TED Prize 2009

Last night the organizers of TED bestowed

Last night the organizers of TED bestowed “one wish to change the world” and $100,000 to the three winners of the annual TED Prize. The chosen three: Sylvia Earle, a deep-sea explorer (pictured above); Jill Tarter, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and Jose Antonio Abreu, who started a classical music program for kids in Venezuela called El Sistema. Past winners include U2 front man (and Africa aid activist) Bono, photographer Ed Burtynsky, and writer Dave Eggers. Support in the past has been donated by the likes of Sun Microsystems, Adobe, and Nokia.

TED often gets a bit of flack for the awards, which began in 2005 and which some see as global do-goodery with no real foundation in reality. There’s a lot of goodwill at the conference itself, but harnessing that energy when people get back to the real world (particularly in this crunched environment) is a real challenge. (For instance, Dave Eggers’ wish from last year, for 1,000 people to actively help kids in a local school, seems to have fallen short, with only 200 people signing up so far.)

But TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, whose Sapling Foundation is the nonprofit behind TED, seemed truly choked up at the ideas on display this year, and he called for commitments of support from the audience in Long Beach (also emailed from those watching the live presentation around the world) and got attendees to fill out cards to pledge their support while the moment struck them. Many in the audience stepped up: Jake Eberts, who presented a clip from the film Oceans yesterday, promised to support Earle “in any way”, while Quincy Jones is already actively helping Venezuelan conductor Abreu. And the TED Prize web site has been organized to make giving easy.

As Anderson said, the prizes are a work in progress, and while it’s obviously too early to analyze how these new moves will pay off, the goodwill was certainly there. And the orchestra performance conducted by LA Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of Abreu’s El Sistema program to inspire kids through music, was honestly astonishing.

This year’s wishes:

Sylvia Earle “I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

Jill Tarter “I wish that you would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

Jose Antonio Abreu “I wish you would help create and document a special training program for at least 50 gifted young musicians, passionate for their art and for social justice, and dedicated to developing El Sistema in the U.S. and in other countries.”

Photo courtesy TED/Asa Mathat

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