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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: La pollinisation ou le partage des savoirs: Thanh Nghiem at TEDxConcorde 2012

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Translator: Maïlys Grau Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo

"So now,

what's going to happen?"

A year ago, a TED speaker began

his talk with that question.

I would add:

"What can we do?"

I would like to share with you today

something I have been pursuing

passionately for years,

and which, I think, meets a quest

as old as humanity.

It's about freedom through knowledge,

about creating a shared world.

My story begins in Indochina a century ago.

My grandmother, on the screen here,

was beautiful, and above all, daring.

She attended the university disguised as a man.

And then, when the colonial administration

refused to give her diploma,

she took the boat to get it in France.

It would take months at the time.

Then she came back to Vietnam,

and she opened the first pharmacy in Hanoi.

It is with this small fortune she made

that she could free her whole family from poverty.

For his part, my grandfather was the first Vietnamiese

to go to l'Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, in 1930,

and then he attended l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées.

On the boat back to Vietnam,

he met my grandmother, her diploma in hand,

he tried to seduce her, - it ended up working -

then he became the minister of the first independent Vietnamese government,

in 1945.

He implemented several things,

in particular,

he set up the modern educational system of Vietnam,

he introduced the French system,

and adjusted it so that the Vietnamese,

in rural areas, rich and poor,

could all have access to knowledge.

He did something else even more surprising.

He searched for Vietnam's cultural roots at the bottom of lakes.

More precisely,

he realized that the stelae surrounding the temples

had been destroyed by the Chinese,

who had conquered Vietnam a thousand years ago.

They had thrown them into the lakes

surrounding the temples,

in an attempt to erase the old history of Vietnam.

So my grandfather pulled these old stones out,

then he had fun decoding them,

like a Champollion, in Vietnamese version.

That's how he gave Vietnam its historical cultural roots

before the Chinese.

I tell you all this,

because, as Sonia said earlier,

all this weighs a lot.

As a child, I was programmed,

maybe even conceived, for excellence.

I was sent to top schools:

Mines de Paris, MBA in INSEAD,

I went to the Conservatory of Music,

not as successfully as Zahia,

I hardly bang a little on the piano.

I also played competitive sports.

I've even been a fashion model.

Yeah, you may laugh, but it's true.

I wasn't getting dressed like this.

Then, at age 30, I was elected the first female partner,

- as an associate director -

of the McKinsey counsel cabinet,

which, I think, is one of the most prestigious in the field.

At age 30.

From then on, my life changed,

I started to live like a whirlwind.

I would spend all my time in airports,

between Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, New York, Brussel, Paris.

I would take the night flight.

I would arrive at 7:00 a.m. at the airport.

I would take a shower, rush through my meetings all day,

take the next flight and change continents.

I was sleeping at home two or three times a month

at one time.

At the time I was blinded by power,

I thought I was, like Sonia said, excellent,

while in fact, as my brother said, had become a zombie.

Always impeccable in Armani, but still a zombie.

And then it happened,


at age 34,

the zombie ran into a wall.

One day, I went home, between two flights, to see my mom.

She had been taken to the emergency due to a stomach pain.

The next day, the doctor took me to the side,

and told me: "It's serious. Your mother has terminal cancer.

She has two months left."

I was devastated.

My mother struggled,

I stayed by her side,

and every night after chemo she talked to me.

She told me about this abyss before her,

about the cold chills in her bones,

she told me she was scared,

and she struggled.

The next day, when she'd wake up, she would bravely say:

"Each day is a life."

And, you see,

the two months ended up lasting six years.

An eternity. A miracle.

As for me, I went on being a zombie,

I would go to the office with sunglasses,

to hide my puffy eyes,

but I couldn't continue like that.

That's why I quit.

And so I decided to go on a quest for meaning,

to give purpose to my life,

and somehow, I wanted to follow in my family's footsteps.

So I started to go towards sustainability,

you know, the planet, the environment, etc.

On the other hand, I was interested in the free diffusion of knowledge.

I thought of Linux, Wikipédia,

but also of all the teachers, researchers, activists,

all these people willing to spread knowledge freely.

And then I had this very strong intuition.

I thought, if we could hybridize these two things together,

it would be fantastic, phenomenal.

And it wasn't just twice as good,

free on one side, sustainable on the other side,

it was something else altogether,

some kind of catalysis.

The idea was to redefine the concept of knowledge itself,

and of those entitled to produce knowledge.

Extend beyond the scholar, the isolated expert,

and go toward the collaboration between

people willing to share freely

their knowledge, their expertise.

So it was ten years ago,

when I'd say I really started to have fun,

to do things I was passionate about,

and perhaps become more humane.

I met hundreds of passionate people,

each more enthusiastic than the other.

