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18 Big Ideas Pittsburgh Had in 2018

This isn’t an awards list. A ‘best of’ list. Or list that represents a complete summary of the amazing work going on in our city. This list is part of the story of important work happening in our city - contributions from those who shared the TEDxPittsburgh and TEDxPittsburghWomen stage this year.

We were fortunate to see these individuals as they worked exhaustively to prepare their talks. Rehearse. Rework. Repeat. All while pursuing the work that fueled their idea in the first place. It’s not easy. But it is (hopefully) worth it.

The momentum generated when they take the stage, engage in conversation among attendees and ultimately reach the greater global TEDx community through the videos of their talks help remind us that Pittsburgh is home to ideas worth spreading.

1. Kindness is possible for everyone. We can be a city of helpers. “Simple is better.” A mantra that Joanne Rogers and her late husband Fred conjured in not just their musical careers, but in advancing education and advocacy for children. After the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, the famous Mr. Rogers quote to “look for the helpers” was once again a source of comfort for many. While acknowledging that many of Fred's lessons apply to both adults and children, Joanne recognizes the importance of those simple words because in moments of tragedy “we turn into children, we feel helpless.” She summarized the legacy of Fred’s work and her life’s work in saying that the continued mission is to make goodness attractive. During her interview, it certainly felt possible.


2. Artificial Intelligence Can Combat the Opioid Crisis The opioid crisis is a national epidemic affecting not only those suffering from addicting but their families. In this talk, UX designer and startup co-founder Ellie Gordon explores the possibility of using design thinking, artificial intelligence and machine learning to create an app-wearable-device integration to support recovery and prevent overdoses by designing for behavior change.

3. Your Voice Says a Lot About You Does the tone of your voice affect how you’re perceived? And does it share any other information about your wellbeing or current mood? Otolaryngology researcher and clinician Dr. Jackie Gartner-Schmidt shares research and findings that show not only the connection between our emotions and our voice, but between our voice and the way that others perceive us.

4. After a Tragedy, Transformation is Possible Rebuilding is not enough. Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico shared her first-hand account of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The Mayor's idea on what to do after the storm looks beyond rebuilding to focus on the need for transformation and making what was once there --- not just the physical structures, but the community as a whole stronger than ever before.

After being shot and paralyzed by a police officer at a routine traffic stop, Leon Ford shared his story based on the central idea: it’s possible to turn pain into purpose. These life changing events share an overlap of taking lessons from destructive acts and building something stronger on the other side.

5. Revenge Porn Can Turn Lives Upside Down  What can you do if you're the victim of revenge porn or cyberbullying? Shockingly little, says journalist and activist Darieth Chisolm, who found herself living the nightmare scenario of having explicit photos taken without her knowledge or consent and posted online. She describes how she's working to help victims and outlines the current state of legislation aimed at punishing perpetrators. This talk was chosen by TED to be featured on their homepage and has over 1 million views.

See why:

6. The Chef’s Table is a Platform for Community Action A place to gather. A common goal. Shared desires. These are elements of the restaurant environment that top chef Jamilka Borges says makes activism a bonus ingredient that every chef can use. So if you’re looking for criteria to choose a restaurant in the booming Pittsburgh restaurant scene, this advice from Borges can help: “Spend your money on people who spend their time and money making their communities a better place.”


7. Recycling Soap Can Prevent Disease and Create Jobs To CNN Hero Samir Lakhani, every bar of hotel soap is a way to prevent disease and offer economic opportunity to people in third world countries. Learn how this idea worth spreading can prevent the spread of disease and create jobs. Samir showed us that ingenuity and kindness can fuel an idea that has the power to help many people all over the world.

8. You Should Run for Office “Women are the foundation of civic life, but only hold 25% of state delegation seats.” This statistic from newly minted state representative Sara Innamorato helped explain a lesson she learned while trying to encourage other women to run for office: your own experience matters and can help make better policy for all.


Not voting isn’t a problem, it’s a symptom. State Representative-elect Summer Lee pulled back the curtain on the election cycle investment that reaches out for voting support weeks before ballots are casts and asked us to imagine what it would be like if people closer to the issues and reflective of the electorate being served were on the ballot. “When we run ourselves, we’ll know our vote matters.”


Best of luck to both Sara and Summer as they head to Harrisburg next week and work to turn ideas into policy.

