Zubaida Bai, Asha De Vos and Trang Tran may all work in diverse sectors and hail from different parts of the region — India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam respectively — but the three TED Fellows share a common attribute: an unmistakable sense of purpose and passion for their vocation. Their message of effecting fundamental change worldwide rang loud and clear at Marriott Hotels’ “Women in Innovation” TED Salon in Bengaluru, India, through the personal and professional stories of each change-maker. At the end of the evening, the crowd of over 200, which included entrepreneurs, Marriott Rewards loyalty members, students from top business schools as well as international media and influencers, were suitably inspired and awestruck.
The recent Marriott TED Fellows Salon, the second instalment in Asia-Pacific, was part of a journey to spark innovation in the region following the 2016 collaboration between the flagship brand of Marriott International and the global TED community. The latter, founded on the notion of idea-sharing and starting conversations, is widely known for its TED Talks, which are as inspiring as they are aspirational. Its roots can be traced back to a conference in 1984 that explored issues of technology, entertainment and design.
Marriott International, with more than 500 hotels and resorts in its portfolio, makes an ideal partner for the TED Fellows Salon and to propound the idea of inspiring new perspectives. To do so, the brand draws on its 60 years of experience in expanding minds through travel and subsequently inspiring creativity and fresh ideas.
When addressing the audience in Bengaluru, Peggy Fang Roe, Marriott International’s chief sales and marketing officer for Asia-Pacific, said, “The DNA of the company (TED) perfectly aligns with what we are doing here at Marriott — inspiring innovation — and [we find that] women have an extremely appealing perspective to offer.”
The luxurious Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield hosted the event on its vast grounds located within India’s hub of technology and innovation, showcasing the culture of impeccable service and hospitality that the brand is renowned for. This began with a traditional arthi and garland welcome of guests to Karnataka state’s capital.
Hotel general manager Ranju Alex, in her welcome address before dinner, also made reference to the theme, Women in Innovation. “When I joined the industry over 20 years back, a hotel in itself was an innovation as it was taboo for respectable Indian women to work at one. Even now, there are very few women in the industry,” she explained.
All three speakers at Marriott TED Fellows Salon were participants of the TED Fellows programme that provides transformational support to a global network of 400 visionaries — scientists, artists, activists, entrepreneurs, doctors, journalists and inventors — who collaborate across disciplines to create positive change around the world.
“Our TED Fellows programme was established in 2009 to bring together innovators and thought leaders to address some of the world’s most pressing issues through the sharing of ideas and strategies. The speakers at this Marriott salon in Asia-Pacific represented some of the best and brightest thinkers of their generation who are working towards making positive, meaningful and lasting change in their communities,” explained director of TED Fellows, Shoham Arad.
Before the salon came to an end, a panel discussion moderated by Fang gave the audience a chance to pose questions to the TED Fellows. Constraints of time meant only a number of the questions could be answered on stage but that did not stop the curious crowd from approaching the speakers at the end of the session. The speakers were only too happy to share their thoughts.
The Marriot TED Fellows Salon in Bengaluru will be followed by others with varying themes and are scheduled to be held in Marriott International’s properties in Boston, Cairo and Athens in the coming months. Mike Fulkerson, Marriott International’s vice-president of brand and marketing for Asia-Pacific, hinted at more to come from the collaboration. “Marriott’s salons engage with travellers from around the world through its inspiring, empowering messages and we look forward to continuing this partnership in 2019 to bring these exciting experiences to more guests across Asia-Pacific,” he said.
Meet the speakers
The women’s health advocate was the first to take to the stage. Just seconds into her presentation, she drew gasps from the audience when she revealed the device used by a midwife in rural Rajasthan to cut the umbilical cord of babies — a sickle. More interaction and dialogue with the community’s women led to her utilising her mechanical engineering background to founding Ayzh (pronounced “eyes”), which addresses the health needs of women through modular products. Its first and core product is called Janma — a US$3 clean-birth kit in a biodegradable jute purse that ensures cleanliness and lends a sense of dignity to the birthing process. Zubaida spoke of how it was a symbol of change — and as one Malawian woman told her, “the only [purse] she had owned in her life” — shedding some light on the magnitude of the
pretty pink purse’s impact.
Asha De Vos
This marine biologist, whale conservationist and educator pioneered research on the blue whale in the northern Indian Ocean through her Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project. “My crusade is to ensure our needs can co-exist with this incredible species in the ecosystem,” she said, going on to explain how whale poop, among other things, encourages the growth of phytoplankton, which gives off 50% to 85% of the oxygen found in Earth’s atmosphere. De Vos implored the audience to practise responsible tourism when it came to marine life, begging us to consider whether causing stress to an animal in its natural habitat to capture that perfect shot was worth that coveted social media “like”.
The agricultural entrepreneur and founder of social enterprise Fargreen was the last speaker of the evening. Having witnessed the ill effects of open burning of rice straw on the environment and health of the farming community, she began researching into a sustainable solution for the farmers. She found it in using the post-harvest rice straw for mushroom cultivation, thus eliminating the adverse impact of burning the straw while creating an additional income stream. As Vietnam produces 20 million tonnes of rice straw a year, Trang stressed that Fargreen’s methods can reduce this amount over time. But to her, a crucial indicator of success was hearing one of the farmer’s young children say she wanted to be a farmer when she grew up, thus realising one of the organisation’s dreams — to change the negative view of farming by assuring that no farmer is stuck in poverty for choosing to cultivate his or her land.
This article first appeared on Oct 15, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.