At my house, at any time of day or night,

you could run into geeks at their computers,

researchers from all over the world,

the father of the ecological footprint,

people well known all over the world.

There were also activists, musicians,

all mingled together.

We kept it simple, did lots of things, had lots of ideas,

showed our wild side,

got many interesting projects,

of which I'll tell you later.

As for me, what I did,

I was gathering the nectar of knowledge,

that's about it,

and, from there, I was trying

to spread the knowledge everywhere,


to enable maximum access to knowledge

regarding the sustainable way of life.

Simple as that.

My friends would tease me, saying:

"We're gonna buy you a T-shirt with black and yellow stripes

since you're starting to look like a little bee

pollinating ideas.

I'll give you an example

of the kind of ideas that I assisted,

that is I pollinated.

Here's BedZED.

It's up on the screen.

It's the first ecovillage in the world,

next to London,

designed in the year 2000.

What's special about it, it was designed from A to Z

with the goal to reduce the inhabitants' ecological footprint in half.

And it works.

You have 82 homes, 250 people.

Not only that all the ecological results are way ahead of their time --

you can check it on the Internet --

but above all, people are happy to live there.

It proves that one can live well, ecologically,

without getting back to the Stone Age or getting rotten rich.

I met the site's founders and told them:

"You've got the sustainable, I can pollinate,

play the little bee."

They accepted and, from then on, I brought lots of people,

hundreds of decision makers on the site

to get their hands to work,

see how it works,

and generate solutions.

The result, today?

There were 82 homes in 2000, and now,

10 years later, more than 1 million homes worldwide

inspired by this method.

And that's why the site's founder

would jokingly say: "We are a virus,

but a beneficial virus."

After BedZED, there were many more examples of sharing,

not just this one.

I'll give you an example to show you that

everything can be shared when it comes to knowledge.

This is an example from TED,

the open-source farm.

It's simply about a farmer who got tired of

watching his machines breaking down all the time.

So he decided to rebuild them himself,

to make them last.

He put all his recipes online,

for tractors, ovens, etc.

And today, thanks to him,

anyone in the world

can make all the necessary equipment for a tiny amount.

Now that's a miracle of sharing.

The question of course is:

"Here in France, what can we do?"

Well, it works in France too.

Here's Loos-en-Gohelle,

a city near Lens,

in the heart of the mining field,

with 7500 inhabitants.

When I returned from my first trip at BedZED,

Mayor Jean-François Caron,

got me at the train station

and said: "Thanh, could you do for us

what you did at BedZED?"

He told me jokingly: "Could you pollinate and make it

a place of pilgrimage and scale it up too?"

The city was in a miserable shape.

For 20 years already,

it was the most run-down city you can imagine.

The two highest garbage dumps in Europe,

people still dying from miner's silicosis,

having the most desastrous

economic situation of the region,

and despite all that,

Caron had very quickly understood that,

for the next twenty years,

they either invent a new destiny,

or continue down on the spiral of decline.

And so, 15 years ago, he launched a large program

of sustainable conversion.

And his city became

a pioneer in the field, with excellent results,

but most important,

is that he put his people at the heart of the project.

He started from the most inconceivable needs

you can imagine in sustainability.

I'll skip the details,

everything in town has been made sustainable.

There are people in town -- 7500 people.

7500 guinea pigs in a large laboratory,

who can tell this story,

with much talent, in fact.

People from all over the world come to see this miracle.

Today you could really say that

thanks to what Caron did,

the town reclaimed its uniqueness.

He enabled the inhabitants of Loos

to reconnect with their past and their land,

and ultimately live better together.

I hope, through what I told you,

I helped you feel the strength of sharing.

I am convinced that

if we all apply this simple principle of life,

we can all contribute to building a world

more balanced, more sustainable, more fulfilled.

My grandfather transcended centuries and continents

to bring knowledge to the Vietnamese.

My mother, with the six years she gave me,

let me perhaps open a small window toward eternity.

And thanks to them,

I have no fear, I have no doubt,

I am convinced we have to go in this direction.

This is my job.

The sharing of ideas, the pollination.

We talk much about diversity today,

that's what really makes the richness of this world,

without it all is dull, people are all the same, the world--

I'd say that man would regress.

So, if each of us claimed his uniqueness,

like the Loossians did,

then I'm convinced we can share

what we are, what we love, what we can do,

like you heard the people before me,

and then, we can really create

fantastic things.

You've seen the examples.

We started from a small neigborhood in London

to a full size city.

Why not France tomorrow, why not the whole world?

Then, what can we do?

For me, the answer is we can do anything,

because an open shared world

will have no limits.

Thank you.

The Description of La pollinisation ou le partage des savoirs: Thanh Nghiem at TEDxConcorde 2012