Shifting Perspectives Through Altruism

As social media, technology, and personal data become ever more prevalent forces in our society, the world feels like a much smaller place. We are not only able to understand what’s going on in areas we’ve never visited, but we are also able to have an impact in ways that were previously impossible. In an age where geographical boundaries don’t impose the same limitations as before, the possibilities for affecting change across the globe are shifting dramatically. As a result, we are tasked with rethinking our perspectives on important issues in fields like healthcare, scientific research, and morality. We are proud to highlight just a few TEDMED 2016 Speakers and Innovators who are confronting these challenges and developing new ways to create a healthier future for us all.

As we become more aware of the events that take place outside of our own communities, through news coverage, social media, and the ease of travel, our values on the moral imperative to help others may be called into question. For many people, the increased exposure to the suffering that’s occurring around the world motivates action. For example, you might donate to a humanitarian organization or spend time volunteering at a local soup kitchen. But for the majority of people, the desire to help others does not result in a drastic change to our daily routines. This isn’t the case for individuals that are deemed “extreme altruists.” Larissa MacFarquhar, TEDMED 2016 Speaker and staff writer at The New Yorker, is intrigued by extremely altruistic people and has examined individuals who dedicate their lives to the alleviation of suffering, whether this means donating their kidneys to complete strangers, adopting 20 children, or donating a large percentage of their yearly salary to organizations that help people they will never get to meet. In her recent book, Strangers Drowning, Larissa takes a closer look at these “moral saints” – as some call them – and aims to understand why they act the way they do, why they make the rest of us feel so uncomfortable, and ultimately, why they only account for a minority of the population.

Image provided by Watsi.
Image provided by Watsi.

While we might not all be moral saints, one of the organizations in the 2016 Hive is making it easier for us all to be a bit more altruistic. Watsi, co-founded by Chase Adam, is a crowdfunding platform for healthcare. They’ve created a website that allows anyone, anywhere to fund life-saving treatments for those in need around the world. By creating the opportunity for individuals or communities to fund a medical treatment or procedure, Watsi is pushing us to rethink the way healthcare is paid for. And, along the way they are saving thousands of lives. Not only is Watsi taking an innovative approach to providing healthcare for everyone in the world, but they are also innovating the operational aspects behind non-profit organizations. With a policy of radical transparency, Watsi guarantees that 100% of each donation will directly fund the healthcare that you specify.

Another TEDMED 2016 Speaker rethinking a conventional system is Sharon Terry, President and CEO of Genetic Alliance. After both of her children were diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, called PXE, Sharon took it upon herself to advance the research in this field so that no other parent or patient would be faced with the same situation her family experienced. As she learned about PXE, they found that many scientists were rewarded for advancing their own careers, and couldn’t stay focused on helping the patients that could benefit from their research. Sharon was frustrated by the lack of communication and collaboration between scientists, and she saw firsthand how the competitive nature of scientific research could actually hinder the process of research and development. Instead of becoming defeated by a system that had failed her family, Sharon founded PXE International and has been an advocate for system reform ever since. She wants to make sure that the patient voice isn’t just heard; but that it is actually driving transformation of biomedical research and healthcare.

These TEDMED 2016 Speakers and Innovators are shifting perspectives on conventional thinking and making significant progress in the fields of scientific research, healthcare, and morality. We are proud to have them at TEDMED 2016 and we look forward to the conversations and collaborations their work will spark on site in Palm Springs, CA this November 30 – December 2nd. Register today to join us.