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TEDxBYU, and What I Really Wanted to Say

Intro to TED and TEDx

If you already know what TED and TEDx is, skip this section, or you will get bored.


TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  It’s a non-profit all about “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started in 1984 by holding conferences to bring people from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design together (hence the name,) but has since branched out into hosting talks of other things as well.  They post new talks frequently on their website (I think they do one new one each weekday,) and I fully endorse that they are, in fact, usually really cool.  Check out their full description here, or go to their website: www.ted.com


TEDx is an independently organized TED event.  I guess that people started doing TED talks on their own at some point, and TED decided to let them use the name and provided guidelines on how to make it good.  TED does not take part in organizing the TEDx conferences.  Find out more about TEDx on their website here.
was organized primarily by the folks in the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, and the Peery Foundation.  It was filmed by an organization called The Good Line.  A lot of work goes into something like that, and I had to say that I was quite impressed with the quality of the whole thing.
The Experience was Great

I was blessed to be able to speak at TEDxBYU 2013.  The experience of being a part of TEDxBYU was incredible.  First, I got to meet lots of really cool people, like a very outgoing Aaron Sherinian, who’s the VP of communications and public relations for the United Nations Foundation.  Or Fraser Nelson, who is the executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah and had lots of really cool experiences to share from 25 years of diverse non-profit work.

I would have to say that Kushal Chakrabarti (here is his own blog, www.obviouslywrong.org) was my favorite.  He co-founded Vittana, an organization that does micro-loans for education rather than business, and was named the Social Innovator of the Year by the Ballard Center.  I loved all of the talks that day, but Kushal’s hit me stronger than any of the others.

(Note: If you’re interested in seeing their talks, I believe they are being uploaded here.
I know that Kushal’s is already up as I write this, so you can go to his talk here.
Aaron Sherinian’s is here. The official website for TEDxBYU that has all the details and such is here)

Besides meeting the other really cool speakers, I also had the chance to work with some really cool students and coaches.  You’ll hear about the 3 other students I spoke with later, but we got some good help from some people in the Peery Foundation, the Ballard Center, and a few personal mentors of mine at one point or another in the process.

It was also just cool finally getting to see TEDxBYU.  I had never attended it before, so it was extra incredible speaking at my first one.

Our TEDx Talk

This brings me to the talk I was specifically a part of.  Here it is, in much of its glory:

I liked our talk as a whole.  

After all, my buddies nailed it.  Ben told a fantastic story about being introduced to micro-finance and running into problems figuring out how to help others.  Natalie painted the perfect picture of what it’s like to try to be a part of the social innovation sphere in the midst of yet-to-be-informed peers, and the scramble for finding a job.  Jace told an angle of the story that just doesn’t get told enough, helping to operationalize the process of helping others, and demonstrate just how simple and beautiful solutions can be.  We all make jokes about majoring in Accounting, but we all know how important those skills are (and like just about any job, although parts are boring, parts of it are cool too.)

I also liked that our talk designed essentially to be the progression of a normal, involved college student from finding out that there’s good to be done to trying to do it, and do it well.  We were true to our experience, and honest about how little we know so far.

I didn’t really like my part.

I’ll skip talking about the parts I messed up on, preferring to discuss the more structural shortcomings I had.

My first real problem was that I didn’t feel like I had 2 minutes worth of story to tell for my part.  To play my role in the flow of our holistic story, I was supposed to fill the gap from thinking “how do I get involved in social impact,” to thinking “how do I do a good job in social impact?”  I confess that I could probably talk at length on this topic, especially now that I have my first Strategy class under my belt, but I don’t really have a short “story” about it.  I mostly have a history about it.

With that being the case, perhaps I would have been happy if I could have just continued my history.  To fit my experiences in with the rest of the group, I felt that I was left to talk about nothing beyond my first semester of starting the club, and ending at a point of the story where, in real life, I felt pretty darn ridiculous.  So there I was, with little more than 1 semester’s worth of experience to draw a narrative from, which just didn’t provide much fodder, and left me yearning to finish the narrative I started.

Besides, most of my best stories came from other points of the journey.  Like:
There was this one time when I did a really cool internship with Polaris Project in Washington DC.

Or this other time when I got to talk with the CEO of Transitions Global about the possibility of spending my summer doing a third party evaluation of his organization (and how I got shut down by logistical problems at BYU.  As a result, I will spend my summer in Peru instead.  It will still be cool.)
Or this other time when our club had an awesome “Freedom Feast” where we brought in Stephanie Larsen to speak to a sold-out crowd (of 150 students ;)) and tons of really cool students got really involved that semester.
Or the time when I was on my 2-hour commute between Polaris Project and where I was staying and I got the idea of what we might be able to do as a club.
Or the time when one of the club members went out on his own to contact a few anti-human trafficking organizations and did some grant writing work for them.

Coincidentally, I even had the opportunity to tell some of these stories the week before TEDxBYU at a dinner for club presidents put on by BYU’s Student Association.  It was a much more interesting talk, and much easier to write.

What I Wanted to Say

So let’s find out if I’m happier when after talking about how the rest of the experience has been since ending up confused and stuck at the end of my freshman year.  Here’s a taste of how it has been:

Leaving the club

Soon after finding myself confused and unsure on how to make a decent impact (or even if making a decent impact was possible,) I was set to leave for two years to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This meant that I had to turn the club over to the hands of some of my friends.  I trained about 4 of my friends in how to run the club and make a difference (while secretly not having a clue what I was doing) and didn’t think a whole lot about the club for the next two years.

