Got Impact?


With that simple four word mantra outlined in an amazing PopTech! talk (below) and a life mission dedicated to living it, Kevin Starr recently joined the ranks of my personal superheroes.

A physician turned managing director of the Mulago Foundation, Kevin has been driven by his passion to carry forward the superb legacy of his medical school mentor Rainer Arnhold. Arnhold, a pediatrician by training, and a humanitarian by choice, spent much of his life working hard to improve the lives of children mired in poverty.

The mission statement is simple, yet immensely powerful:

” Mulago looks for the best solutions to the biggest problems in the poorest countries.”

What made Starr’s talk so – well, impactful (pun intended) – were his ideas around measuring the real impact that various social change ideas eventually have on any given problem. He reveals surprising follow-ups to the failures of highly touted and award winning projects such as LifeStraw and the $100 Laptop among others.

Cook. Savor. Then pass it on!

In case you missed it, we are in the midst of a food revolution.

Thanks to their tireless crusading, chef Jamie Oliver and journalist Michael Pollanamong others, are nudging food back to where it belongs: on our plates.

Slowly – and hopefully surely – the industrialized world is waking up to the aftermath of what Pollan describes as the “collapse of cooking”.

To wit:

  • Supermarkets lined with low-cost “edible food-like substances” i.e. artificial products designed to simulate real food that are high on dubious “nutrient” claims, but lacking in substance. e.g. 99% fat free yogurt that has more sugar per ounce than Coca Cola.
  • Agricultural policies that heavily subsidize corn and soy, the source of most junk food
  • food system that runs counter to human health needs promoting heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer
  • A complete disconnect between humans and the food they eat

And now for the good news: the reformation of food has begun!

Death to SMART goals

My condolences to the inventor of SMART goals. You know the one who recommended we rally around projects that are Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic and Time based?


I can hear all you inspired changemakers shudder in unison.

If human beings only set sight on what they thought was achievable, we’d probably still be huddled around each other (cause even the concept of a fire would have been unrealistic) in a dark cave somewhere, trying to agree upon the words of kumbaya.

It is precisely the act of being completely unreasonable that makes inspired change possible.

There's something about Ben

May be its his boyish charm and good looks.

May be its his English accent. May be its the fact that in 2004 he trekked solo on foot to the North Pole, becoming the youngest explorer in history to accomplish this feat. May be its his impressive physical fitness – a keen long distance skier, ultramarathoner, mountain biker, and of course, polar explorer.

Mostly I feel connected with the intention behind Ben Saunder’s exploration – to test the limits and push the boundaries of human potential.

It's a bird! A plane! Ummm….it's just…Ueli at the office?

This post is dedicated to the memory of a legendary aerialist Ueli Gegenschatz.

Skydiving, paragliding, BASE jumping, sky surfing, freeflying……this Swiss wingsuit donning daredevil did it all.

And how!

A pioneer extreme athlete, he was driven by more than just stunts & adrenalin – his was a desire to perfect human flight.

Along the way he jumped off the Eiffel and Petronas towers, off a bridge from a moving truck (yes, you read that correctly) in Turkey, and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountain peaks.

Did you give yourself an A today?

Or did you flunk out of life even before you got out of bed?

And what grade did you dole out to the people in your life – at work, at home, on the street?

Einstein famously said that it was nonsense to found a theory on observable facts alone, since in reality the very opposite happens: “It is theory which decides what we can observe.”

In other words, we take the world our senses offer us and give it meaning through the filter of whatever assumptions we have chosen to accept as true i.e. the theory behind our lives. As maverick Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander  wrote in his amazing book The Art of Possibility,“….its all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”

The future of health and medicine is here

The tag line was bold and mundane all at once.

It has probably been used at innumerable conferences before this one. But when the gathering in question is TEDMED 2012, the world takes notice.

How would some of the best minds (70 speakers, over 1000 delegates) give new meaning to a discipline mired in financial, ethical and scientific stalemate? What mind-boggling breakthrough would emerge from this three-and-a-half day idea orgy?

Not that I needed any convincing. As a proud, longstanding TEDaholic, having my scholarship application accepted was all I needed to pack my bags and head to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the new home of TEDMED.

I came. I saw. I took in the grandeur of all the historic conference locations: the Opera House, the Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Building Museum.

I left with some invaluable connections, a couple of personal insights, and a few memorable ideas.

No woman no cry

Maternal health is not a topic I spend much time thinking about, yet I found myself completely captivated at the recent Canadian public premiere of No Woman No Cry, a documentary film by Christy Turlington Burns.

Hosted by the team at Grand Challenges Canada with Christy in attendance, the film provided some fascinating insights into both the evolution of Burns from supermodel to activist, and the state of pregnant women worldwide.

Following the experiences of four pregnant women in four different corners of the world (Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and the U.S.), the film immediately draws you in and keeps you firmly engaged thanks to content that is extremely visceral and authentic.

Rediscovering wonder at TED 2011

My dream of attending the TED Conference came virtually true today.

Thanks to the TEDxToronto team and the generosity of the Center for Social Innovation (CSI), Day 2 of the ongoing TED 2011 conference was made freely accessible to a handful of TED enthusiasts via live webcast.

We cozied up at the CSI digs in downtown Toronto and immersed ourselves into the wondrous world of game-changing innovators and thought leaders gathered presently in Long Beach California. There is something truly magical about the synergies of being part of a live event, and it was a thrill to witness both the poise and gaffs of the speakers in real time.

For me, there were two highlights from today’s sessions:

First, the fact that TED curator Chris Anderson  experimented with guest curation, inviting none other than Bill Gates to choose & moderate the four speakers that made up the “Knowledge Revolution” section. Gates did a tremendous job and his enthusiasm was clearly evident and infectious.

Self-breathing pig lungs and a soprano

Toronto continues to surprise me. I’m constantly reminded of what an amazing hub of innovation and research it is – from environmental, technology and social entrepreneurs to trailblazers in medicine, we’ve got them all!

Organ transplantation has become an increasingly important area of intrigue for me in recent years, and so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the miraculous exploits of the Lung Transplantation team at the Toronto General Hospital, led by thoracic surgeon Dr. Shav Keshavjee.

Building on a rich tradition of hosptial firsts (first single and double lung transplants and first artifical lung), Keshavjee is currently tackling the mind-boggling problem of decay in lungs harvested from donors before they reach the recipient. He has developed a successful Lung Perfusion system that enables preservation of the organs for up to six hours outside the donor body.

But he hasn’t stopped there.