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Special Project
From the 1st Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

TED Fellows: Bringing world-changing ideas from young innovators to a global audience

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TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It began in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Over the years, TED has grown in scope and reach, transforming into a global enterprise dedicated to transferring ideas across borders and mediums.

The TED Fellows program was founded in response to two questions: "Who is missing from the TED audience?" and "What would happen if we brought the right folks there?" Whereas the main TED conference focuses on established speakers, the Fellows program focuses on finding emerging talent committed to making positive change around the world. The program seeks out young innovators whose voices are representative of the diverse populations TED seeks to engage, and supports them through the process of preparing, delivering and promoting a TED talk.

In publishing the Fellows' talks online, the aim is to 1) raise awareness of the Fellows' ideas 2) catapult the Fellows' careers and 3) scale up the Fellows' impact on the various communities they serve. A published TED talk can change the lives of Fellows by attracting new funding, support, and/or partnerships, and can bring Fellows' world-changing ideas to a much greater audience.

Strategy and Execution

The success of any TED video is tied directly to the charisma and messaging of the speaker, so the first challenge in creating Fellows videos is choosing mediagenic and inspiring Fellows. For each new class, we focus on bringing together an international and diverse set of innovators whose work spans disciplines and speaks to various audiences. So far the strategy has paid off: the 399 Fellowships have been awarded nearly equally to men and women and have been distributed across 87 different countries. This wide-ranging group of Fellows – composed of scientists, artists, activists, entrepreneurs, doctors, journalists and inventors – represents some of the most creative and ambitious thinking in the world today.

To maximize the reach of the Fellows' work and ideas, the team spends two months with each Fellow carefully preparing a powerful, concise and memorable TED talk. Throughout this drafting and revision process, Fellows experiment with various ways to frame their work so that their audience can grasp its importance quickly but accurately. The Fellows then present their talks at the annual TED conference, and the presentations are staged and recorded with one goal in mind: to maximize the power of the presentation.

Once the video footage is edited and ready for public distribution, the Fellows team aligns the release dates with Fellows' project announcements or exhibitions to amplify the Fellows' work. The videos are then released on, at which point they are shared and promoted through a social media platform that reaches tens of millions of followers through channels including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, the TED Fellows blog, and affiliated partners' networks. The talks are often further promoted through articles in publications including OZY, the New York Times, Forbes and Fast Company, expanding the talks' reach to people of all backgrounds and interests.


The impact of a TED talk going online is particularly great for Fellows. To date, 131 Fellows' talks have been posted online, with the cumulative view count now over 135 million. For these early-stage innovators, an online TED talk strengthens their brands, boosts their credibility and yields new opportunities to connect with previously out-of-reach audiences.

Consider the following examples. Shubhendu Sharma, an eco-entrepreneur who restores natural forests, has leveraged his talk (1 million views) to build a global community to combat the ongoing crisis of deforestation. His online TED Talk directly led to forest restoration projects in Singapore, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Korea. Andrew Bastawrous, a Kenya-based eye surgeon, used the funds raised as a result of his talk (1 million views) to test and treat thousands of people at risk for blindness with his own mobile technology. Asha de Vos, a marine biologist who specializes in blue whales, credits her TED talk (1.2 million views) with massively expanding the reach of her conservation work. Students from her native Sri Lanka routinely send letters thanking her for introducing the unfamiliar world of marine biology; before the talk, they didn't even know blue whales existed in the waters around Sri Lanka.

Fellows' online talks have led to partnerships, book deals, new businesses and increased funding. From an educational standpoint, they've brought Fellows' world-changing ideas to people who otherwise may never have heard about them, supporting TED's mission to share "ideas worth spreading."


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