TED originally began in 1984 as a blend between design, technology, and entertainment. It wasn’t until 1990 that the TED Conference became a successful annual event. The scope broadened as well and featured a variety of speakers like scientists, musicians, religious leaders, and more. In 2001, TED shifted hands and became a nonprofit. Today, TED talks are the most well-known feature of the organization. They are available for free online, allowing people from all over the world to grow their knowledge and imagination. Here are five of the best TED talks about human rights issues:
Mary Robinson was the president of Ireland for 1990-1997, and then the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights until 2002. She is the president of the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice. In her 2015 talk on why climate change threatens human rights, she acknowledges that she “came late” to the issue. When Robinson started working with African countries on human rights and development, she learned that things were getting worse because of climate change. What’s the solution? Climate justice.
Despite being five years old, this TED talk still resonates today. Climate change remains a pressing issue. The consequences are becoming clearer and it’s an issue for everyone. This talk paints a picture of the change that’s needed and inspires anyone interested in current human rights issues.
President of the United States from 1977-1981, Jimmy Carter has spent his life advocating for peace. In 2002, he was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of service to democracy and human rights. In his 2015 TED Talk, Carter explains that based on his experiences and knowledge of the world, he believes that the abuse of women and girls is the number one issue of human rights.
Why? He lays out his reasons, which include violence against the poor, genital mutilation, honor killings, and human trafficking. He also draws attention to the number of sexual assaults in the US military and colleges. Carter calls out men in particular, saying, “In general, men don’t give a damn.” What can be done? The former president says one thing that can be done is for women in privileged positions from powerful nations to speak out. But it doesn’t stop there. Take a free course on Women in Leadership and Activism.
In his 2014 TED Talk, Oren Yakobovich explains why he is committed to human rights work. Yakobvich is the co-founder of Videre, an organization that uses covert technology to record human rights abuses. After refusing to continue serving in the West Bank with the Israeli army, Yakobovich decided to join a human rights organization. They trained families living in the West Bank on how to use cameras, uncovering abuses from the soldiers and settlers. In 2008, he co-founded Videre, which has gone on to record and publicize thousands of pieces of footage of injustice.
Videre empowers abused people to share their own stories. In his work, Yakobovich has learned how important it is to partner with people in rural areas where abuses are happening out of the public eye. Secrecy is also essential. It’s so essential, Yakobivich doesn’t even show the audience the cameras they use. Videre’s work demonstrates what happens when human rights activists use the latest technology for good.
Kristen Wenz has 15 years of experience working with organizations like USAID, UNICEF, and the World Bank. She’s a leader in the international development sector and a global expert on legal identity. This 2019 TED Talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event with the UN Foundation and Skoll Foundation. Speaking from her expertise, Wenz describes how more than a billion people (mostly children) don’t have a legal identity. Why is this a problem? In many places in the world, not having a legal identity cuts people off from access to education, health care, and more. If people were given a legal identity, it has the potential to change the world forever. Wenz presents five strategies that countries can adopt to provide legal identities for everyone.
In 1949, Judith Heumann contracted polio. Her parents fought for her rights and Heumann continued that legacy for herself and other disabled people. In 1977, she helped lead the 504 Sit-In, a protest where the community stayed in federal buildings for nearly a month to push for regulations. Heumann served as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights for the US Department of State from 2010-2017. In her TED Talk from 2016, Heumann describes her experiences growing up with polio, the discrimination she faced, and her advocacy. There’s still much work to be done and Heumann encourages anyone listening to speak up when they see discrimination. Change is possible, but we need to fight for it together.