Coming home

While I was gone, the club had some cool victories, but eventually faded out.  Let’s not pretend that it’s easy to make significant social impact, even when you aren’t trying to balance classes, homework, a job, social activities, church duties, and have absolutely no experience.  But a few months after the club disbanded, it got kick-started again by a conference at BYU about Human Trafficking, including a visit from Kevin Bales, one of the big names in the anti-human trafficking space (of course he would come while I was gone!)

By the time I returned from my mission, the club had been resurrected, and before the first semester had finished, I ended up in charge again.  Thankfully, I had the help of an incredible man named Jeremy.  I really can’t say enough about him, he worked harder than anyone I have ever known, and worked more magic than I did.  It was sad to see him graduate this semester, but that’s what awesome people do I guess.

Internship and Ideas

Our first full semester working in the club went fairly well, and then I got an internship with Polaris Project, one of the more significant organizations fighting human trafficking.  Based in Washington DC, they run the National Hotline against human trafficking (soon to be Global, thanks to help from Google and others,) provide services for former victims of human trafficking, train law enforcement and other service workers in how to recognize and respond to slavery victims, and have one of the more organized and productive fellowship (internship) programs.
It was quite the summer.  I had a two-hour commute each way to the office and where I was staying, it was my first time in DC, and the people I was staying with provided a lot of cool experiences.  I even got to connect with some people at Free the Slaves to talk about the possibility of doing an on-campus internship at BYU (which they tried to do, but logistical issues at BYU shut that down too.)

Having a two-hour commute brings one of two things each day: an engaging conversation with the interesting person you end up sitting next to on the train, or lots of thinking time.  During one of the thinking days, I started to recognize what I felt was a need in the anti-human trafficking space.  Although Polaris Project and Free the Slaves are doing amazing things, it seemed like they were always contained by their limited resources.  They never seemed to quite have enough money, or access to just the right talent, or sufficient resources to do everything they wanted, or sometimes needed to do.  Especially when it came to back-office functions, it seemed like an extra chunk of money or manpower could really put them over the edge in the fight against slavery.

So if they need money, resources, and talent, what could be done?  They already fundraise and win grant money.  They even have people fundraise on their behalf without them even asking.  I thought that perhaps something could be done to provide the resources and talent in a way that wouldn’t require them to use their monetary funds.  This is when it hit me that BYU could probably provide many of those needs.

Fitting in to BYU

BYU is full of students looking to do good in the world, but the kind of good that feels a bit more tangible than awareness or fund raising.  BYU has plenty of talent, and lots of resources looking to be used in the service of others, so why couldn’t it contribute to the fight against slavery?  I was already trying to plug Free the Slaves into the on-campus internship program with Students for Social Entrepreneurship, so perhaps we could find other programs to connect the organizations to and increase their capacity by providing the organizations access to the resources and talent we have in abundance at BYU.

It sure seemed like a great idea when it came to me.  Even now, I think BYU and other universities are SORELY underutilized in working on social issues.  As a result, I shifted the strategy of the club from “we try to do something (anything!) against slavery,” to “we work to provide anti-human trafficking organizations access to the abundant resources available at BYU to increase their capacity to focus on and fight human trafficking.”  Our market was no longer the students, but the anti-trafficking organizations.  Our unique value was the campus programs already in place, the talent, maturity, and ethics that BYU has a reputation for, and an already established connecting entity.  Our resources were hosts of programs and students, and we were quite capable at finding things at BYU that we felt could be of use to the organizations.

Doing Work and Taking Names

The next semester was awesome!  We had a plan and a vision.  We had lots of students involved.  Our leadership ranks were filled and active.  We started making contacts.  We held a big fundraising event for Backyard Broadcast with a catered dinner, live music, a sold-out crowd, and Stephanie Larsen.  I saw lots of club members really grow and do amazing things; it seemed like I would hear about something cool somebody did on their own every week!  But even with all the successes, we were struggling to try to make the new vision happen.

Problems, Problems, Problems

It turns out, anti-trafficking organizations hadn’t already bought in to the idea that college campuses could contribute to their work from a remote location.  In all honesty, many organizations don’t trust campus clubs to do much at all besides do a little fundraising.  Many also feel that, since they are so strapped for resources, they can’t afford to expend any more to try to monitor outsourcing their functions to a campus.  This relates closely to the trust issue, since if they felt they could let us go to work and not worry about it, things might be simpler.  Even just contacting many of the organizations is difficult as well; they receive many communications from people with questions or offers to help every day, so it isn’t easy to cut through the clutter.

Getting Back to the Future

So perhaps this is really where I’m at.  I’m still asking the question “how do I do this the right way,” but further down the track than I felt I could say in the TEDx talk.  I mean, this post probably wasn’t as interesting as the talk was.  I suppose that if I had thought quicker I might have been able to come up with a way to talk about the more interesting parts in my 2 minutes, but I didn’t think quicker, so I’m left with what I have.

I’m happy to say that the story is still going too.  I found someone to take over as president of the club next year when I will be too busy with other things to adequately lead.  My replacement is smart, proactive, capable, enthusiastic, and I think will be able to solve some of the problems that have stumped me for the last 4-5 years.

Just the Future

Besides my life in the club, I also find myself trying to figure out how to spend my life doing something good. I would love to stay involved in spreading freedom, but careers in the field aren’t abundant, and it can be difficult to support a family in many of them (I assume that I will, eventually, have a family.)

In the mean time, I’ll be off to Peru for the summer.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write something cool while I’m out there.  Happy 10th blog post!  😀

Keep seeking truth.

You may also be interested in:
Peru Trip Post 1
Put the National Human Trafficking Hotline on Backpage
Sex Trafficking on Backpage Debate

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