Last year, TED announced the Audacious Project: a massive philanthropic effort to fund projects tackling specific but pernicious issues across the globe. According to Chris Anderson, the head of TED, the Audacious Project “came out of people in the TED community saying, ‘Do more, turn ideas into action.'” TED is now a nonprofit with an annual revenue of over $66 million; its annual conference costs thousands to attend, and draws attendees from the nonprofit, business, and impact communities. People were getting frustrated, Anderson says, that the organization was not doing enough to actively support the kinds of ideas it brought onto the stage.
The Audacious Project is an attempt to capture the inspiration (and financial resources) that attach to TED and channel it toward projects working to create tangible change in the world. TED opened the Audacious Project to applications and nominated projects themselves. The project eventually gave away $250 million, with backing from the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which provided both funding and guidance to the recipients throughout the process of putting the funding to use. A selection panel, guided by the social impact consultancy Bridgespan Group, narrowed the submissions down to seven initiatives, spanning an effort to eliminate the blindness-causing condition trachoma, to a fund to end incarceration on bail in the United States.
For the 2019 cohort, TED has raised another $280 million for another eight projects, and that funding pool will continue to grow as more contributions come in following the annual TED conference in Vancouver. These are the new Audacious Project members, which span social justice, global health, education, and science and climate:
Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which aims to edit the root structure of plants to absorb even more CO2, potentially achieving reductions of up to 46%.
The Nature Conservancy wants to use debt to protect the ocean. The nonprofit will use the Audacious Project funding to buy up the debt of 20 island and coastal nations, in exchange for a commitment from those governments that they protect 30% of their marine areas, which could total around 4 million square kilometers.
The Center for Policing Equity, which will use data science to analyze the behavior patters of police departments in an effort to end racial bias.
Thorn aims to equip the tech industry, law enforcement, and government with sophisticated tech tools and data to help them identify online sexual abuse of children, and intervene faster to tackle the epidemic.
Institute for Protein Design is essentially overriding nature: For millennia, proteins have developed naturally in biology, but IPD is advancing the creation of entirely new proteins to tackle pressing issues like cancer and HIV, but also create new materials like fuels.
Educate Girls will use the infusion of funding to supercharge its effort to end India’s education gender gap: The organization will go village to village with a plan to help 1.6 million girls enroll in school over the next five years.
UPSTART aims to help families in the U.S. get their kids on track before kindergarten through a combination of free educational software and parental support. The funding will help around 250,000 underserved kids get a head start.
The END Fund is tackling a truly pernicious issue: the presence of parasitic worms in people across the world. Through the funding, the organization wants to bring deworming treatment to 100 million people and support partnerships to increase access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene education.
Last year’s projects have already seen major progress: Sightsavers, the organization fighting blindness, used the funding to work toward eliminating trachoma in 10 African countries, and the Bail Project set up funds in 11 communities and secured the release of over 4,000 people. To Anderson, the Audacious Project is “an attempt to solve one of the most annoying things about the nonprofit world”: the fact that there are few vehicles out there that can effectively aggregate large funds for impact projects, similar to how venture capital unites around startups.
Every year going forward, TED plans to continue to select and support more Audacious Prize recipients, who will continue to learn from each other and avail of the support and financial resources from the funding organizations. “There’s so much crap in the world right now,” Anderson says. “Here, at least, are problems we can solve for.”