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The anatomy of a TED Prize wish

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
JR's TED Prize wish has resulted , from TK to TK, TK to TK,

JR’s TED Prize wish — to turn the world Inside Out through portraiture — has led to more than 120,000 posters created and pasted on walls in 108 countries, from New York’s Times Square to Nepal. Photo: Aline Deschamps

The TED Prize turns our staff into genies: every year, we give a million dollars to one inspiring leader with a bold wish for the world. Here’s a sampling of wishes that have won in recent years:

“My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud.” —Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 prize

“I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.” —JR in 2011

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” —Jamie Oliver in 2010

“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! new submarines! — to create a campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.” —Sylvia Earle in 2009

Nominations are open for the 2015 TED Prize now through March 31. Using our nominations page, you can introduce us to an incredible colleague, friend, teacher or mentor — or even nominate yourself. And while the nomination form asks for a wide range of information, the most vital element is the wish itself. A vivid, compelling wish — like the ones above — excite our entire office. Below, a look at the anatomy of a great TED Prize wish, to help you craft your thoughts into the perfect wish.

The heart of a TED Prize wish: A creative approach to solving a problem.

A great TED Prize wish is a new, fresh way to think about one of the world’s intractable issues. It should be simple and free of jargon. It must be compelling and infused with passion. And while it may not eradicate the problem entirely, it offers a way for people to join together and create a movement toward that end. Anna Verghese, Deputy Director of the TED Prize, explains, “The wishes that get us excited are the ones that, in a couple of sentences, clearly set out the issue that needs the world’s attention, and provoke you to want to take action on it.” Sarah Schoengold, our TED Prize Project Coordinator, adds, “The wishes that excite me most are those that capture my imagination and make me think again. Sugata’s kid-centered learning labs – it’s easy to picture how this take on group learning could spiral across cultures and intersect with classical learning. And JR’s wish made us rethink the power of paper and glue. Who could have imagined that something so simple could be so compelling?”

The brain of a TED Prize wish: A leader with the ability to inspire action.

A key element of a TED Prize wish is that is geared toward action — that there is a clearly defined plan for how the wish can be achieved. This means that the ideal TED Prize wish comes from a pragmatic dreamer — someone with a big idea who also has a proven track record in his or her field. We’re looking for a leader who is able to manage others and who can demonstrate the ability to execute a multi-year project (we give winners 1 to 3 years to implement their wish), to budget a million dollar initiative (the award goes fully toward the project), and to produce measurable results (we ask that the bulk of the project be completed in year one). But beyond being a great strategic thinker, a TED Prize winner must be a great communicator, with the vision and charisma to get people outside of their field excited to take part in the wish.

The arms and legs of a TED Prize wish: The TED community.

As soon as a TED Prize wish is announced, it has a global army of willing foot-soldiers: the members of the TED community. This includes not just the TED Prize staff but our international network of TEDx organizers, our diverse community of speakers, the members of our TED Fellows program, and our web of Open Translation Project translators. A TED Prize wish should point towards concrete ways for these communities to get involved. Explains Verghese, “The TED community’s resources and desire for change provide a wish with that foundation to encourage mass, global collaboration.”

The lungs of a TED Prize wish: The public, at large.

A great TED Prize wish allows members of the public — whoever they may be — to breath fresh air into a field. Part of Jamie Oliver’s wish: that families to cook together, as a way to teach kids about food. The core of JR’s wish: that people photograph themselves and paste the image publicly, in a global effort to surface unheard voices. These wishes invite people in, give them a way to take action, and let them run wild with their creativity. Schoengold explains, “The most powerful wishes use really inclusive, visual language, asking everyday people to take part in an experiment that will only work with their help.”

So what is the wish that won the 2014 TED prize? We’ll reveal that during TED2014 “The Next Chapter” in March. In the meantime, we can’t wait to see what wishes you make for 2015. We are looking to you dreamers out there to wish big for the world!

Meanwhile, Sugata Mitra has just opened the first branch of his School in the Cloud, where students turn over the questions that matter most to them as a retired teacher urges them on via the Granny Cloud. Photo: Anna Verghese

Sugata Mitra has just opened the first branch of his School in the Cloud, where students turn over the questions that matter most to them as a retired teacher encourages them on via the Granny Cloud. Photo: Anna Verghese