Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Going to TED, and thinking about Kingston

I’m off to the TED conference tomorrow, one of the most exciting conferences I get to attend. The New York Times, writing about it today, calls it “something blending a graduate seminar and a revival meeting.” I’ve been to a lot of graduate seminars, but very few revival meetings, so I can’t really tell you if that’s accurate. I can tell you that it’s a frequently overwhelming experience, but a great chance to hear a lot of fascinating ideas in a very short period of time. Like last year, I’ll be doing my best to blog it close to realtime, both here and, I suspect, on other blogs, including Worldchanging and, perhaps, the TED blog.

If there’s a downside to attending conferences like this one, it’s that almost everyone who’s on stage is already – justly – well known for the good work they’re doing. This won’t be as true for TED Africa, which I’m hugely looking forward to, as Emeka Okafor, who’s organizing the conference, has done an amazing job of showcasing talent from around the continent. But I find myself wondering the best way to get really exciting social entrepreneurs onto stage and sharing their ideas and projects with the sorts of audience that TED will attract this week in Monterey.

The entrepreneur I’m thinking about today is Marvin Hall, a friend of mine from Jamaica who has taken on the wonderful project of bringing robotics into Jamaican classrooms. In the video above about the project, he explains, “I formed Halls of Learning to provide educational experiences for young people that would be equal to or exceed international standards.” That idea – that Jamaican youth, living and studying in a very tough neighborhood, can do more than just “catch up” with the rest of the world, but innovate – is a profoundly world-changing idea.

Marvin sees a very stark choice for the youth he’s working with – they exercise their minds through robotics or other forms of creative expression, or there’s a good chance they’ll end up trapped in the violence that surrounds them. So far, Marvin’s brought a group of his kids to compete in the First Lego League competition in San Jose, California. Now, on the heels of a Stanford Digital Vision fellowship, he’s committing to getting a team to the 2007 World Robotics Olympiad in Taipei.

In the back of my head, as I blog the talks at TED, is the encouraging thought that for every maverick genius on the stage, there are hundreds like Marvin who we don’t know about, but who are following their passions and helping to change the world.

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