risk is taken to build relationships… unclenching the fist and offering an out-stretched hand.

Celia later lived in Croatia for a while. War veterans from all sides are being brought together to talk and listen. So ask whether politician’s approaches are building true security, and recognise that we have the choice to harness creativity. In the end, our future is likely to depend on the kind of security we choose to believe in.

Karima Bennoune video update

Karima Bennoune featureKarima Bennoune’s talk – sharing stories of real people fighting against fundamentalism in their own communities – was a highlight of TEDxExeter 2014, and has now been featured on TED.com and watched by more than 1.25m people. She has recorded a video update for us.

She didn’t dream that the battle would be even harder now, against the ideology of IS. Has the West stood with the people within the Muslim countries that are fighting these fundamentalisms? They have continued to cosy up to the Gulf states. Meanwhile, the UK has become an exporter of jihadists. Karima’s contacts in the US are standing against fundamentalists in their own US cities. Her contacts in Algeria have been beaten for displaying a banner listing the names of women killed. The authorities are silencing their people.

Karima asks us to raise our voices in their support, and to continue to share her original TED Talk. One of her stories was about Amel, a women killed in Algiers for studying law. Amel’s mother died recently. There was little healing for her, where there is no justice and little opportunity for remembrance. But hope (which is the meaning of Amel) lives on when stories are shared.

Karima’s father wrote an open letter: “Your movement is the negation of reason, democracy, common sense and Islamic universal values. It is doomed to fail.” We need to work together to make this so.

Karima has felt much anger this year, at the atrocities and at the Western response. She has written a poem “Why I hate Islamic State”, a gut-wrenching conclusion.

Chetan Bhatt talk

ChetanBhatt_portraitOur next speaker is Chetan Bhatt from LSE. He’s commenting on how people generally try to pigeonhole him… as a Hindu Kenyan Asian. But also all sorts of people from his London background are part of him.

Questions about identity and origins are difficult – we might cheer and fight for them, but often we just assume we have them without thinking about it. But the responses are important socially and politically.

Often conflicts are based on old stories of origin and identity, myths which can be about nation, race, religion, caste, culture. Some say origin stories give people a sense of belonging, but Chetan sees them as adding to human misery, and dares us to refuse them. Instead we should develop a deeper sense of personhood, responsible to humanity as a whole; origin myths disguise global power and inequalities.

Tradition is not the same as history. They are often in conflict. Chetan tells two stories of growing up in London.

One is of his next door neighbour, who was National Front, racist and threatening, but today is a family friend, gentle and kind.

The other is of a quiet Hindu boy who became involved in Al Qaeda. He like others discarded his ‘impure’ past to become ‘authentic’… but it is using a forgery of the past, not returning to the past. Ordinary Muslim beliefs can never be pure enough, so are obliterated. The claim to tradition is at war with history.

Purity, certainty, authenticity – all lethal. Today’s main Hindu fundamentalist organisation has roots in Fascism, and has engaged for decades in violence against minorities. Fundamentalists see religion and culture as their sole property.

Chetan respects the right to have and express culture and religion, but not necessarily the content. There is no human right to not be offended. In a genuine democracy, people express different views, and change their views.

Why do we have pride in our nationality – an accident of birth? We live in a global world where goods and services are owned and provided internationally. There is no pure nation or culture. Culture is about many things, but often is what’s decided by the powers that be.

So Chetan asks: what about our identity? Each self is complex and messy, so why not value impurities and uncertainties? Why not be sceptical about origin myths? Be creative… He is showing a slide of a tin of haggis curry. Mmm… fusion cuisine!

Chetan tells the story of Dr Siddiqui, a Muslim fundamentalist. He was shattered by the story of a Pakistani girl who was raped and then exceuted for adultery, and reversed his position to work courageously against fundamentalism.

Ibn Rushd, a 12th century Muslim thinker, said that religious truth may conflict with rational truth, but the latter is still true. There are two distinct realms of truth, and they should be separated, i.e. secularism, or separation of church and state in the US, and laïcité in France. Ideas that shook his world, and ours.

Clive Stafford Smith talk

CliveStaffordSmith_portraitFuelled by tea and a cookie, it’s now time for the second session – Global Connections – and Clive Stafford Smith.

He begins with a tribute to his aunt who died recently. She was born at the wrong time, when opportunities were not available to women. His dad had bi-polar disorder, which has led to some interesting stories! Many of his actions were not the action of a rational mind. His aunt couldn’t accept that her brother was mentally ill, so didn’t accept that this drove his actions and were not necessarily bad in intention.

… Which leads to a story about Ricky, a convicted child molester and murderer. His mother was severely injured in a car accident, and while she was pregnant continued to be given all sorts of drugs, one of which has been linked to paedophilia. Ricky developed psychosis from an early age, and started molesting other children even though he had no idea what he was doing. At some point he had a counselling session, which told him he had a mental disorder and shouldn’t be released or he would reoffend. He was bright, so himself wrote to the state board saying he shouldn’t be released but kept in a mental hospital… but bureaucracy intervened… and then he killed a child.

