The Fellow programme aims to tap great young minds

The programme changes lives and creates a strong bond among the Fellows

TED Chronicles | Lakshmi Pratury

One of the great ironies of life is that time and money are often inversely proportional. When we are young and carefree, we have the time to explore the world and pursue knowledge but we do not have the money to fully do so.

Inversely, as we get older and accumulate a family and a comfortable lifestyle, we no longer have the time to do things that are unrelated to our day-to-day existence. At TED, our TED Fellows programme aims to interfere in this great infraction.

TED Fellows is designed to bring young individuals to attend the conference completely free of cost. Past TED Fellows have included a Bangladeshi architect, a Burmese human rights leader, an Ethiopian musician, an Iranian filmmaker, a South American high altitude archeologist, an American physicist who uses data to understand the nature of human conflict, and the list goes on. In each conference, one-third of the Fellows go on to become Senior Fellows and attend TED conferences for two more years.

At this year’s TEDIndia conference, whose theme is The Future Beckons, the case for bringing great young minds together through the Fellows programme is even more compelling.

India is the youth capital of the world, with one-third of its population under 15 years of age and over 3/4th of its population under 35. Recognizing that the conference would not be complete without the presence of India’s vibrant youth, TEDIndia has implemented the Fellows programme to ensure that the country’s most exciting and innovative young movers and shakers, who might not normally be able to afford to pay over Rs1 lakh to attend TEDIndia, can pursue their passions at TEDIndia without worrying about money.

This November, thanks to the help of Sherpalo Ventures, we are proud to bring 103 TEDIndia Fellows to the conference, completely free of cost. They were chosen from over 700 applications that we received from a diverse talent pool.

The programme literally changes lives and creates a strong bond among the Fellows. William Kamkwamba, from Malawi in southeast Africa, who was a TED Africa Fellow in 2007, is one example.

The then 19-year-old shared the story on how at 14, when his family could no longer afford to send him to school, he used his time to design an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap, working from rough plans he found in a library book called Using Energy. The windmill he built powered four lights and two radios in his family’s home.

Kamkwamba’s talk inspired many TEDsters to extend their support to incorporate a power system using solar energy to help with irrigation and supply electricity for his whole village. William is now a high school graduate and a published author. His autobiography The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope came out this fall.

Like Kamkwamba, the 2009 TEDIndia Fellows all have similarly remarkable, though very diverse backgrounds. Fellows include a blend of sportsmen, race car designer, scientists, artists and social entrepreneurs.

Through our TEDIndia Fellows programme, I’ve realized what a gift it is for India to be home to this promising, new generation of thinkers. For four days in Mysore, TED Fellows needn’t be concerned with the inverse relationship between time and money. And I am thankful for the opportunity to leave a legacy of these Fellows to take TEDIndia to the next level of making a difference in the communities around the world.

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