CEO at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Be careful what you wish for
Just before Christmas I was at a meeting in New York explaining my idea for a new approach to help save millions of lives every year. I was hoping that it would resonate with a few folks, when someone said: “You should give a talk on that.” It was Chris Anderson, the maharishi of TED.
Before I knew it, I was signed up to appear on the main stage at TED 2016 in Vancouver – in February. I had about six weeks to prepare. Panic set in. But I did it. And now I feel like I should have a sweatshirt with the slogan: “I SURVIVED”.What’s more, it was a terrific experience. In fact, putting together the talk and giving it, was the one of the best collaborative experiences I have had so far in my two years heading the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There were three reasons for that, I think.
First and foremost, was teamwork. Four of us would meet every morning during the week of the TED conference to rehearse (I was speaking on the final day). And we would push and pull, and edit and revise, and discuss what was working and what wasn’t, to make the talk as good as it could be.
Whenever I was feeling tired, or nervous, or regretting agreeing to do it, my colleagues were always there to support me. It was a really powerful feeling: That sense that by collaborating with others who have skills and talents you don’t have; you can achieve more than you ever imagined.
Second, I learned that I needed to show up as myself. As a sister, a daughter, a doctor, a leader. The feedback I got from Chris and his team was that I needed to be more personable, using less jargon and fewer numbers so I could connect better with the audience. To speak like I did at that meeting in New York.
He was absolutely right, and it taught me that sometimes the Foundation’s work can seem distant and remote simply because of the language we use to describe what we’re doing.
The third reason I am glad I took on the TED adventure was that I got to hear some truly inspirational ideas and meet so many people who were passionate about their cause, their belief, or their theory. I found it incredibly uplifting and it made me really optimistic about the future.
So in the end, my Christmas wish – to have more people hear about my concept of precision public health – came true, even though I wasn’t sure it was such a great gift at the time. But in the end, all the anxiety and sleepless nights were definitely worth it.
You can watch my TED Talk here:https://www.ted.com/talks/sue_desmond_hellmann_a_smarter_more_precise_way_to_think_about_public_health