The DA tried to seek the death penalty. Eventually there were conversations between Ricky and the mother of the boy he killed, who heard his story and said she’d fight for him. But the DA continued to seek the death penalty, and the mother was now considered to be unfit to parent her other children.

Ricky himself wanted to be a case study, to improve understanding of his condition. At the trial, the mother wanted to testify that Ricky was mentally ill and should be kept in a mental hospital and never released. Her testimony supporting him was very moving, and Ricky was spared the death penalty.

Clive concludes with two points. First, the mother was a victim, and the government tried to teach her to hate, but she tried to understand. Second, a person with mental health issues needs to be understood and not hated, which might get us to a place where we can prevent harm.

Carmel McConnell talk

CarmelMcConnell_portraitCarmel points out that we live in the 6th richest economy and a great loving country, but we are living towards the end of the worst economic downturn in 80 years. Prices have gone up and wages down, which has led to a problem of child hunger, and this is a real problem for education.

0.5m children in the country go to school too hungry to learn. Children get a great lunch, but the most important lessons are usually in the morning.

Carmel was researching a book on change activism, during which she spoke to headteachers about inequality. They all said that they had hungry children, and across the country, 55% of teachers are bringing in food for children. She asked why the parents aren’t feeding their children… and was told the parents are hungry too. Children were late or not attending school, because they were foraging for food, and they had behavioural problems.

So she started bringing food to five schools every day. And that made a difference. Children were attending and on time. They could focus, and behaviour and social interaction improved. Carmel therefore had a hard decision… continue to advise big business on making a difference, or make a difference herself.

She chose the latter, so now Magic Breakfast is delivering breakfast to 17,000 children every day, at a cost of 22p per child per day, or £45 per year. They want to reach the 0.5m sustainably, tackle holiday hunger, and make the case for change. They are only a small team, and need to be catalytic on the ground. Ofsted is on board, as the project is driving improvements in school performance.

Carmel tells the story of Zara, who is seven. She often needed to ask for food at cafés on the way to school, but often didn’t get any. She was at risk of being excluded for being naughty and affecting the whole school. But after a bagel and a glass of milk, she was settled and the whole school was ready to learn. She visited No.10 with the school, and sat in the PM’s seat. Perhaps Zara or one of those 0.5m could be PM one day?

TED Talk – Candy Chang

The second TED Talk is from Candy Chang, asking about how we can build community in our neighbourhoods. She started the “Before I die…” movement, and we are using blackboards today in the Great Hall and a number of our livestream venues. She asked people to reflect on their lives and complete the sentence “Before I die, I want to…” Her talk itself is wonderfully life-affirming. I recommend you watch it, reflect, and…

Rachel McKendry talk

RachelMcKendry_portraitRachel wants us to take out our mobile phones and hold them up. Virtually everyone in the room has a phone, each of which has more power than the computers which helped to put a man on the moon. And they can help provide an early warning system for viruses.

Viruses and other infectious diseases are some of the main threats to our increasingly interconnected world. Ebola highlights the threat, and the importance of public health. Doctors protect individuals. Public health protects populations. The reality is that most countries have little public health provision, so Ebola went undetected for 3 months, until it was ready to explode.

The flu pandemic in 1918-20 killed more people than World War I. Pandemic influenza is at the top of the UK government risk register, and it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. It’s not just a question of health, but the economy and provision of essential services. Also, antimicrobial resistance is growing, which the Chief Medical Officer describes as a ticking timebomb.

If someone is infected, there is an incubation period before symptoms arise, during which there is a risk of passing it on. There are more delays before diagnosis and intervention, which has a serious effect on PH efforts to prevent the virus spreading. So we need to pick up infections at the onset of symptoms.

Rachel’s team, across many disciplines and organisations, is using reporting of symptoms on the web to form early warning systems. There are 7bn mobile subscriptions in the world. Mobiles are the most sophisticated technology in remote villages in developing countries. The first report of SARS in China was by the public.

Many of us use our mobiles to search the web about our health. Google Flu Trends, based on anonymised searches, provides information 2 weeks ahead of official sources. Tweets also provide lots of information about symptoms. Together, they are being used to create a nowcasting service.

But symptoms don’t imply the same diagnoses, so the team is also bringing diagnostic technology to the people. It uses self-swabbing kits, which are posted back to labs. And phone sensors are now being used to do the diagnosis on the ground. Further, the team has produced bio-barcodes, readable by phone cameras, which can diagnose e.g. HIV. This is all linked to the provision of interventions.

Mobile technology was used in the fight against Ebola – text alerts, communication of test results, etc. It’s still early days, though. The challenge is to develop a means of detecting Ebola and the like 3 months earlier. And the public and public education are the main tools. Together we can fight infectious diseases.