| July 14, 2010

Free E-Books for All: Worldreader at TEDx Barcelona


Colin McElwee presenting Worldreader.org at Tedx Barcelona

Presenting in front of 600 people is always a stimulating experience.  Especially when that audience also happens to be at TEDx, you know your arguments are probably going to be scrutinized a little bit more than at your average get-together.

Last week I was a presenting participant at the TEDx in Barcelona.  TEDx works because it is the literal manifestation of the TED moniker of “ideas worth spreading.” People are brought together around the world who believe they have the potential to make an impact on that same world.  World changing ideas don’t have to be property of small elite groups (think Bilderberg Group), but should be propagated, interrogated and contrasted worldwide.  And TEDx does that well.

Invited by Alfons Cornella who coordinates the Barcelona TEDx, I presented some of the ideas behind what we are doing at Worldreader.org and the importance of keeping things simple, especially when you are trying to innovate in such a complex environment.  The video I shared with the audience illustrates this point.

Whilst researching for the presentation, I was struck by the many observers and activists who would fundamentally revolutionize educational systems in developing countries.  One common argument is that the developed world has conspired to bequeath many developing countries a faulty educational system that was designed in Victorian times and certainly not for their current and/or future needs.  At the very least, we should not be forcing our “mistakes” on others.  Fine words.

TEDx Worldreader Slides

This ignores a fundamental point that risks progress: developing countries have in many cases already assimilated these systems, often as a result of their colonial heritage. Therefore, rather than idealistically wish for something better (I have yet to discover much specificity at this point), to accept these faulty systems is a reality.  Revolutionizing incumbent education systems is both a fraught and long process that would last generations with no guarantee of improvement.  Innovative action that works in a way that maximizes the impact within the current system (whilst simultaneously stretching it) has a better chance of being adopted.  Ultimately, innovative action can incrementally impact those we need to reach.  Remember, innovation is an idea successfully implemented, not just an idea.

E-readers are essentially books and hence are valued for what they are: an indispensable and well-understood input into the existing model of educational systems.  This simplicity is a potent yet incremental way of radically improving the educational systems in developing countries from within.

TEDx Barcelona attracted a great audience and was very enjoyable.   As post- conference conversations demonstrated,  it is a great litmus test for ideas that aspire to become innovations.

As John Maynard Keynes said, “The power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared to the gradual encroachment of ideas.”

Update: The 18-minute video of the TED presentation is now available:

The 3-minute video shown as part of the presentation is here.