Highlights from TEDWomen Session 1: finance in Iceland, Hans Rosling on washing machines, and how women + humor = change

I'm at TEDWomen, which takes today and tomorrow at the International Trade Center in Washington, DC. The organizers have turned this venue into a wonderful little sanctuary with massage stations, a cartoon exhibit, and lots and lots of coffee — much needed after the red eye that brought me to the biting cold East Coast just this morning. Here are some highlights from the first session:

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Hans Rosling gave a funny talk that posited economic development against the proliferation of the washing machine. When Rosling was seven, he watched his mother load a washing machine for the first time in his life. They invited his grandmother over to watch — she has been heating stoves on firewood to handwash clothes for seven children with her entire life — and the grandmother sat mesmerized in front of the contraption through the entire wash cycle. "To [her], the washing machine was a miracle."

It doesn't take much research to know that the bottom two billion people live on less than $2 a day — below the poverty line — and that one billion people spend more than $80 a day — above what he calls the "air" line. Rosling did some serious digging and number crunching to divvy up the economic scale by washing machine ownership. It turns out that an additional one billion people own washing machine, i.e. live above the "wash" line. These people spend about $40 a day. This means that, in a world with seven billion people, two billion have washing machines and the remaining five billion still wash their clothes by hand. This is a task that mainly falls on women, who spend hours every week performing this heavy-duty task by hand, often lugging water to their homes or their laundry to a water source far away. "They all want a washing machine. There's nothing different about their wish than my grandma's two generations ago in Sweden."

Rosling wrapped his talk with two important points: one, that as the population grows, the top consumers of money and energy need to spend less energy and transfer some of the current energy usage to green energy usage. Two, having a washing machine allowed him and his mother the time to enjoy things like reading books.

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Halla Tomasdottir explained how her financial firm, Audur Capital, survived Iceland's 2007 economic collapse without any direct losses because she incorporated feminine values into her business:

1. Risk awareness: not investing in things she didn't understand. "It's not complicated, but there was a lot of reckless risk-taking in 2007."
2. Straight talking: using simple language that people understand.
3. Emotional capital: "We believe that doing emotional due diligence is just as important as financial due diligence. It's people that make and lose money, not Excel spreadsheets."
4. Profit with principles: looking beyond just economic profits in the next quarter to long-term financial, social, and environmental benefits.

Tomasdottir thinks pairing female values with sustainability practices will yield some of the most interesting investment opportunities in the years to come. A lot of people try to rebuild models that have failed over and over again, but a new way of thinking about consumerism and the balance between the men and women could lead good businesses to change the world.

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Also...

* New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly gave a hilarious illustrated short talk about the expectations girls grow up with (eat this, wear that, don't be like this); how her mother gave her a cartooning book instead of pushing these ideals on her; and how women + humor = change.

* Ted Turner showed up for a quick interview with organizer Pat Mitchell. He reiterated an idea presented in the past that, if only women held positions in elected office for the next 100 years, they would spent money on healthcare and education — not aircrafts and weapons — and end war. When asked what women have influenced him most, he said: "My mother, my last wife Jane Fonda, my daughters... and all the women I've loved before."

* In taped footage from a November TED event, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said this about being the "iron lady" of Africa: "Being a woman and going through what I went through set me apart and enabled me to achieve what I achieved. I've been a victor of circumstances."

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  1. My penis does not prevent me from sharing those values, thank you very much. Nor do the lack of cojones prevent women from being just as brash, ruthless and self serving as any man.

  2. I’m not sure about the whole government-ran-by-women war thing. I mean, does anyone believe that if Sarah Palin was President that she wouldn’t start another war. She has more bravado than I do.

  3. “This means that, in a world with seven billion people, two billion have washing machines and the remaining five billion still wash their clothes by hand.”

    Is he not aware of laundromats?

    1. Is he not aware of laundromats?

      Seriously. Or dorms and apartments with common laundry rooms, like mine and about 40 bajillion others worldwide.

  4. Three: We export cheap, locally-buildable, repairable washing machine technology to five billion people.

    Four: …

    Five: Profit!

  5. I think bringing wells to villages around the world, solar house lights and giving/selling them old style wringer washing machines does more good than one laptop per child dollar wise.

    Old wringer washers are proven, simple tech that can be hand/bicycle/electric run and repaired locally.

    1. One laptop per child would let said child build his own wringer washing machine from bicycle parts and publish instructions to do the same for all the other laptop children.

      Give a man a fish yadda yadda.

      1. >>One laptop per child would let said child build his own wringer washing machine from bicycle parts and publish instructions to do the same for all the other laptop children.<< Would these countries receiving the One Laptop Per Child also receive the WiFi or hard-wired internet infrastructure to allow them to retrieve the instructions to build a washing machine? Would the countries have the functional parts to build wringer washing machines Make:Magazine-style? I get the idea of teaching someone to fish, but you need a pond, a pole and fish to fish. Would all of these countries have the materials to make self-sufficiency and innovation possible?

