TEDxSF and UCSF Team Up to Offer Global Health Conference

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

7 Billion Well provides platform for innovators

In a city renowned for its arts, culture and sports, the hottest ticket in The City this past Saturday just might have been a couple of dozen health lectures at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center.

Organized by TEDxSF with the support of UCSF Global Health Sciences, this sold-out event, billed as 7 Billion Well: Re-imagining Global Health, brought together a collection of innovators to lecture about some of the most intractable health issues touching our lives today. These talks, however, were meant to be more than typical university lectures. This is TED, mind you, where lecturers were expected to “bring it” — be personal, engaging and yes, fun.

While the topic of 7 Billion Well cannot be discounted as a reason for the sold-out event’s popularity and perhaps its corresponding expense — nearly $130 for a general attendance ticket — one must wonder why few other global health conferences are able to attract this much buzz. 

The answer can be summed up in three letters that have garnered over 800 million online views, spread to more than 1,200 cities, and attracted megawatt stars such as President Bill Clinton and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Though TED conferences have been around since 1984, it wasn’t until the launching of the TEDTalks video website in 2006 that TED became a household name. An acronym for Technology, Education and Design, TED’s goal is to propagate “Ideas worth spreading” in order to change the way people see themselves and the world around them.

Towards this end, speakers from around the world have given talks of 18 minutes or less on topics ranging from the secrets of success to how to use a paper towel. With over 137 million views on youtube.com alone, TED has entered the rarefied air of pop culture awareness typically occupied by Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

Beyond its role as infotainment for the plugged-in masses, the TED brand provides speakers with an enormous global platform for spreading their passion, regardless of their natural ability to rivet audiences.

“What makes (TEDtalks) great is the person presenting is passionate about what they’re presenting,” noted Sean McClelland, a UCSF Learning Technology Specialist who blogs and runs workshops on how to become a better presenter. “Whether or not people are good story-tellers or use good PowerPoint slides, a lot of them get over that because they’re so passionate. It’s personal to them, and the audience can see that.” 

This passion motivated UCSF professor Suellen Miller, PhD, CNM, and director of the Safe Motherhood Program,  to accept an invitation to speak at 7 Billion Well, an event organized and self-financed by TEDxSF, a group operating under license from TED. Miller saw her talk, “Stop the Bleeding,” as an opportunity to share her message with people around the world that maternal health is a human right.

Miller was one of seven global health experts from UCSF who spoke at TEDxSF on Saturday. The other speakers were:

  • Jaime Sepulveda, MD, Dr.Sc., MPH, executive director, UCSF Global Health Sciences, The Bay Area as a Global Health Hub,  on “Vaccine Justice”;
  • Michael Blum, MD, UCSF chief medical information officer, on “Mobile Possibilities”;
  • Elissa Epel, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, on “The Illusion of Control: Human Behavior and Donuts”;
  • Jess Ghannam, PhD, professor of psychiatry, on “Global Health Psychology”;
  • Dean Ornish, MD, clinical professor of medicine, on “Lifestyle Dis-Ease”;
  • Gavin Yamey, MD, UCSF Evidence-to-Policy Initiative, on “Evidence Brokers.”

“We are researchers, academics, and scholars,” said Miller, a professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF. “Many of us give talks, lectures and PowerPoint presentations to our peers and students, but TED gives us a huge reach that allows us to touch different audiences.”

Though Miller has published dozens of articles on maternal health, she wanted to distill her message to be as powerful and relatable as possible, asking her colleagues from around the world to send her images for her presentation.

While not everyone will have the opportunity to speak at a TED or TED-affiliated event, this attention to the how the message is delivered — not just the message itself — can probably benefit everyone here at UCSF. 

“I think people [here at UCSF] are really hung up on presenting the facts, and just the facts, because most people here are scientists,” said McClelland. “That human element is something we really could incorporate more here at UCSF.” 

For more information, go to: tedxsf.org/