TEDWomen Inspires in KC

A TEDWomen screening at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art brought global innovations and discussions to KC.

Story by Lauren Rutherford

Twelve inspiring men and women took the stage—or, more accurately, the screen—Saturday morning in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Atkins auditorium to discuss everything from feminism to fighting Ebola.

The TEDWomen conference, held in Monterey, California, came to Kansas City via simulcast thanks to TEDxKC, the local TED group. Not familiar with TED? It’s a nonprofit dedicated to sharing ideas, usually in short lectures. And it’s in this spirit of sharing that TEDxKC hosted Saturday’s event.

Hosts June Cohen, Pat Mitchell and Kelly Stoetzel, from left, open TEDWomen at the Monterey Conference Center. Two sessions of the conference were screened at an event in KC. Photo by Marla Aufmuth/TED via

“The TEDWomen theme puts a very unique lens on programming that is otherwise pretty ethnically and gender neutral,” says Mike Lundgren, TEDxKC’s founding curator. “The end result is very much a sum that is greater than its parts, allowing women’s issues and opportunities to be seen and considered in the aggregate.”

Like this year’s TEDWomen conference theme “Momentum” might imply, TED is catching on in the Kansas City area. The Saturday morning event drew around 500 people.

“It’s really exciting to see our programming successfully compete with someone’s Netflix queue or their desire to sleep in on a rainy Saturday morning,” Lundgren says.

As the session emcees explained, momentum drives everything; it’s a catalyst for action. Each program session examined a step in how change comes about—from when the lightbulb goes on to when a life-changing invention becomes tangible. Saturday’s attendees watched the event’s first two sessions, titled “spark” and “surface,” respectively.

Before the first session began, attendees mingled and enjoyed coffee and gourmet toast. The drizzling rain drove the scheduled outdoor yoga session inside.

During the “spark” session, viewers heard from six women who saw a problem and took it upon themselves to solve it. Achenyo Idachaba, a green entrepreneur in Nigeria, shared how she turned her country’s growing agro-waste problem into an eco-friendly handicraft business weaving weeds into usable products.

“It’s incredible that she can look at that problem and come up with a solution and then went out of her way to learn how to weave,” Attendee Dianne Durham says. “It’s really inspiring.”

Viewers also heard from a journalist using virtual reality to enhance the reader experience and an emotion analytics expert who’s revolutionizing the way technology and emotions harmonize.

A session one crowd favorite was Christina Mercando, CEO of Ringly. Mercando introduced the crowd to a piece of fashionable technology: a ring that vibrates and flashes when your phone receives a text message, phone call or other notification. Durham liked the ring so much she bought one online after the session ended.

The second session, “surface,” was all about the need for a solid foundation in order to gain momentum. For speakers, that took many forms. Viewers heard about the United Nations’ HeForShe movement and Roxane Gay’s “bad feminism.” Margaret Heffernan revealed that a competitive spirit may be more harm than help when it comes to getting ahead at work.

Each of the talks presented new ideas or twists on classic ones. They inspired the audience—an attentive bunch eager to learn. And it seems the draw of TEDtalks is just that: learning.

“There is considerable demand in Kansas City for smart programming that caters to the intellectually curious,” Lundgren says. “That alone is cause for celebration. At the same time, literally hundreds of people have approached us after our events to say how a talk gave them hope, inspired them to try something new or jolted their worldview in some way.”

Can’t get enough TED? Tickets for the next local TED event—TEDxKC on Aug. 29—go on sale at 10 a.m. on June 9.