9. Cities Can Learn from Leadership Theory Urban centers are increasingly the home to the majority of the Earth's population. And it just so happens that our city is home to leadership expert Aradhna Oliphant. In her TEDxPittsburgh interview, she revealed how and why cities can apply lessons from leadership theory and research to create a more livable, inclusive, and productive space. Can our city take these to heart?

10. Autonomous Vehicle Policy Should Benefit Humans Courtney Ehrlichman reminded us that if our city is going to be a leader in autonomous vehicle research and usage, then we have the opportunity to become a leader in autonomous vehicle policy. Who exactly is that policy meant to serve? The industry itself, or the people in our communities? Ehrlichman’s idea is that it should be the latter.

11. We Can Boost Marginalized Voices. With Technology. And with Conscious Archiving. With so many technology companies and innovators calling the Pittsburgh region home, we get to hear a lot of ideas about new ways to use data, hardware and software to solve problems. Roboticist Dr. M. Bernardine Dias shared that the best technology comes from a different type of skill: listening. From creating education solutions for visually impaired children in the developing world to assisting elderly Pittsburgh residents, Dr. Dias’ work always begins by truly listening to the community the tech is intended to serve, and not just creating technology for technology’s sake. “Innovation is a collaborative process... give the people you are innovating for a voice, so they feel a joint ownership of your solution” - Dr. M. Bernardine Dias.


If you’ve been to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Teenie Harris Archive, it’s likely that you’ve seen the work of archivist Dominique Luster in action. Sharing what has come to be known as one of the largest mid-century collections of African American life. Luster shared how archiving has the power to uplift a people’s history when asking (and listening) how a group would like to be remembered. Hear Dominique’s idea on the collective power of memory:

12. Climate Change is Real, and an Opportunity to Adapt “What if we stop the denial and accept climate change as real, and turn adaptation into our biggest opportunity by embracing and working with the diverse social ecosystems we live in.” Ecologist Dr. Nicole Heller is working to help build understanding of not just the climate challenges we all face, but also what action and opportunity does it present to all who inhabit Earth. The value of embracing our diverse ecosystems is a road she took us down in her TEDxPittsburghWomen talk.

13. Child Care Should be Part of Inclusion Strategy for Employers Priya Amin has had many titles. Brand manager. Co-founder. Mom. It’s the latter that inspired her to understand more about the cost of ignoring childcare, the cost to organizations and the cost to working parents. “Imagine if our work ecosystem included child care at every single step." Her talk showed why she believes childcare is a critical part of every organization’s roadmap to inclusion.


14. Chess Can be a Catalyst for Social Change Just days after finishing her last day of high school, Ashley Priore took to the TEDx stage to share an idea based on her greatest passions: Chess. Are there overlaps in the skills that chess teaches and having a stake in making political change? Priore, founder of The Queen’s Gambit, says yes: chess can be a catalyst for social change.

15. The African American Story is a Model of Triumph In this talk, Dr. Curtiss Porter explores the history of the African American experience throughout a generational lens. Porter posits that when we zoom out on the historical timeline, we reveal that the African American story is a model of triumph.

16. Nature is a Key in Finding Your Authentic Self Amy Camp believes that showing up each day as the authentic, vulnerable you is the most empowering and most kind thing you can do. With kindness, vulnerability and humor, Amy’s idea invites each of us to take up our space in a way that is true to ourselves.

17. Targeted Treatments Can Make Breast Cancer More Treatable Dr. Carola Neumann discussed how the latest findings in breast cancer research are helping to increase treatment options and what patients can do to empower themselves. Focusing on the importance of clinical trials and advocating for breast cancer research, Dr. Neumann has come to recognize that a gap exists between the science behind therapy and research and the patient, so she uses her talk to bridge this gap.

18. Make Something Original The performers on the TEDxPittsburgh and TEDxPittsburghWomen stages this year brought incredible creativity. From the Clarion Quartet’s ability to capture an audience with works from oppressed composers, to the melodic rock of Punchline and unifying themes from Prince G - we were reminded that the creative community is alive and well in Pittsburgh. This post is going to end with the first piece of art to hit our stage this year, when Vanessa German set out to do a live performance of her original poem [ small worlds ] synced to stunning original visuals from Covalent, and it still brings us to our feet.

To everyone who attended an event, volunteered, or watched/shared online - we thank you for your support! Look for more big ideas, shared through talks, performance and film are coming to the TEDxPittsburgh stage in 2019.

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