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By Natalie Chandra, a Government and International Relations Honours student

I applied for TEDWomen 2017 in the midst of a thesis-writing haze. As a youth curator for TEDxYouth@Sydney for the past three years and a self-proclaimed TED nerd, I thought, ‘well it’s worth a shot’ never thinking I’d actually be accepted to be an audience member. To give you a bit of a background, to become an audience member for TEDWomen, the application requires five long-form answers, an anecdote about an experience with TED and requires the contact details for you and optionally, your assistant. In short, the audience is often as curated as the speakers themselves. That, and the event was in New Orleans.

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When I got the acceptance email, it was a 50/50 reaction of happy and devastated. I was so, so thrilled and honoured to be invited to be a part of the event- but also incredibly worried about if I could afford to go. While my Honours degree in Government and International Relations was edifying and I had thoroughly enjoyed writing my thesis (the passing of time numbs all pains—even the contractions of birthing a thesis), I am still an undergrad. Thankfully, the University of Sydney was incredibly generous and financially supported my trip to TED Women 2017.

The event itself was amazing. The talks were groundbreaking: a surgeon performed live knee surgery using augmented reality technology, a 14-year-old—the youngest winner of the Google Science fair who developed a new bandage to manage chronic wounds started her talk with “When I was a young girl.” We heard from a woman who is literally building bridges to multiple the incomes of developing world villages, a political pundit who admitted being a bully and discussed how we can stop hate, and a designer who is rejecting prison spaces for restorative justice. Those were just a few talks from the three days. Every single one was amazing, enlightening and standing-ovation worthy (really, every single speaker received a standing ovation which is hard to get in a room of incredibly accomplished women).

The talks were amazing, however my favourite aspect of the event was meeting the people of the event. There are so many noteworthy encounters and conversations, friendships built and hugs given. I was incredibly lucky to meet and chat with almost all of the speakers—Justin Baldoni gives great hugs, as does Valarie Kaur—though the audience was equally exceptional. I met and discussed creative tensions with the Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer of Planned Parenthood, chatted about friendship with a woman who presented her own TED talk (which now has a million plus views) and works with extremists, trying to enable people to escape cults. I made friends with aspiring filmmakers, Instagram stars and women who made me laugh so much my cheeks hurt.

A very special highlight was being introduced to and exchanging emails with Chris Anderson, the owner of TED. To answer your question, yes, a large part of me was screaming every time we talked, and yes, a huge part of me is still screaming. I was able to quickly ask him how he thought TED changes the world and—well it would be a shame to cut down on the man’s answer:

“So I took over TED, oh gosh 16 years ago now and I took it over because I fell in love with how an idea—when you think about it—they have unlimited potential. It’s a tiny little pattern in your brain which changes how someone thinks and feels about the world—it changes the behavior years into the future and it can make that person want to share that idea. If you unleash the right idea at the right time, the ripple effects are unbelievable. So having someone stand on stage sharing their passion and sharing their ideas, it ripples out into the audience’s mind and then over the internet into millions more minds, that’s how things change. And in the bigger scheme of things, I guess when people watch TED talks, they shift from being observers, participants, people just waiting for the future to happen, to be creators and to shape the future just a little bit.”

That’s the magic of TED and ideas. Ideas can change the world, but it takes an audience. It takes people willing to step up from being passive listeners to active participants. On a personal level, I was feeling listless after handing in my thesis. I was wondering if I had finished all my thinking; if all I had to look forward to after university was a 9-5 job of the same repetitive tasks. TEDWomen was an amazing reminder that thinking is never over—ideas are being shared and the future is not something we passively wait to happen to us—but something we can actively engage in and change.

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