        1. Would these countries receiving the One Laptop Per Child also receive the WiFi or hard-wired internet infrastructure to allow them to retrieve the instructions to build a washing machine?

          That’s a fair question to ask, though I don’t have the answer. Some of them certainly would – half of the worlds population lives in cities.

  6. Why does this not excite me like the TED, TED conference? But instead fills me with a sense of nonplussed despair?

    Re-Women and war. If it were just women fighting a war, that war would be the bloodiest and briefest.

    1. >>If it were just women fighting a war, that war would be the bloodiest and briefest.<< And it would be for reasons related to a small incident several years ago that the other countries had no idea was a problem in the first place. Kidding

  7. Next up, Ted Turner interviews Condoleezza Rice (Iraq), Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher (Falklands), Hillary Clinton (Afghanistan), and Sarah “Barracuda” Palin (you name it, she’ll bomb it) for a light-hearted yet surprising discussion of war and how to wage it.

    1. Well, they’re the ones that get to the top right now. Why, it’s almost as if women in politics have to be war-friendly to be taken seriously!

        1. This warms my heart, btw. Two differing points of opinion with a regular, plain spoken agreement over part of why everything gets so insane.

          In all fairness, I still support the case that women and men do still do some things a bit differently. It might be interesting to see the differences between a more matriarchal society versus are more patriarchal society. Note: my theory is that a balance between the two is more desirable because neither side is to be completely preferred.

          Also, let’s put this in in advance, any differences should never imply inequality but instead should be used as ways to inform ourselves over our values and biases.

  8. I’m guessing Mr. Rosling is a realist then. Cause whenever I envision the future I see robots doing my laundry. Maybe not something out of I Robot, but a machine that’s fully automated none the less.

    Some days I have mixed thoughts on the impending robotic spread. I think it’d be nice some times, but most days I have a feeling it’ll never happen. Well at least not in my life time.

  9. Two, having a washing machine allowed him and his mother the time to enjoy things like reading books. Or more commonly, work outside the home. I would argue that if we were to measure productivity by HOUSEHOLD rather than by WORKER, we would find that much of the improvement in the second half of the 20th century was the reduced number of hours worked INSIDE the home allowed more hours to be worked OUTSIDE the home. Vacuum cleaners, permanant press, microwave ovens etc. are arguably responsible for the much greater percentage of women in the workforce.

  10. I enjoy Hans Rosling–thanks for the heads-up! It’s hard to find time to watch all the TED videos I’d like to watch because they demand concentration. There are very few chores I can multitask with TED podcasts.

  11. Also on that panel:

    Golda Meir
    Indira Ghandi
    Benazir Bhutto
    Tzipi Livni
    ….list goes on

    But then its a man’s world, no….

    If these are the conclusions drawn from this it just makes a laughing stock out of something as important as this event.

    Cripes…are people like Ted Turner the great minds of our times?

  12. I’m wondering if washing machines have really saved people time. The way I understand it, people only had a few outfits of well-made clothes. Washing machines and cheap imports have allowed people to have huge wardrobes. I live in a house built in the 20s, and the lack of closet space has forced me to reduce my wardrobe. I would think the changes in cooking would have had a much larger impact.

  13. For the people saying laundromat is a solution, it still means time wasted taking the laundry to the store and then possibly sitting for an hour waiting for the wash.

    My perspective from India follows:
    In India, the soapy clothes are either rubbed with a fist sized rock or beaten with a wooden paddle during the washing process. People still may hand wash underwear after the bath but that is about it.

    Now even the servants in many cities in India will not wash clothes and their accepting the job offers is conditional on the wash m/c being available (Dryers are simply not used). They expect to only hang the clothes out to dry on the clotheslines . The lady of the house loads and runs the machine before the maid arrives. The dried clothes are brought indoors during the evening visit if the maid visits twice a day. And this is a critical time saver for the maid who has to service 3-4 apartments in the building before her day ends.

  14. So here’s another take on washing machines: While many women washed their family’s clothing by hand, those that could afford to, paid someone (usually a woman) to wash their clothes. These women were often widows, and this practice was so ingrained in ninteenth century England that people would often take up collections when a woman’s husband died so she could afford the neccessary equipment. So there was an industry of women who made money washing other people’s clothing, and though they may not have made much, they made enough that they were at or above the poverty line.

    Now, the rich can afford washing machines, so they stop paying the women and, effectively begin paying men to design and build better washing machines. These women are out of jobs and are generally too old, or have too many children to take on work outside the home.

    So who benefits?

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